Richmond v Carlton @ MCG, 4.25pm
A new season brings new hope for Carlton fans, but there is going to be a same old storyline at the completion of this match.
Richmond have owned the Blues in round one of the season proper for the past six years and it’s difficult to see how that changes. The Blues are without key forwards Charlie Curnow (knee) and Harry McKay (groin) and veteran Eddie Betts (calf), leaving coach David Teague with a major dilemma in the front half.
At the other end of the ground, Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt form a potent combination, assisted greatly by Dustin Martin, and are serviced by a brilliant midfield. Though Alex Rance will be absent again and Bachar Houli (calf) is missing, the Tigers boast a miserly defensive unit dripping with experience and success.
VERDICT: Richmond by 30 points
Western Bulldogs v Collingwood @ Marvel Stadium, 4.50pm
If the Western Bulldogs are to be active at the pointy end of the compromised season that is upon us, then this is a game they must win.
The Bulldogs have a midfield that accumulates massive numbers and most importantly, is fit. Marcus Bontempelli, Josh Dunkley, Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae will cause serious headaches throughout 2020 and Collingwood front up against them without Adam Treloar (hamstring) and Levi Greenwood (knee), while Taylor Adams (hip) has had his pre-season issues.
The most interesting aspect of this match is how the rapid-fire approach of the Bulldogs is countered by Magpies, who play a very measured, patient brand. The contest being at Marvel Stadium tips the match in the favour of Luke Beveridge’s men.
VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 17 points
Essendon v Fremantle @ Marvel Stadium, 10.45am
Essendon have not enjoyed the injury-free summer John Worsfold would have loved entering the final year of his tenure at Tullamarine, but the same applies to Justin Longmuir in his maiden season at the helm of Fremantle.
The Dockers are without a swag of their best players, with the defensive unit missing injured high-calibre trio Alex Pearce, Joel Hamling and Nathan Wilson, while Stephen Hill, a proven distributor either through the midfield or off half-back, is also wounded.
The likelihood of a young Fremantle line-up is advantaged by this match being played before no fans, but getting over the top of the Bombers away from home could well be beyond them.
VERDICT: Essendon by 28 points
Adelaide v Sydney @ Adelaide Oval, 1.35pm
What loomed as a difficult assignment when the fixture was released has now become a golden opportunity for Matthew Nicks to launch his senior coaching career in style.
Any time you tackle a Sydney side sans Lance Franklin, you need to cash in and the Crows should be expecting to do exactly that, even taking into account that the venue holds no fears for the Swans.
It is highly unlikely either team will be active in the finals, but the Crows look healthy and can be expected to hold sway midfield and make a statement in new captain Rory Sloane’s 200th appearance.
VERDICT: Adelaide by 18 points
Gold Coast v Port Adelaide @ Metricon Stadium, 4.25pm
Though we are working on a small sample size given the pre-season competition comprised of just two matches, it was hard not to be impressed with what Gold Coast produced.
The Suns are coming from a long way back and need to halt an alarming losing sequence that led to them claiming the wooden spoon. That said, they do boast some quality young kids and the ball movement from the back half in the pre-season suggested they are ready to be bolder in 2020.
Not for the first time, Port Adelaide have had a fair bit to say over the summer. To put it bluntly, Ken Hinkley needs to guide his side back into the finals. Failure to do so could have dire consequences. Beating the Suns, regardless of the venue, is non-negotiable.
VERDICT: Port Adelaide by 11 points
GWS v Geelong @ Giants Stadium, 4.25pm
Redemption for Greater Western Sydney starts now. Not round two, round four or when they play Richmond.
The Giants were obliterated on the biggest stage of all and need to send a message to the competition. Geelong are well aware that Leon Cameron’s side would love nothing more than to flex its muscles and having Joel Selwood available after hamstring surgery is critically important.
But Tim Kelly’s replacement, Jack Steven, is missing and the Giants midfield, despite missing Callan Ward, is brimming with elite talent that has shredded far more talented running divisions than what the Cats will throw at them.
VERDICT: GWS by 27 points
North Melbourne v St Kilda @ Marvel Stadium, 10.10am
Interim coaches in the latter half of 2019. Full-time mentors with added expectation in 2020. That is the scenario Rhyce Shaw (North Melbourne) and Brett Ratten (St Kilda) find themselves in.
And this round-one clash offers supporters of both clubs genuine hope that the season can start in style. The Kangaroos are a hard-nosed outfit under Shaw and the Saints, boosted by the recruitment of Bradley Hill, Zak Jones, Dougal Howard, Dan Butler and Paddy Ryder, feel a return to the finals is achievable.
The Kangaroos are expected to name Ben Brown, but his pre-season has been interrupted by a calf injury and he could well be rusty. That gives the Saints a real chance.
VERDICT: St Kilda by 10 points
Hawthorn v Brisbane @ MCG, 12.20pm
Healthy, hungry and sporting a good recent record against Hawthorn, there are no excuses for Brisbane not to start the season in a similar fashion to what they did 12 months ago opposed to West Coast.
The Lions slipped themselves after half-time against Carlton in week two of the pre-season when all of their quality on all lines was on display. The Hawks know this is a tough assignment given how successful Chris Fagan has been against them, but in Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Mitchell and James Worpel, they have three terrific ball winners.
How Hawthorn offset their lack of leg speed against a slick Lions side will be fascinating to watch.
VERDICT: Brisbane by 23 points
West Coast v Melbourne @ Optus Stadium, 3.20pm
There are a few narratives that will dominate the commentary this season … and two of them involve teams featuring here.
How will West Coast stack up in the flag race with Tim Kelly joining a midfield led by talismanic ruckman Nic Naitanui and do Melbourne have the intestinal fortitude to rebound from a horror 2019 after what was deemed a breakthrough 2018?
The Eagles didn’t win a pre-season match, but the return of Jack Darling (facial fracture) is an enormous boost, even in the absence of the parochial West Coast home crowd.
VERDICT: West Coast by 20 pointsMarket Market