Melbourne v Western Bulldogs, MCG, 4.10pm
Melbourne and a premiership defence. While it has a strange ring to it, the Demons well and truly deserve their moment in the sun (or in this instance, the bright MCG lights) following their heroics last year in Perth.
Simon Goodwin’s men monstered the Western Bulldogs in the 2021 decider and get another opportunity to assert their dominance before their home fans. And unlike the Bulldogs, who partied like it was 1999 following their flag triumph in 2016, Melbourne appear well and truly switched on.
They will need to be. The Bulldogs are stinging after surrendering in the final 35 minutes of last year’s grand final, with their midfield mix, viewed as a strength, rendered useless by the potent mix Melbourne were able to dish up.
If the Demons can break even at worst in the midfield, they have the potency forward of the ball in what should be ideal conditions courtesy of Ben Brown and Bailey Fritsch, not to mention the tradesman Tom McDonald, who will give contest after contest.
VERDICT: Melbourne by 1-24 points
Carlton v Richmond, MCG, 4.25pm
Michael Voss wasn’t Carlton’s first choice when they went looking for David Teague’s replacement. But if one of the greatest leaders of the modern era can orchestrate an upset win over Richmond tonight, he will quickly became a darling of the Blues fans.
The Tigers have owned this stage against Carlton for seemingly an eternity. Indeed, their current winning streak over the Blues stands at 11 games and if the market is correct, that will be stretched to an even dozen by the time the final siren sounds.
Richmond enjoyed a smooth summer after years of late starts to pre-seasons because of deep finals runs, with the tinkering of the game plan (expect to see Noah Balta and Liam Baker play forward) predicted to pay dividends.
As for Carlton, they are missing Sam Walsh (ankle), but regain Charlie Curnow in attack, and add both Adam Cerra and George Hewett to the midfield. As much as the Blues are tipped to improve in 2022, this contest might still be out of reach.
VERDICT: Richmond by 1-39 points
St Kilda v Collingwood, Marvel Stadium, 4.50pm
After two years of hub life, last-minute changes and fixture flexibility, it is great to digest what promises to be a schedule set in stone. Why? Because we can now talk venue games … starting right here, right now.
St Kilda can be a tough nut to crack at their home ground, Marvel Stadium. Conversely, Collingwood are better suited at the MCG than the Docklands site. And even with the Saints missing a swag of high-class players, that fact alone tips the scales in their favour.
The Saints are not batting as deep midfield as they will when at full tilt, but if the likes of Jack Steele, Brad Crouch, Jade Gresham and Seb Ross find enough ball and supply a forward line boasting Max King, Tim Membrey, Dan Butler, Jack Higgins and Mason Wood, it’s not unreasonable to think Brett Ratten’s men can make a much-desired start to the season.
The post-Nathan Buckley era at Collingwood launches with Craig McRae’s first game at the helm. The expectation is we will see a more attacking Magpies outfit in 2022 than what we witnessed for the bulk of Buckley’s stint.
VERDICT: St Kilda by 1-39 points
Geelong v Essendon, MCG, 11.10am
Another summer has come and gone spent debating the merits of Geelong’s recruiting policy and whether they have the cattle/game plan to contend.
It is an argument that rages for the best part of 12 months and will be the topic of conversation regardless of what happens in the Cats’ clash with Essendon. Whereas the Bombers are pumping games into kids, Geelong are holding the line with their experienced players, all the while being conscious of planning for the future.
Geelong haven’t got any quicker over the pre-season, which in all likelihood means their desire to retain possession will be an approach they will continue to employ. If the Bombers establish momentum and impact the scoreboard, it places added pressure on the Cats to perhaps deviate from a formula that delivers them success in the home-and-away season.
VERDICT: Cam Guthrie to get 30 or more disposals
GWS v Sydney, Accor Stadium, 2.10pm
Trying to get a handle on how this match plays out requires a great deal of thought. And finding the winner could also be reliant on a fair slice of luck.
GWS, who edged their cross-city rivals in a dramatic elimination final last season, will be without Toby Greene in attack and Nick Haynes in defence. You could argue they are the Giants’ two most important players. But the depth at Leon Cameron’s disposal is still the envy of many sides.
As for Sydney, they are expected to build on what was an encouraging 2021. The Swans have a lovely blend of experience and youth, but there is also a suggestion John Longmire might not be able to call on some players because of health and safety protocols. This is a genuine 50-50 contest and the market reflects that.
VERDICT: Either team to win by 15 points or less
Brisbane v Port Adelaide, Gabba, 5.10pm
Brisbane hasen’t been a club that has done a lot of talking. It’s not the way the Lions go about their business. However, if they did, you would like to think they would shut up … the time for talking is done. They now need to get it done.
Three years of finals series from 2019-2021 have resulted in just one victory from six attempts for Chris Fagan. That trend cannot continue and with even fortune on the injury front, they would be disappointed if not active deep into September.
Port Adelaide have been to the past two preliminary finals, but have lost both at home and need to show they have the mettle to handle the occasion. Getting over the top of the Lions in hot and humid conditions early in the season is not an easy task.
VERDICT: Brisbane to win and Neale, Lyons and Rich to get 25 or more disposals @ $3.25 (Same Game Combo)
Hawthorn v North Melbourne, MCG, 10.10am
Not a great deal separated these two sides for the most part in 2021. That was until Alastair Clarkson turned in a string of quality coaching performances that elevated the Hawks to 14th position, leaving the Kangaroos in their dust and in possession of the wooden spoon.
The curtain has since been drawn on Clarkson’s time, leaving Sam Mitchell to guide the club into a new era. Unfortunately for the rookie coach, he enters what is a very winnable match without captain and ruckman Ben McEvoy and veteran goalsneak Luke Breust.
This is the second season for David Noble at the helm of the Kangaroos, albeit it feels like a fresh start with the recruitment of Jason Horne-Francis, Callum Coleman-Jones and Hugh Greenwood. With no McEvoy, North will be expecting Todd Goldstein to dominate the aerial battles.
VERDICT: North Melbourne to win
Adelaide v Fremantle, Adelaide Oval, 1.10pm
In a perfect world, Fremantle would have access to Nat Fyfe, Sean Darcy and Matt Taberner for round one. But we know the world is far from perfect at present and the Dockers are not the only team to be without quality players.
Adelaide are also impacted by the unavailability of important personnel, yet find themselves as favourites to open their account at home for the second season in a row. The Crows’ midfield is going to have to make do without Rory Laird (broken hand) and Paul Seedsman (concussion), but also welcomes back ball magnet Matt Crouch, who missed all of 2021 with a groin issue.
Despite the absence of Fyfe, Darcy and Taberner, the Dockers are solid behind the ball, as they have been for the most part in Justin Longmuir’s two years at the helm. Considering the Crows are without Taylor Walker (suspension), that might be telling.
VERDICT: Fremantle to win
West Coast v Gold Coast, Optus Stadium, 4.40pm
There needs to be a sense of urgency about Gold Coast. No longer can the Suns default to a talented young list with the promise of good times ahead. They have to start winning games on a regular basis and push for a finals berth.
And what better way to do just that than take down West Coast at Optus Stadium. The Eagles are banged up and vulnerable. If the Suns cannot exploit their deficiencies midfield, coupled with their inexperience, one has to wonder just where they sit in the pecking order.
The Eagles are solid enough in attack and defence, even factoring in their injuries, but Nic Naitanui will have to don his Superman cape and be a devastating force at stoppages. We know he can be exactly that.