An early crunch game for two of the 2013 finalists, with the loser to be 0-2 after both sides had poor Round 1 performances two weeks ago. Richmond are coming off a disappointing away loss to Gold Coast, while Carlton were upstaged by Port Adelaide at Etihad, after being 22 points up. A bumper crowd is expected for the replay of last year’s elimination final in which the Blues came from 20 points down to end the Tigers’ 2013 fairytale.
Carlton have dominated Richmond in recent years, winning 11 of their past 12 meetings, including nine consecutive wins from 2008-12 and a 2-1 head-to-head split last year. But Richmond’s 9-5 record at the MCG last year was superior to the Blues’ 4-5 mark at headquarters.
Essendon v Hawthorn – Etihad Stadium – 6.50pm (AEST)
How long can Essendon players continue to be seemingly unaffected by the ongoing James Hird/supplements saga? In a carbon copy of their 2013 beginning, they were nothing short of superb in Round 1 in putting a fancied North Melbourne to the sword. And in doing so, they posted the highest possession count in the League, with a whopping 499 (including 299 uncontested possessions) as Jobe Watson and Brendon Goddard led the way.
But the Bombers face a much bigger assignment in Round 2 against reigning premiers Hawthorn. The Hawks were clinical in wearing down a persistent Brisbane Lions in Launceston last week and will be strengthened by the return from suspension of Cyril Rioli. It’s all systems go for Alastair Clarkson’s men as they look to extend a four-match winning streak against their long-time arch rivals in which they have triumphed by 16, 65, 95 and 56 points – albeit, now minus Buddy Franklin, who kicked 50 goals in 10 games against Essendon.
My Tip: Hawthorn by 19 pts
Saturday 29 March
St Kilda v GWS Giants - Etihad Stadium – 12.40pm (AEST)
The GWS Giants have never won two games in a row, have never won in Melbourne, and have never beaten St Kilda. Yet after an emotion-charged 32-point breakthrough Round 1 win over premiership fancies Sydney, they are right in the mix to add a new chapter to their club history.
But the brash young Giants face a Saints outfit coming off their own confidence-boosting win over fellow battlers Melbourne to open Alan Richardson’s coaching reign. And they will be bolstered by the return of key midfielders Lenny Hayes and Leigh Montagna to support Round 1 hero Nick Riewoldt, who was nothing short of masterful to start his 14th campaign.
The numbers are stacked against GWS. St Kilda have beaten them by 128 points and 72 points in their two previous meetings, and have won their last three games at Etihad, where the competition newcomers are 0-5, with losses by 67, 128, 39, 94 and 86 points. But with Josh Hunt playing his 200th AFL game for the visitors, an upset beckons.
My Tip: GWS by 16 pts
If a showdown can ever get any bigger, this is it. It’s one of the biggest sporting events in SA history … the first showdown at the new-look Adelaide Oval, where a sellout crowd of 50,000 will see the two SA clubs out to claim early bragging rights for 2014.
It’s the 36th showdown overall, with Port enjoying a 19-16 advantage overall after a narrow clean-sweep last year and a 5-3 edge over the last four years.
The Power were superbly drilled in accounting for Carlton in the season-opener two weeks ago, while a depleted Adelaide were impressive for 90 minutes against Geelong before capitulating in the final stanza to the home side. If there’s one lesson to be learned in assessing showdown history, it is that form counts for nothing.
My Tip: Crows by 13 pts
Fremantle have firmed from $5.25 equal second favorites for the AFL premiership to $4.25 equal favorites after a Round 1 demolition of Collingwood. It was as clinical as it gets, and after such a dominant opening in Melbourne, the Dockers will be keen to stamp a similar mark in their first outing on home turf against an ever-improving Gold Coast outfit.
Interestingly, the Dockers had the highest rotation count in round 1 (118) and the Suns the lowest (75). The Suns’ figures were distorted by the loss of Jack Martin and Charlie Dixon to injury before halftime, but if it’s hot in Perth look for coach Guy McKenna to make much more frequent use of his bench.
The Suns, coming off an impressive first-up home win over Richmond, have never beaten Fremantle and have never won at Patersons Stadium. It’ll take something extra-special from superstar Gary Ablett against the competition’s premier tagger in Ryan Crowley if the Suns are to shed this double hoodoo, and even that may not be enough.
My Tip: Fremantle by 51 pts
Saturday 29 March
Sydney Swans v Collingwood - ANZ Stadium – 6.40pm (AEST)
It’s an identical situation to the Thursday night game between Richmond and Carlton, with the losers to be 0-2 and under early season pressure after diabolical Round 1 losses.
Sydney coach John Longmire signed a contract extension to 2017 in the wake of his side’s shock loss to ‘baby brother’ GWS two weeks ago. He will have read the riot act to a side that is likely to be bolstered by the inclusion of co-captain Kieren Jack for its first meeting with Pies debutant and ex-Swan Jesse White.
Interestingly, Josh Kennedy will play his 100th club game for the Swans on the same weekend his namesake will play his 100th club game for West Coast.
Collingwood, embarrassed by Fremantle in Round 1, will have ex-captain Nick Maxwell playing his 200th game in Nathan Buckley’s 50th game at the helm. And they’ll be on favourable turf at ANZ, where they have a 9-3 edge over the Swans.
The Pies are 11-2 against Sydney in recent years, and more importantly, 3-2 against them in the last three years. Oddly, though, the away side won each time they met last year – Collingwood by 29 points at ANZ and Sydney by 47 points at the MCG.
My Tip: Swans by 46 pts
Flashback: In the corresponding Round 13 game at the Gabba last year Lions' 200-gamer Ash McGrath kicked a goal after the siren to complete a remarkable 52-point turnaround and a five-point home win. And when the two sides met at Simonds Stadium 10 weeks later, the Cats prevailed by a point.
Whether it can be as close again this time is questionable, especially after the Lions lost Tom Rockliff to suspension. But Brisbane proved they will be no pushover when they stretched premiers Hawthorn for three quarters in Launceston last week in Justin Leppitsch’s senior coaching debut.
The home side will have the added motivation this week of the 100-game milestones of Daniel Rich and Jack Reddan, who is set to become only the eighth player play 100 consecutive games from debut. He’ll join Jared Crouch (194), John Murphy (158), David Mundy (124), Steven Wallis (113), Allan Woodley (110), current Lions assistant-coach Shane Woewodin (107) and Ian Law (100) in this elite group.
Geelong, outstanding as they over-ran Adelaide in Round 1 in Jimmy Bartel’s 250th game, also have a milestone motivation, with Andrew Mackie to play his 200th game. And coach Chris Scott would love nothing more than to put an early one over the man with whom he played countless games together in the Brisbane defence.
The Cats have an 11-2 head-to-head record against the Lions since 2006, including five wins by more than 50 points, and have won five of their past seven visits to the Gabba.
My Tip: Cats by 32 pts
West Coast were the big movers in the premiership market following Round 1, jumping from a $21 ninth favourite to the fifth line of betting at $13 after their home demolition of the Western Bulldogs. With five-goal forward Mark LeCras in superb touch, they looked every bit the powerhouse the competition was expecting 12 months ago.
Melbourne showed some good signs too, but still lost to fellow battlers St.Kilda in Paul Roos’ coaching debut at the 'Ds'. How they will kick a winning score minus much of their first-choice forward line remains a perplexing question.
The Eagles have won their past five meetings with the Demons by 29, 54, 48, 108 and 94 points, and although they’ve won just two of 14 games at the MCG since 2008, both came against Melbourne.
Interestingly, West Coast’s Dean Cox is set to play his 275th game, equalling Stephen Milne’s AFL record for most games by a player who started on the rookie list. Others in this category are James McDonald (264), Brett Kirk (241), Mal Michael (238), Darren Jolly (237), Michael Doughty (231), Russell Robertson (228), Quentin Lynch (227) and Tarkyn Lockyer (227).
All eyes will be on North Melbourne as they desperately look to atone for a Round 1 performance in which they were obliterated by Essendon, prompting coach Brad Scott to label his side “horrific”. The bookies were cautious, dropping their premiership price from $15 to $17, but another bad one and they’ll blow out completely.
Just getting their hands on the football will be the Roos’ first objective. They were beaten by almost 50 in contested possessions by Essendon.
The Bulldogs were similarly disappointing, going down by 65 points to West Coast in Perth, and, just as is the daunting prospect in the Richmond–Carlton and Sydney-Collingwood games, the loser will find themselves 0-2.
North won their last meeting by 54 points in Round 13 last year, when Majak Daw kicked six goals on debut, and have a 3-2 edge over the Dogs in the last three years. But the Dogs, who are desperately hoping skipper Ryan Griffen will return, are 5-3 against the Roos since 2009.
My Tip: North Melbourne by 40 pts
Richard Champion, former Brisbane Lion