AFL Round 1 Preview

Former Brisbane Lion Richard Champion
Former Brisbane Lions star Richard Champion previews Round 1 of the AFL for TattsBet.

TattsBet AFL Round 1 Preview 

Thursday 20 March 
Geelong v Adelaide – Simonds Stadium – 6.10pm (AEST)

James Podsiadly will debut for his new club Adelaide against his former club Geelong as part two of Round 1 of the 2014 AFL season begins in Geelong. The 32-year-old full forward will be important to the Crows’ hopes of a revival from a poor 2013, especially while gun forward Taylor Walker completes his rehabilitation from a knee reconstruction.

Brenton Sanderson, a former favourite son at Geelong, begins his third season in charge of the Crows desperate for a repeat of year 1, when they went 17-5 through the home and away season and finished in the preliminary final, rather than year 2, when they crashed to 11th at 10-12. There will be no Walker, Nathan Van Berlo, Richard Douglas or Tom Lynch, but pre-season signs were encouraging.

Geelong, too, have been hit hard by injury in what will be Chris Scott’s fourth year at the helm, and will start the year without Nathan Vardy, Allen Christensen, Billy Smedts and Steven Motlop. At last, though, ex-North ruckman Hamish McIntosh will play his first game in Cats colors.

The Cats were 7-1 at home last year and have won 20 of their last 22 at the Cattery, where Adelaide haven’t won since 2003. In a match which pits together two of the AFL’s outstanding young leaders in Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield, winning form at home is good form.

My Tip: Geelong by 23 pts

Friday 21 March
North Melbourne v Essendon – Etihad Stadium – 6.50pm (AEST)

If it’s tight late in the last quarter, look for North coach Brad Scott to somehow find a way to get his side over the line. Simply, he must. Because if the 'close losses bug' bites the Kangaroos in 2014 as it did in 2013, they’ll be in awful trouble.

The Roos, who finished 10th with a 10-12 record last year, lost five games by less than a goal in a season which promised so much more. Bolstered by the prized off-season capture of Nick Dal Santo, they go into the season fifth in flag betting, but will need to do better in the close ones if they are to return to the finals for the first time since 2008.

Essendon is a mystery as the fallout from the supplements scandal that derailed their 2013 campaign and ultimately saw them expelled from the finals threatens to unravel again. What the future for caretaker coach Mark Thompson and a side in which 10 players face possible infraction notices is anyone’s guess. They’d done incredibly well to start 13-3 last year, but they lost five of their last six as things fell apart, and how long the resilience lasts if ASADA swoops, is the big question. North have won three of the last five against Essendon, but have been slow starters in recent years. It’s time they turned that around.

My Tip: North Melbourne by 13 pts

Saturday 22 March
Hawthorn v Brisbane Lions - Aurora
Stadium, Launceston – 3.40pm (AEST)

Justin Leppitsch faces a torrid introduction as Brisbane Lions coach against a Hawthorn side that was red hot during the pre-season and is intent on proving there is life after Buddy Franklin, as they look to do defend the flag they won last year.

The numbers are daunting for Leppitsch. The Lions haven’t beaten the Hawks since 2009 and have lost their last four meetings by an average 61 points. And Hawthorn have won 29 of 40 at their second home in Launceston, including their last seven.

The Hawks pulled off a massive off-season coup when they snared ruckman Ben McEvoy from St.Kilda to fill the one void that shaped as a potential road-block to back-to-back flags, and they’ll begin the season equal flag favorites with Fremantle.

The big question for the Lions is where they’ll get their goals from – even if Jonathan Brown is rushed in after an injury-plagued pre-season, which amounted to 30 minutes’ football. It’s going to take a huge effort from the Brisbane midfield to give Leppitsch any chance of a fairytale first-up win, but man for man it looks a miss-match.

My Tip: Hawthorn by 31 pts

Saturday 22 March
St Kilda v Melbourne - Etihad Stadium – 6.40pm (AEST)

Alan Richardson or Paul Roos? Barring a draw, one of the coaches in this battle of the battlers will rest easily on Saturday night after a first-up win, and one will have an almighty headache.

Richardson, Ken Hinkley’s highly-regarded off-sider at Port Adelaide last year, has stepped into a challenging role at St.Kilda after they finished 16th last year with just five wins and sacked Scott Watters. And he’s been dealt a tough card in Round 1 with the absence of key midfielders Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven, plus Sam Fisher, Sam Gilbert and Adam Schneider.

Richardson is an AFL coaching rookie, having coached just once at this level as a fill-in for an unwell Hinkley last year. Roos, who spent three years in the media after nine years in charge at Sydney, brings with him the experience of 202 games at the elite level, as he looks to turn around a Demons outfit that had only two wins in finishing 17th last year.

Melbourne, too, have been hit hard by injury, and will be without the firepower up forward of Mitch Clark, Chris Dawes and Jesse Hogan in a match between the equal favorites for the wooden-spoon. They lost the last five to the Saints by an average 26 points, but the Roos factor looms large.

My Tip: Melbourne by 26 pts

Sunday 23 March
West Coast v Western Bulldogs - Patersons Stadium – 6.40pm (AEST)

Coach Adam Simpson will step into the enormous shoes of West Coast Eagles favourite son John Worsfold to try to resurrect a team that was the No.1 flop of last year. Tipped as 2013 premiership fancies by many, the Eagles finished 13th with a 9-13 win/loss record. Pointedly, they were 3-9 at Paterson Stadium, where they were once near-unbeatable, and accounted for only North Melbourne (10th) Gold Coast (14th) and Western Bulldogs (15th).

The Dogs, with Ryan Griffin assuming the captaincy from Matthew Boyd, were big improvers in the second half of 2013 under second-year coach Brendan McCartney, winning five of their last nine to finish with an 8-14 record overall that was better than it sounds. They were 3-4 on interstate travels, highlighted by a Darwin win over semi-finalists Port Adelaide, and showed genuine promise.
There will be a fantastic battle in the ruck, with 2013 All-Australian Will Minson up against six-time All-Australian Dean Cox and, if fit, 2012 All-Australian Nic Naitanui.
The Dogs, keen to win in the 250th game of Rob Murphy, won the last time the sides met at Etihad in Round 18 last year by 22 points, but the Eagles had won four in a row by an average of 62 points prior to that and have shown better pre-season form.
My Tip: West Coast by 49 pts

Richard Champion, former Brisbane Lion