AFL Round 1 Preview

The 2018 AFL season commences with the premiers Richmond set to do battle with Carlton in front of 95,000 supporters at the MCG. The Punt Road faithful will be out in force to see their players launch a strong defence of their first premiership since 1969.

A new look Essendon side will take on an Adelaide Crows side determined to put the disappointment of 2017 behind them. The Crows finished 2017 as minor premiers, but fell at the final hurdle to hand Richmond their first premiership cup in 48 years.

St Kilda take a on a new look Brisbane Lions side that will benefit from the experience of former Hawthorn premiership winning skipper Luke Hodge. Hodge has opted for one final season of AFL football before taking up a career in the coach’s box.

Port Adelaide’s recruiting policy will be put to the test when they battle a rejuvenated Nate Fyfe, who’ll be looking to help the Dockers climb up the premiership ladder. The Hawks lock horns with the Pies in the local derby and the Suns will be out to convince gun full forward Tom Lynch to resign with a promising performance against the Kangaroos.

GWS will be looking to test their premiership claims when they battle 2016 premiers the Western Bulldogs in Sydney and the round finishes off between traditional rivals West Coast and Sydney.

The Swans ($6) are early season favourites with the Crows ($6) at the top of the line to win the 2018 Grand Final. Richmond represent some good value in the market at $7 to repeat their success and become the first team since the Hawks to defend their premiership crown.

Richmond Tigers v Carlton Blues
Carlton to cover the line (+29.5 points)

The Tigers will look to continue the type of form that won them the flag in 2017 when they take on the Blues at the MCG.

Carlton will be determined to build on a solid pre-season and Blues coach Brendon Bolton will be unleashing four debutants in his 50th game as a senior AFL coach.

The Blues have included number three draft pick Paddy Dow in his first senior game of AFL football. The young Blues midfielder comes into the side as a replacement for Bryce Gibbs, who returned home to the Adelaide Crows.  The loss of key defender Sam Docherty will hurt the Blue’s chances this season. Carlton’s 2016 best and fairest winner is set to miss the entire season, after rupturing his ACL in a training drill in December.

The Tigers have no signs of fatigue in the pre-season convincingly accounting for Essendon and North Melbourne in the JLT Community Series. The Tigers are without premiership players Bachr Houli and Dion Prestia. Exciting young half forward Daniel Rioli is out of the side with a foot injury. The Tigers will look to surround Jack Reiwoldt with a small half-forward line, but their strength in the midfield to see them comfortably run over the top of Carlton.

The Blues will keep things tight, but the Tigers dominance in the midfield led by Dustin Martin means they’ll run out comfortable winners.

Essendon Bombers v Adelaide Crows
Adelaide to beat the line (-2.5 points)

The Bombers have been aggressive with their off-season recruitment with Devon Smith Jake Stringer and Adam Saad joining an Essendon side that said goodbye to veterans Jobe Watson, Benton Stanton and James Kelly. 2018 gives the Bombers their first real opportunity to start the season free from the drugs saga that has plagued the club for the last two years.

Joe Daniher is set for another big year after coming off the back of a career-best season in 2017, don’t be surprised to see the half forward challenge Dusty Martin for the Brownlow Medal in 2018. Daniher’s breakout 2017 included a season-best 65 goals and looms as a key figure against the Crows.

After landing the minor premiership in 2017, the Crows lost their chance at another premiership cup, when they were blown away by the Tigers in the decider. The Crows lost Jake Lever to the Demons in the offseason but finally gained the services of former Blues gun Bryce Gibbs. The Crows have had the best offence in the competition for the last two seasons and their ability to kick goals is without peer in the competition.

The Crows lack some depth in midfield, with Taylor Walker, set to be on the sidelines for the opening round fixture with a foot injury. Brad Couch is set for an extended spell on the sidelines with an abdominal strain and he’ll be joined by key defender Alex Keath.

The Crows will have their midfield depth tested this season with the departures of Charlie Cameron and Jack Lever. If the Crows can get the early momentum across the first half and deny Daniher first use of the ball, then they’ll be able to grind out a win at Etihad Stadium

St Kilda v Brisbane Lions
Lions to win ($3.60)

St Kilda enters their first AFL season without the services of club legends Leigh Montagna and Nick Riewoldt. The Saints will be taking some comfort from their stellar record against the Lions in Melbourne and haven’t been beaten by the former AFL powerhouse at home since round six of season 2000.

Saint Kilda will be under some real pressure to perform this season after a disappointing mid-table finish in 2017 and may struggle to fill the void left by their more experienced players.

The Lions are entering an interesting phase of their rebuilding plans, with former Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge lining up for Brisbane for the first time. The young Lions side will benefit from one of the best players of their generation but will need number one draft pick Cameron Rayner to earn his place in the side.

The Lions can take some inspiration from their women’s side who’ll be lining up in the Grand Final against the Bulldogs. The Lions haven’t won in Melbourne for some time and while most league pundits don’t rate Chris Fagan’s young side, they’ll surprise a few teams this year starting with the Saints in Melbourne.

Port Adelaide Power v Fremantle Dockers
Power to beat the line (-25.5 points)

Fremantle coach Ross Lyons will be looking to get one final season out of veteran ruckman Aaron Sandilands in 2018. The giant ruckman is returning from an injury restricted 2017 and his ability to stay fit will be the barometer for the Dockers improvement in 2018.

The Dockers will also welcome back 2015 Brownlow Medallist Nate Fyfe. The Dockers skipper will be looking to return to the form that made him the premier midfielder in the competition.

In the absence of Matthew Pavlich, the Dockers have recruited half-forward Brandon Matera from the Gold Coast and picked up Nathan Wilson from the Giants. If Ross Lyon can find a way to get Harley Bennell on the park, then the Dockers will improve on the results from last season.

The Power has sought to get over the disappointment of their finals defeat to West Coast by adding some serious firepower to their forward line. Jack Trengove and Jack Watts join the Power from the Demons and former Lions midfielder Tom Rockliff come into the side with Steven Motlop.

If the Port Adelaide’s new recruits can quickly buy into Ken Hinkley’s system, then the Power will go deep into the finals in 2018. Port Adelaide have a stellar record at the Adelaide Oval and thrashed the Dockers in the corresponding match last year by 89-points. The Power will be too strong at home for an improved Dockers side and should coast to a big win.

 

Hawthorn v Collingwood
Collingwood to win ($2)

The first game of the season between these two sides serves as a crucial clash for their respective coaches. Hawthorn supremo Alastair Clarkson knows that he is running on borrowed time after making the bold move to sever ties with Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis. The gamble on youngster Jaeger O’Meara has yet to pay off and it won’t be long before the Hawthorn leadership begin to question his methods.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was under immense pressure to retain his role with the side after a poor display in 2017 that saw them miss the finals. If the Pies fail to show some improvement, then the Collingwood boss could be on the chopping block early in the season.

Hawthorn enters the clash with question marks over their mercurial star Cyril Rioli and the Pies are missing a host of key players including Jordan De Goey, Daniel Wells and Jamie Elliott. The Pies showed some mixed form during the pre-season but Mason Cox offers them a real threat on the forward line. If Cox can get his hands on the ball, then the Pies are a chance at a tough upset win.

Gold Coast Suns v North Melbourne
Suns to win ($1.82)

New Gold Coast Suns coach Stuart Dew knows that re-signing Tom Lynch is critical to his side’s long-term prospects in the competition. The Suns enter their first season without Gary Ablett and many league pundits give them little hope of improvement. Lynch looms as a key man for the Suns and his future could have a knock-on effect with a number of other stars waiting to see if the big forward opts to stay on the Sunshine strip for the foreseeable future.

The Suns failed to set the world on fire with their player recruitment this season with Brandon Matera and Adam Saad following Ablett out the door. Lachie Weller has returned home to Queensland from the Dockers at the price of the number two draft pick.

Coming up against the Kangaroos in the opening round is a bonus for the Suns. North Melbourne are going through a major rebuild and with an ageing player list, the Roos will struggle to trouble the competition.

With the game being transferred to Cairns because of the Commonwealth Games, the Suns have a real chance to get off to a winning start in season 2018. The Suns will be good enough to give new coach Stuart Dew a winning start to his life on the Gold Coast and convincing Tom Lynch to stick around for the long term.

Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs
GWS to cover the line (-16.5 points)

Giants coach Leon Cameron knows that the window for a breakthrough premiership is closing every year. The Giants have been one of the dominant teams in the competition for the last three years and face some major challenges in 2018.

GWS will approach the new season without a first-choice ruckman, with the retirement of Shane Mumford. Zac Williams will sit out the season after season-ending surgery and the side’s depth across the halfback line may be tested throughout the year. The Giants have one the best midfields in the competition, led by Tom Scully and Lachie Whitfield.

The Bulldogs enter the new season without the added pressure of a premiership defence. The Western Bulldogs struggled to perform after their 2016 fairy-tale and became the first premiers since Hawthorn to miss the finals in 2017. They’ll be missing the experience of Bob Murphy and Matthew Boyd and forward Paul Stringer was moved on to the Bombers.

The Giants have dominated the 2016 premiers, winning four of their last six clashes. Their depth across the middle of the park and up forward will cause the Bulldogs plenty of headaches. GWS will be able to grind out a win in the first round but Leon Cameron will know a shot at the cup is the only thing that matters for his side.

Geelong Cats v Melbourne Demons
Geelong to beat the line (-2.5 points)

Geelong coach Brad Scott will be sweating on the fitness of Patrick Dangerfield for a tough clash with an improving Demons side. Scott has injury concerns over a number of key players with Rhys Stanley set for an extended spell on the sidelines with a calf injury.

The Cats will welcome the return of favourite son Gary Ablett for one final stint in the famous jumper and expect him to spend a fair amount of time up forward in 2018.

Tom Hawkins should be able to do some real damage this season with the forward getting service from a midfield that will include Joel Selwood and Dangerfield.

Melbourne fans get to see Jake Lever in his debut for the Demons and the key defender shouldn’t disappoint. Lever was a vital part of the Adelaide side that stormed to the Grand Final last season against the Tigers.

Melbourne will be looking for some serious improvement this season and a finals spot will beckon for a side that hasn’t experienced September action for some time.

The Cats should be able to continue their dominance over the Demons and the class of Ablett should be able to see Brad Scott’s men welcome the start of the season with a win at the MCG.

West Coast Eagles v Sydney Swans
Swans to beat the line (-16.5 points)

After sneaking into the finals with a last gasp goal against Port Adelaide, the Eagles will struggle to have an impact on the finals in 2018. West Coast have lost Brownlow medallist Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis to retirement and with an ageing list its time for coach Adam Simpson to turn his attention to a rebuild.

The Eagles will be sweating on the return of ruckman Nic Naitanui who remains the AFL’s most valuable player. The flying Fijian has the ability to win games off his own broad shoulders and is similar to former Eagles great, Dean Cox. His explosive speed around the centre of the park gives the Eagles an extra dimension in attack. The Eagles will be without former Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy for the opening round and will struggle to contain the Swans midfield.

The Swans will be the first team to take on the Eagles at the new Optus Stadium and it will be interesting to see how visiting sides respond to the change from Subiaco Oval. Lance Franklin will be gunning for a big year and the Jarrad McVeigh and Dan Hannebery give the Swans an edge across the middle of the park. While there’s been no love lost between these two sides over the years, injuries and retirements will mean the Eagles will be facing a tough task of upsetting their rivals at home.