While Super Rugby and NRL fans have enjoyed watching their teams run around over the last few weeks or more, AFL supporters can finally breathe a sigh of relief with the season getting underway at the sport’s traditional home the MCG on Thursday night. That first match features old rivals Carlton and Richmond for a fourth straight year and it is the Tigers expected to roll the Blues.
Then on Friday night the Crows fly east to Melbourne to take on the Bombers at Etihad Stadium. On Saturday there are a bunch of matches including the Saints v Lions, Port Adelaide against Fremantle while the Suns and Kangaroos take their match to Cairns before the blockbuster clash between the Hawks and Magpies at the ‘G’. On Sunday the Giants and Bulldogs clash in the nation’s capital before the Cats and Demons meet at the MCG. The last match of the round features the Eagles taking on the Swans at their new home ground, Optus Stadium.
Friday, March 23, 6:25pm (AEST) @ Etihad Stadium
Essendon had a successful season in 2017 where they made their first finals appearance in three years. While they were eliminated in the first week by the red-hot Swans, coach John Worsfold has plenty to look forward to this season. The Bombers still have plenty of work to do if they are to get over the top of the premiership favourites – they’ve lost their last four matches against the Crows by an average margin of 76 points!
Adelaide’s recruitment of former Blues star Bryce Gibbs shapes as a key to the club going one step better than last season where they lost the grand final to the Tigers. In a blow for their round one match, the Crows will be without inspirational skipper Taylor Walker but that hasn’t stopped punters in backing them to recover and beat the Bombers first-up. Last year Adelaide was the highest scoring team in the AFL as they averaged 107 points per game.
Saturday, March 24, 3:35pm (AEST) @ Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide was one of the most astute clubs in the pre-season as they recruited a couple of star players in the form of former Cat Steven Motlop, Jack Watts from the Demons and Tom Rockliff who should provide a greater presence to the Power’s on-ballers. Port is considered to be a genuine premiership contender in 2018 after making the finals series last season. There is no doubt the influence of star midfielder Robbie Gray will play a huge role in how Port Adelaide’s season plays out.
Fremantle lost their two matches at Adelaide Oval last season, in fact they have won just once at the refurbished venue from six visits. The Dockers were one of the most disappointing teams last season, winning just two of their last 13 matches but in a positive sign for the WA-based club, skipper Nat Fyfe looks to be in great touch after a big pre-season. His coach Ross Lyon will be hoping he can replicate the form that piloted him to the 2015 Brownlow Medal.
Saturday, March 24, 6:25pm (AEST) @ MCG
Two of the foundation VFL clubs should attract a crowd in excess of 90,000 at the home of Aussie Rules footy, the MCG. Hawthorn didn’t have a great season last year and they will be desperate to get back to somewhere near the form that saw them collect three consecutive premierships but with an ageing roster, that is looking increasingly unlikely. The Hawks will be close to full strength with the returns of James Frawley, Ben Stratton and the dynamic Cyril Rioli.
While Hawthorn will be more or less at full strength, the same can’t be said for the Pies who will be missing some key personnel. Collingwood will be without Jamie Elliot, Daniel Wells, Jordan De Goey and Levi Greenwood for this crucial round one match, while Alex Fasolo is expected to play reserves this weekend and Tyson Goldsack has been ruled for the entire AFL season after rupturing his ACL.
Sunday, March 25, 12:10pm (AEST) @ UNSW Canberra Oval
The Bulldogs would be extremely disappointed with how their premiership defence unfolded last season. Their defensive pressure, which was a highlight of their breakthrough 2016 title, fell away last year and it certainly doesn’t help that they will be without two of the best defenders for this match against one of the premiership favourites, the Giants. Injuries to Dale Morris and Marcus Adams leaves a big opportunity Giants duo Jeremy Cameron and Jonathon Patton to capitalise.
The Giants generally perform quite well in Canberra, where this match will be played, and they will be boosted by a likely sold-out crowd. The Giants will need to heavily mark superstar Dogs midfielder Marcus Bontempelli because he shapes as the key to inflicting a loss on GWS. However, the Giants enjoy a decent record over the Bulldogs, winning three of their last four clashes including both matches last season.
Sunday, March 25, 2:20pm (AEST) @ MCG
Last seasin the Demons fell agonisingly short of their first finals appearance since 2012 thanks to a final round loss against the Magpies – a game in which they entered as the favourite. The Dees have a pretty decent record at the MCG having won four of their last five matches at the venue. Key Demons players Max Gawn and Jesse Hogan appear to be in great touch after a rigorous pre-season but this Melbourne team will have their cut-out against a Geelong side welcoming back favourite son Gary Ablett Junior.
The return of Ablett was great news for Cats fans everywhere and in even better news, he looks to be ready to take his place for round one after suffering a hamstring injury. Unfortunately for Geelong, though, 2016 Brownlow Medal winner Patrick Dangerfield may have to wait to take his place alongside Ablett and skipper Joel Selwood as he struggles to overcome a hamstring injury of his own. The Cats have an exceptional record against the Demons and were big winners (102-36) last time they met at the MCG.
Sunday, March 25, 6:20pm (AEST) @ Optus Stadium
The Eagles finished their 2017 regular season campaign in strong form, winning their last four matches in Perth, in fact they only dropped three of their 12 matches on home soil last year. West Coast is typically a team that thrives on the energy of their home crowd and they should easily sell-out their new look home venue, Optus Stadium against one-time arch enemy Sydney. In a welcome sight for Eagles fans, Nic Naitanui will make his long awaited return from injury.
The Swans face one of the toughest road trips in the AFL when they arrive at Optus Stadium on Sunday evening to face West Coast. There is some injury concerns for Sydney with midfielder Daniel Hannebery struggling with a calf complaint but the Swans possess one of the best midfields with Kieran Jack, Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker expected to provide superstar Lance Franklin with quality ball. The Swans are also likely to be without Jarrad McVeigh and Aliir Aliir.