It’s been a long time coming for AFL fans, but the footy is officially back.
2015 looms as one of the most even seasons yet, with Hawthorn looking to achieve immortality with a third premiership in as many years, the Swans looking to atone after an embarrassing finish to their campaign – whilst two up and coming teams in North Melbourne and Port Adelaide look to go one step further than last year and make it to that last Saturday in September. Oh, forgive me, October.
That is not where the intrigue ends though, with the evergreen Cats looking to regain their spot amongst the game’s elite, Fremantle in search of the ever elusive maiden premiership and an ASADA-free Essendon looking to break the shackles of public humiliation and finally make the headlines for the right reasons.
And let’s not forget the bald maestro and his band of youngsters at the Gold Coast looking to make the finals for the first time in their history.
However, before we get too ahead of ourselves let’s take a look at what the opening round of football has in store for us.
Tigers vs. Blues
Thursday, April 2nd, 7:20pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Richmond – $1.92 (+11.5)
Carlton – $1.92 (-11.5)
The traditional Thursday night opener between the Blues and the Tigers finds its way back to the home of football, yet no one is quite sure what to expect from two of the games’ most enigmatic teams.
Both teams will debut new players, with the Blues giving former Giant swingman Kristian Jaksch his first taste of senior action, while former Bulldog Liam Jones has been named at full forward.
Former Geelong run-with midfielder Taylor Hunt will also make his debut, pulling on the Yellow and Black for the first time.
The Tigers have had an abysmal record against Carlton, winning just two of their last ten match ups – this has to play on the minds of the Richmond players going into their round one encounter.
Expect the Blues to kick their season off in style.
Exotic: Bryce Gibbs to have 30 disposals or more $4 via Sportsbet
Demons vs. Suns
Saturday, April 4th, 1:40pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Melbourne – $1.92 (+15.5)
Gold Coast – $1.92 (-15.5)
The Dees and the Suns are the first two teams to square off on a massive Saturday of football, with both teams looking to improve after indifferent campaigns last season.
The Suns will welcome back inspirational captain and best player in the competition Gary Ablett, which will give them a monumental boost, but the Dees will also have reasons of optimism too with ex-Pie Heritier Lumumba and highly touted younger Jesse Hogan both running out in Melbourne colours for the first time.
This is a game that is huge for both clubs. A pass mark for the Gold Coast this year is to play finals football, and if that is to be the case they simply must win games like this one.
For Melbourne however, this is about showing the fans there has been progression in the off-season. Any improvement will be a welcome sight to Melbourne fans who have not seen their team win in round one in 10 years.
Suns should win this one comfortably and kick their season off in the right fashion.
Tip: Gold Coast Suns -23.5 $2.40 via Sportsbet pick your own line
Exotic: Harley Bennell to score the first goal $12 via Sportsbet
Swans vs. Bombers
Saturday, April 4th, 4:35pm, ANZ Stadium.
Sydney – $1.92 (-24.5)
Essendon – $1.92 (+24.5)
For the first time in almost two and half years, the Essendon players enter round one of the home and away season without the lingering threat of an ASADA punishment hanging over their heads.
The Dons, who have won four of their last five opening fixture contests come up against a Swans outfit that has dominated them in recent times, winning six of the last seven clashes between the two.
However, the Swans are notorious for their slow starts to the season, winning only two of their round one encounters (both wins coming against a significantly weakened GWS team) since 2006.
One thing the Swans do have in their favour though is full forward Lance Franklin, who has made a habit of dismantling Essendon in the past. The gun full forward averages an incredible five goals a game against the Dons.
This game will be a lot closer than the odds suggest, but the Swans should prove too strong for a gallant Essendon.
Exotic: Lance Franklin first goal scorer $7 via Sportsbet
Lions vs. Magpies
Saturday, April 4th, 7.10pm, GABBA
Brisbane – $1.92 (-8.5)
Collingwood – $1.92 (+8.5)
This is match that the Pies’ fans have been waiting for – the grudge match between former premiership hero Dayne Beams and his Collingwood teammates from last season.
The Lions have done their fair share of off-season recruiting, bringing in premiership experience in the form of Beams and ex-Cat Allen Christensen, as well as over 100 games of experience from former Blue Mitch Robinson.
The Pies on the other hand have set their sights on the future, trading out mature aged recruits in order to gain top-end talent through the draft.
Even with the talent that has left the Collingwood footy club, the guys that remain – Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Travis Cloke – are all capable of putting in match-winning displays, making the Pies a constant threat throughout the season.
However, the Lions will have plenty to prove this season and should be able to get the job done against the travelling Pies.
Tip: Lions -12.5 $2.10 via William Hill
Exotic: First team to kick three goals – Brisbane $1.87 via William Hill
Bulldogs vs. Eagles
Saturday, April 4th, 7:20pm, Etihad Stadium
Western Bulldogs – $1.92 (+11.5)
West Coast – $1.92 (-11.5)
The final game of the Saturday sees the Bulldogs face the Eagles in what could be an intriguing contest.
The Eagles will be looking to atone after a poor 2014 which saw them fail to make the 8, whilst the Bulldogs will be looking to blood some youngsters after the departure of two of their most seasoned veterans in Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffin.
The Eagles will be without two of their premier backmen, with injured all-Australian defender Eric McKenzie sidelined for the season with an ACL, and heart-and-soul half back flanker Beau Waters retirement through injury.
Fortunately for the Eagles though the Bulldogs’ forwards are still very new to the game and won’t be as imposing as other opponents they will face throughout the season.
Expect the Eagles to overpower their much younger opponents and get the victory.
Tip: West Coast 1-39 winning margin $2.25 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Western Bulldogs to lead at quarter time and lose the game $5.20 via Sportsbet
Saints vs. Giants
Sunday, April 5th, 1:40pm, Etihad Stadium
St Kilda – $1.92 (+17.5)
GWS – $1.92 (-17.5)
The early Sunday afternoon game sees last year’s 18th and 16th teams square off with one squad entering the season full of optimism and the other facing a second successive wooden spoon.
The Giants spent their off-season bolstering their midfield and backline, recruiting dual best and fairest winners at their respective clubs ex-Lion Joel Patfull and former Bulldogs captain Ryan Griffin – both of whom will add a wealth of experience and most importantly quality to a side that lacked in both areas last year.
The Saints on the other hand, have looked to the future, investing their number one draft pick in a tall forward (which in AFL terms means we won’t see his best football until at least 2017), whilst recruiting fringe players from teams placed higher on the ladder, like ex-Swan Tim Membrey.
This does not bode well for the St Kilda going into this match, or the season proper.
Expect the Giants to easily account for the Saints.
Exotic: First goal scorer Jeremy Cameron $8 via Sportsbet
Crows vs. Kangaroos
Sunday, April 5th, 3:20pm, Adelaide Oval
Adelaide – $1.92 (-7.5)
North Melbourne – $1.92 (+7.5)
The first game for the season outside the eastern states sees the Crows face off against top four aspirants North Melbourne in a game that has the potential to be the match of the round.
North are coming off their best season in almost ten years, making it all the way to the preliminary final before being dismantled by Sydney, while the Crows had a season they would like to forget, failing to finish in the top eight.
The Kangaroos have been busy in the off-season to try and enhance their chances of bettering last season’s fourth placed finish, with the acquisition of smooth moving Shaun Higgins and enigmatic forward Jarrad Waite; both of whom have made a strong impression so far in the pre-season.
The venue should not hold any fear for North either given Adelaide’s indifferent form on their home track in 2014. The Crows won only half of their home games last season, with only two of those victories coming against teams above them.
Whilst the Crows go into this match as slight favourites, North Melbourne is the best bet of the round given their odds and likelihood of victory.
Tip: North Melbourne to win $2.25 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Drew Petrie first goal scorer $12 via Sportsbet
Dockers vs. Power
Sunday, April 5th, 4:40pm, Patersons Stadium
Fremantle – $1.92 (-4.5)
Port Adelaide – $1.92 (+4.5)
Last of the Sunday games sees the Dockers face the Power in a rematch of last year’s epic semi-final showdown.
Last season saw the Power overrun a tired Dockers outfit on their way to a preliminary final, where they just fell short by less than a goal to eventual premiers Hawthorn. The Power did not become complacent in the off-season either, with the recruitment of ex-Essendon ruckman Paddy Ryder. Ryder is a fantastic coup for coach Ken Hinkley and seemingly the final piece of the premiership puzzle.
The Dockers conversely have not made any significant changes to their list and will attack season 2015 with essentially the same team that fell well short when the finals rolled around.
Port should enter the season full of confidence and take the points back home to South Australia.
Tip: Port Adelaide pick your own line (-12.5) $3 via Sportsbet
Exotic: Port Adelaide first team to score$1.94 via Sportsbet
Hawks vs. Cats
Monday, April 6th, 2:40pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground
Hawthorn – $1.92 (+17.5)
Geelong – $1.92 (-17.5)
The round begins with a traditional fixture and ends with one – two of the greatest teams of the modern era square off on Easter Monday; a day they have made their own.
The reigning premiers Hawthorn will go into this match full of confidence, after easily accounting for the Cats in the qualifying final last season. The so-called ‘Kennett Curse’ seems to have lifted; the Hawks no longer fear the Cats.
However, that should not mean they should not be wary of them.
The Cats have arguably the best forward in the game in Tom Hawkins, and along with their new addition to the front half, versatile bigman Mitch Clarke; the Cats will stretch even the most indomitable backlines.
This promises to be a fantastic contest with five of their last eight encounters being decided by 10 points or less.
Still, the reigning premiers look very hard to beat and should come away with the points.
Tip: Hawthorn HT/FT double $1.80 via Sportsbet