Digby Beacham’s AFL Preview: Round 1


Carlton v Richmond, MCG, 4.30pm

Both these sides found themselves on the canvas during opening round. Somehow Carlton were able to pick themselves up and deliver the most unlikely of knockout blows to premiership contenders Brisbane. Richmond also regained some balance in their tussle with Gold Coast, but stagnated late and were comprehensively beaten.

Importantly for rookie Richmond coach Adem Yze, he’s been able to call on the cavalry … namely Dustin Martin, Tom Lynch and Toby Nankervis for this clash with the Blues which is expected to attract a crowd of more than 85,000. Carlton’s come-from-behind win will fuel their self-belief, although their campaign for 2024 will continue minus Sam Docherty (knee).

The return of Lynch is huge for Richmond, but it is the other end of the ground where the Tigers face their biggest test. Putting the clamps on Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay is a difficult task. Just ask Brisbane.

VERDICT: Carlton by 1-39 points


Collingwood v Sydney, MCG, 4.40pm

Collingwood did a lot of things right against GWS last weekend. But they were sloppy in some key areas, weren’t as clinical in front of goal as we have become accustomed to and when you factor in a quality opponent in the Giants, it wasn’t a shock they lowered their colours.

It would be a shock if they were to suffer back-to-back defeats, however. The Magpies will unfurl their premiership flag before a pro-Collingwood crowd that is expected to be massive and unlike Melbourne, should be able to expose the absence of Sydney’s injured midfield trio Luke Parker, Callum Mills and Taylor Adams.

Jeremy Howe didn’t quite come up from a corked calf in time for last weekend. If he returns here, the Magpies’ vaunted backline becomes immeasurably better.

VERDICT: Collingwood by 1-39 points 


Essendon v Hawthorn, MCG, 10.45am

Essendon coach Brad Scott pleaded patience this week, saying he was keen to oversee an eight-year plan to restore the club to its glory days. The recruiting spree off-season, netting Ben McKay, Xavier Duursma, Todd Goldstein and Jade Gresham surely has the Bombers in the flag frame before then.

I suppose we will find out more by the time this absorbing contest is concluded. Essendon would love nothing more than to expose Hawthorn’s shortcomings, whereas the Hawks would have smiles like split watermelons if their bitter rivals found themselves in the crosshairs of critics following a round-one loss.

Essendon have their personnel challenges, but they pale into insignificance compared to what Hawthorn have had to endure over the summer. This looks well within the grasp of the Bombers, even taking into account they should be better later in the season.

VERDICT: Essendon to win

GWS v North Melbourne, ENGIE Stadium, 1.35pm

There is considerable optimism at Arden Street as Alastair Clarkson prepares for his second year at the helm. But the cold, hard fact is North Melbourne still have much hard work to undertake to arrive at the destination they desperately crave.

GWS might not be there yet either. They are fast approaching it though. The slick, hard-running display against Collingwood last Saturday night made the rest of the competition sit up and take notice. The win bore so many of the best traits of GWS and was achieved without a telling display from Toby Greene.

Given the Kangaroos’ deficiencies behind the ball, Greene and his fellow forwards, including WA’s Jesse Hogan, might just dine out on home soil.

VERDICT: GWS to win by 40 points or more

Geelong v St Kilda, GMHBA Stadium, 4.30pm

Those believing Geelong rebound quickly and return to September action in 2024 point out their decided home-ground advantage down at GMHBA Stadium. It makes perfect sense. The Cats are undeniably efficient before their home fans.

Therefore, this match on home soil on a night when the Joel Selwood Stand is unveiled, is non-negotiable. Don’t go losing to a depleted St Kilda and expect to be a threat against some of the competition’s elite at the pointy end of the year.

The Cats will miss Cam Guthrie (quad), but they enjoyed a seamless summer and have a quality blend of experience and youth to stretch the Saints.

VERDICT: Geelong to win 

Gold Coast v Adelaide, People First Stadium, 5.10pm

If Riley Thilthorpe’s long-term knee injury on the eve of the season wasn’t bad enough, Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks confirmed this week that Taylor Walker would miss the trek to Queensland because of a back injury.

That is a double blow for the Crows, who have been absent from finals for what seems an eternity. Talking of the post-season, Gold Coast’s thrust towards an historic September appearance made the perfect start against Richmond in opening round.

All of Damien Hardwick’s “shiny new toys” were on display, with the work of Matt Rowell around the stoppages unbelievably good. Night games this time of year in south-east Queensland can also be challenging. The Suns know that better than most.

VERDICT: Gold Coast to win


Melbourne v Western Bulldogs, MCG, 10am

Two sides that have teased and ultimately disappointed their respective supporter bases in a Sunday afternoon showdown which is going to dominate the headlines for at least 24 to 36 hours after the final siren. How good is football?

Melbourne remain on the watchlist after a turbulent summer and the same applies to Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge, who has shown himself incapable of handling external expectation like an accomplished coach should.

The Demons’ lack of connectivity from their midfield to attack was evident yet again against Sydney. Is just over one week sufficient for Simon Goodwin to make the necessary tweaks? And can Beveridge bed down an approach which is going to give his side a chance of being at its best consistently? This is must-watch.

VERDICT: Western Bulldogs to win

Port Adelaide v West Coast, Adelaide Oval, 1pm

No coach in the league is under more pressure than Adam Simpson. Yes, West Coast are belatedly in a rebuild and therefore cannot be expected to challenge for a finals berth in 2024. But Simpson simply must narrow the gap between the team’s best and worst.

If he fails to work out that riddle, he will not see out his contract. Alarmingly and as silly as it sounds considering the Eagles finished 18th in 2023, their draw to start the year is brutal, kicking off with this clash against Port Adelaide.

The Power aren’t going to be at full strength, but they are at home and have a habit of making slick starts to matches. If they get the jump on West Coast early doors, the response from Simpson’s men will be fascinating.

VERDICT: Port Adelaide to win by 39 points or more

Fremantle v Brisbane, Optus Stadium, 3.50pm

If Fremantle held out hope that Brisbane would arrive in Perth slightly vulnerable, it was dashed by Lachie Neale’s Tuesday press conference when he went on the attack over his side’s capitulation in the second half to Carlton.

A ferocious response is coming and it is up to Fremantle to meet them head-on … not wait until quarter-time to reset and get involved in the contest like so often was the case in 2023.

The Dockers’ best is still highly effective. But they need to showcase it more regularly, along with a willingness to be bolder with ball in hand. How they exit their defensive 50m is going to be as telling as the influence of Nat Fyfe, who has ticked every box over summer to be at full fitness entering the season.

VERDICT: Brisbane to win

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