Unless you’re a Richmond Tigers fan you should be ready for the AFL offseason to be over by now. Everyone except the Tigers didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy lifting the Premiership Cup last season, and will now be aiming to dethrone Richmond in the coming season. The preseason is over, and teams are in, so here is your look at round 1 with tips.
Richmond vs. Carlton (Thursday at the MCG)
Richmond lifts their premiership flag on the opening night of the AFL. The Tigers will be heavy favorites against a young Carlton side that is still unlikely to finish top 8. The Tigers are missing a couple of players, but the core of Dustin Martin, Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt, and Trent Cotchin is all here. The Blues feature their top draft pick Paddy Dow, former GWS Giant Matthew Kennedy, along with Jarrod Garlett, a key piece of what they hope will be an improved offensive attack. Presuming Carlton competes hard the Tigers could be in for a fight but they should be the favorites. Richmond by 24
Essendon vs. Adelaide (Friday at Etihad Stadium)
The Bombers finished in the top 8 last season, but will hoping for much more in 2018. They brought in backline speedster Adam Saad, and forwards Jake Stringer and Devon Smith to strengthen their lineup, and still have a genuine star in Joe Daniher up forward. The test for Adelaide is different in this one, they were the minor premiers in 2017 and had a great season up and until a very poor showing in the Grand Final. They brought in Bryce Gibbs to strengthen their midfield in a big way, along with Sam Gibson from North Melbourne. They bring in debutantes Tom Doedee and Lachlan Murphy as well in a team that should be as good, if not better, as last season. That said, the Crows aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise, and will need to get up every week. Essendon is better but I don’t think it will be quite enough. Adelaide by 17
St. Kilda vs. Brisbane Lions (Saturday at Etihad Stadium)
St. Kilda are favorites here against a Brisbane side that should be better, but is still likely to be a cellar dweller on the 2018 ladder. That said, the Saints are under pressure as it doesn’t appear they improved much from last season. Their top draft pick Hunter Clark will debut, but Paddy McCartin and Jack Billings will be under pressure up forward to produce. The young Lions added solid veterans Charlie Cameron and Luke Hodge, and also debut their top draft pick Cam Rayner at forward. I expect Brisbane to beat the line but come up short. St. Kilda by 9
Port Adelaide vs. Fremantle (Saturday at Adelaide Oval)
Port Adelaide is the team that improved the most in 2018 on paper. Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop, and Jack Watts are in, and they will debut Dom Barry in the opening round. The Power impressed last season, now with the versatility of Rockliff, and Watts, who was underappreciated at Melbourne, they should be in for a great season and possibly a top 4 finish. The Power’s attack should be too strong for Freo here.
The Dockers added Nathan Wilson and Brandon Matera to their side, top pick Andrew Brayshaw and Bailey Banfield will debut. Nat Fyfe is hoping to become a star forward after already operating as a star midfielder, and Lachie Neale is all class but Freo is clearly at a disadvantage here. Port Adelaide by 38
Gold Coast Suns vs. North Melbourne (Saturday in Cairns)
The two teams perhaps least likely to feature in finals footy. Gold Coast and North Melbourne are rebuilding, all be it in different ways. The Suns have rebooted with a new brand of pressure footy under Stuart Dew, the former Sydney Swans assistant. North Melbourne has given Brad Scott another chance at a rebuild, after failing to secure a major star in the offseason. The only new faces for North will be top pick Luke Davies-Uniacke, and former Hawthorn Hawk forward Billy Hartung. The Suns add young battler Nick Holman, plus Aaron Young and Lachie Weller up forward. Michael Barlow is a notable out for the Suns.
North has a few class players like forward Ben Brown, but the Suns had a better preseason and will find a way to be competitive in ways they weren’t last season. Gold Coast should show their improved chemistry with a big win. Gold Coast by 24
Hawthorn vs. Collingwood (Saturday at the MCG)
The pressure of historical expectations is on both these teams, though neither appear to be finals footy ready at this point. The Hawks remain a mix of the old (Cyril Rioli, Shaun Burgoyne), and the new (Jaeger O’Meara, Jarman Impey) as they work to rejuvenate their list for another flag run. If the Hawks see some heroes step up they could be in for a good year, but the jury is out. Collingwood still needs to find a way to kick some goals, their midfield is all class, and rookies Sam Murray and Jaidyn Stephenson will be able to contribute. That said, the Hawks should be the better team here. Hawthorn by 14
GWS Giants vs. Western Bulldogs (Sunday in Canberra)
These two sides have the ability to win a flag, but they could also miss the top eight and are some of the hardest to figure out heading into 2018. The Giants have a ton of talent in each line but depth could be an issue. The Bulldogs had an awful 2017 after winning a flag the year prior, but they have a good list. Hayden Crozier and Jackson Trengove debut for the Bulldogs, along with rookie Aaron Naughton. The Bulldogs backline is a big weakness right now. The Giants should have enough attacking firepower to expose the Bulldogs backline and get a win. GWS by 32
Melbourne vs. Geelong (Sunday at the MCG)
The matchup of the round in my estimation. The Cats are going all in on winning a flag this year, as they brought in veteran former, and now current Cat, Gary Ablett to strengthen an already loaded midfield. Presuming Ablett can stay fit, he’ll partner with Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan in this game, and Patrick Dangerfield long term. Dangerfield will miss this contest due to injury but the Cats will debut some new kids including Tim Kelly, Charlie Constable and Lachie Fogarty.
The Demons need to make finals this year after barely missing the season prior. They brought in Jake Lever to strengthen their backline, and Bayley Fritsch is a potential new contributor at forward. Similar to Essendon, Melbourne is better, but I’m not sure they are positioned to upset even a Dangerless Geelong in this one. Geelong by 4
West Coast Eagles vs. Sydney Swans (Sunday at Optus Stadium)
The Eagles open their new stadium by hosting genuine flag contenders Sydney. The Swans have everything but a strong ruck (and midfielder Dan Hannebery for this game) that is needed for a flag run. Buddy Franklin and Isaac Heeney will be looking to feast against the Eagles backline. West Coast is in a transition phase, Nic Naitanui is returning in the ruck from knee surgery.Young forwards Jake Waterman, Liam Ryan, and Daniel Venables all look to replace Josh J. Kennedy’s scoring in the short term. The Eagles should remain hanging around the 8, but the Swans look much stronger here. Sydney by 22
As a bonus for the opening round, I’ll include my 2018 ladder prediction.
- Port Adelaide
- Sydney Swans
- GWS Giants
- Western Bulldogs
- West Coast
- St. Kilda
- Gold Coast Suns
- North Melbourne