Welcome to the Round 1 AFL preview. In what has become a near kick and giggle at times, the NAB Challenge is finally over and we now get to enjoy some real contests. If you thought 2015 was tight, 2016 will be even tougher to predict with up to 12 sides legitimately fighting for a top eight position. There is an expectation developing that this season is going to produce more competitive encounters and therefore a higher overall quality due to the squeeze in the middle part of the pack. With rule changes including a 10 metre protected zone around the mark and a reduced interchange cap of 90, there is hope that a higher scoring brand of football will be produced.
The opening rounds of the season are always the hardest to assess as teams are still warming to game plans and new faces in their structures. The NAB Challenge as a whole isn’t worth the assessment, but some week four results in 2015 carried form into the season proper as clubs begin fielding stronger sides. I’m not saying that it is gospel (Hardwick fielding 15 players is a good example), but it is a decent indication in the correct circumstance.
Gold Coast @ the -34.5 Line
RICHMOND ($1.24) VS CARLTON ($4.25)
AT THE MCG, THURSDAY 24/03, 19:20
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R15 2015 Richmond 10.11 (71) dftd Carlton 5.11 (41) at the MCG
Line: Tigers -27.5, Blues +27.5
Richmond enter the 2016 season aiming for one key goal in particular, winning a final. The Tigers lost its third consecutive elimination in 2015, this time going down to North Melbourne. It begins 2016 with a very winnable game against the Blues, but have some unavailable star players. Brett Deledio is the biggest loss of the lot after succumbing to a quad injury, but is expected to return Round 2. Ruckman Ivan Maric will miss with a sore back, while Reece Conca and new recruit Chris Yarran are unlikely to be seen for first two months with hamstring and foot injuries respectively.
Carlton are coming off a miserable 2015 season and were the only side to have had three losses during the NAB Challenge. Things are already looking bleak, but its young stocks are looking promising nonetheless, especially No.1 draft pick Jacob Weitering. Skipper Marc Murphy has been struggling with a shoulder injury but has been named, while a reckless elbow swing by Dale Thomas during the NAB Challenge sees him miss the opening round to suspension. The Blues must put up competitive efforts early or the young heads will drop fast.
The Tigers have won the last three encounters against Carlton and despite missing some important players, shouldn’t have any problems overcoming a young Blues outfit.
RICHMOND TO WIN BY 34 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Tot Game Points – Under 173.5 Points @ $1.90
MELBOURNE ($2.16) VS GWS ($1.70)
AT THE MCG, SATURDAY 26/03, 13:45
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R23 2015 Melbourne 15.13 (103) dftd GWS Giants 11.11 (77) at ES
Line: Dees +5.5, Giants -5.5
After 2015 produced yet another season of low scores under Paul Roos, 2016 is already a hell of a lot more positive looking for Demons fans if the NAB Challenge is anything to go by. During the shortened matches of the current preseason format, Melbourne averaged a respectable 91.33 points per game. It also resulted in the Dees producing three victories, but how much trust can be put into these scoreboards? The fact that the players are looking to score is extremely positive, but can it be replicated in far more intense scenarios? Chris Dawes is the only real player of note who is unavailable for Melbourne’s first game.
Like Melbourne, GWS have had some encouraging preseason results and will go into the new season with impressive wins against Sydney and Brisbane to end the NAB Challenge. Unfortunately though, its forward line won’t be nearly as strong as it could have been on paper. Jeremy Cameron won’t be seen until Round 5 due to suspension after bumping Brisbane’s Rhys Mathieson and breaking his jaw. With Cam McCarthy on indefinite leave, an inexperienced tall combination of Lobb, Tomlinson and Stewart will be thrown in the deep end.
The Demons will go in confident after defeating the Giants in Round 23 to end its Etihad Stadium curse, but the Giants deserve credit after a strong preseason. I still need some convincing from Melbourne.
GWS TO WIN BY 15 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Jack Steel Most Possessions Gr2 @ $8.00
GOLD COAST ($1.22) VS ESSENDON ($4.25)
AT METRICON STADIUM, SATURDAY 26/03, 16:35
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R21 2015 Gold Coast 14.13 (97) dftd Essendon 14.11 (95) at MS
Line: Suns -34.5, Dons +34.5
The Gold Coast Suns will be desperate to start its 2016 campaign with a victory after its 2015 season was completely ruined by injury. Its injury epidemic hasn’t necessarily gone away either with stars Jaeger O’Meara and David Swallow out indefinitely with knee injuries, while Dion Prestia continues to nurse his own knee problems. Positively, the rest of the list looks relatively healthy and Gary Ablett is a certainty to line up in Round 1 after playing just 6 games in 2015. Its champion captain is capable of making the Suns competitive singlehandedly and lifts confidence levels. Expect Gazza to start the season with a blinder.
As we all know, Essendon are missing 12 key players through suspension for the entire year and will be even less competitive during 2016. The Bombers started its NAB Challenge campaign superbly with an unexpected 10 goal win against Carlton, but dropped off significantly after that. 87 point and 105 point losses to Geelong and West Coast respectively probably gave a greater indication of the hardship this club will be experiencing throughout the season. Journalists are already comparing this group to the Fitzroy list of 1996, but that seems a tad harsh at these very early stages.
I can’t see myself backing the Bombers very often or at all during 2016. The Suns should do it comfortably and must be considered at the line.
GOLD COAST TO WIN BY 56 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Gold Coast @ the -34.5 Line
NORTH MELBOURNE ($1.50) VS ADELAIDE ($2.60)
AT ETIHAD STADIUM, SATURDAY 26/03, 19:20
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R1 2015 Adelaide 21.14 (140) dftd North Melbourne 9.9 (63) at AO
Line: North -13.5, Crows +13.5
Two consecutive preliminary finals have expectations high for North Melbourne internally, but the public are struggling to match the clubs own excitement levels. The Kangaroos certainly weren’t disgraced during its NAB Challenge matches, but didn’t exactly show anything new that could help make it take the next step. The return of Daniel Wells has brought some smiles, but he alone won’t lift North to a Grand Final. Brad Scott is in charge of one of the oldest lists in the competition and must be concerned that his premiership clock is ticking past 12. The Kangaroos do currently possess a very healthy squad and is likely to enter Round 1 with its best 22 available.
Adelaide was one of the best performed sides during the NAB Challenge, but the loss of a superstar in Patrick Dangerfield continues to raise questions as to how they can even slightly cover his absence. The Crows were one of the best clearances sides last year ranking 2nd overall for differential, but have already dropped to 14th during the NAB Challenge without Dangerfield. It is probably the number one issue Don Pyke has focused on in his short time at West Lakes and isn’t going to be a quick fix.
The Crows have won 5 of the last 6 matches against North Melbourne, but Dangerfield has had a significant impact in each and every one of those games. They are two difficult teams to split this early in the season and I’m rolling with North at home on minimal confidence. Amazingly, North Melbourne hasn’t won a Round 1 game under Brad Scott.
NORTH MELBOURNE TO WIN BY 2 POINTS
No Bet to Consider
SYDNEY ($1.62) VS COLLINGWOOD ($2.30)
AT THE SCG, SATURDAY 26/03, 19:20
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R20 2015 Sydney 13.9 (87) dftd Collingwood 10.16 (76) at the SCG
Line: Swans -8.5, Pies +8.5
After finishing top four after the home and away rounds, there is no more disappointing result for a side than going out in straight sets. This happened to the Swans in 2015 after an obvious drop in intensity at the halfway point of the season. The loss of Buddy Franklin hurt the structure up forward, but he appears fit and ready to go after playing all three NAB Challenge games. Sydney ended the preseason with two victories, but certainly weren’t convincing against GWS and Carlton. Jarrad McVeigh, Sam Reid and Ben McGlynn are all set to start the season on the sidelines.
Collingwood were arguably the most impressive side of the NAB Challenge matches with three impressive wins against Geelong, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. Its midfield depth caught the eye of everyone, as numerous players rotated through the centre with similar impact. The inclusion of Adam Treloar is enormous, but the further improvement of players like Taylor Adams, Jordan de Goey and Levi Greenwood will be just as vital. The Pies enter the season with a much healthier list than previous seasons, but will still be without Jamie Elliott and Travis Varcoe for the opening rounds at least.
After the ANZ Stadium deal was scrapped, this match has now been moved to the SCG. While the Pies have only played at the SCG once in the last 15 years, they love travelling to Sydney and enter Round 1 fall of confidence. I’m sensing an upset here.
COLLINGWOOD TO WIN BY 8 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Collingwood Head to Head @ $2.30 (Sportsbet lead at any break offer)
WESTERN BULLDOGS ($1.70) VS FREMANTLE ($2.20)
AT ETIHAD STADIUM, SUNDAY 27/03, 13:10
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R7 2015 Western Bulldogs 14.4 (88) lost to Fremantle 15.11 (101) at ES
Line: Dogs -5.5, Freo +5.5
The Western Bulldogs were the surprise packet of the 2015 season and head into 2016 with high expectations. There are even some who believe that the Dogs can legitimately contend for the premiership, but I personally feel that is going a tad far. The Dogs had some good moments during the NAB Challenge, but didn’t reach any great heights with losses to Melbourne and Collingwood. The Dogs have a relatively healthy list, but with Will Minson nursing a hamstring and Tom Campbell underdone, the ruck stocks look quite thin. Fremantle are the perfect early season challenge for this side.
Fremantle probably produced the most consistent football of the NAB Challenge, producing three worthy victories against Richmond, Adelaide and Geelong. Most importantly, they showed a willingness to score on a more frequent basis. Ross Lyon has built successful teams on the back of defensive output, but it has never produced the ultimate prize. Scoring sides win flags and it appears that the game plan has been tinkered with to accommodate more attacking football. Aaron Sandilands misses through suspension, but the Dogs ruck options aren’t overly damaging. Unfortunately new recruit Harley Bennell will sit out with a calf injury.
Fremantle have beaten the Western Bulldogs the last four encounters, three of which were played at Etihad Stadium. The Dogs will look to challenge at times, but the Dockers look in good shape early.
FREMANTLE TO WIN BY 12 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Fremantle Head to Head @ $2.20 (Sportsbet lead at any break offer)
PORT ADELAIDE ($1.20) VS ST KILDA ($4.40)
AT ADELAIDE OVAL, SUNDAY 27/03, 15:20
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R18 2015 Port Adelaide 17.10 (112) dftd St Kilda 6.13 (49) at AO
Line: Port -30.5, Saints +30.5
There weren’t many self-confessed football experts who didn’t think that Port Adelaide were going to challenge for the flag last year, but after 23 rounds Ken Hinkley’s men found themselves outside the top eight. Admittedly the Power did well to fight back from a poor start and register 12 wins, but that just proved what they should have been capable of. Injuries to the likes of Ollie Wines and Jared Polec hurt the Power’s midfield structures immensely and they will be welcomed back with open arms on Sunday afternoon. Port Adelaide lifted its intensity early in the fourth week of its NAB Challenge game against Richmond and appeared in top form coming into the season opener.
St Kilda were another side that exceeded expectations during 2015 with a young list, but they still have plenty of development before being considered a finals threat. It couldn’t produce a win during the NAB Challenge and weren’t helped by its match being cancelled in Mackay against Brisbane. A pointless flight north plus one game less to gel and get extra kilometres in the legs isn’t ideal three weeks out from the start of the season. Fortunately the Saints currently have a very short injury list and will have access to its best 22.
Port Adelaide can’t afford another slow start to the season and will be hell bent on making a statement to its rivals early.
PORT ADELAIDE TO WIN BY 41 POINTS
No Bet to Consider
WEST COAST ($1.04) VS BRISBANE ($11.00)
AT DOMAIN STADIUM, SUNDAY 27/03, 16:40
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R4 2015 Brisbane Lions 9.11 (65) lost to West Coast 17.16 (118) at the Gabba
Line: Eagles -57.5, Lions +57.5
West Coast will carry high expectations in Round 1 of the 2016 season after its impressive Grand Final berth last year. The big day didn’t turn out as planned, but many believe the Eagles can replicate and even better its return in 2015. An average winning margin of 59.58 points at Domain Stadium set the tone of West Coast’s dominant season and they’ll be looking to start exactly the same way at home this week. The Eagles will be without key personnel in Masten, Sheed, Wellingham and Brown for the clash, while new recruits Lewis Jetta and Jack Redden are underdone. Adam Simpson has proven to possess enough depth to cover these types during the NAB Challenge though.
Brisbane didn’t show too much during the NAB Challenge to suggest that its 2016 results are going to improve from its 2015 bottom two finish. The Lions were easily outclassed by GWS and Gold Coast, while its match against St Kilda in Mackay was abandoned due to poor weather. It certainly isn’t the preparation that Justin Leppitsch would have been hoping for. To make matters worse, Dayne Beams is out indefinitely with a knee injury and Dayne Zorko is suspended for the first week. Skipper Tom Rockliff has thankfully recovered from a hamstring and will make the trip west.
Neither team will get the opportunity to field their best sides, but West Coast have so many dangerous options on every line it doesn’t matter. If the Eagles get a fast start, this could get messy.
WEST COAST TO WIN BY 70 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Tot Match Points – Over 177.5 Points
GEELONG ($2.20) VS HAWTHORN ($1.68)
AT THE MCG, MONDAY 28/03, 15:20
PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER: R20 2015 Geelong 12.13 (85) lost to Hawthorn 19.7 (121) at the MCG
Line: Cats +7.5, Hawks -7.5
After missing its first finals campaign since 2006, the Cats are expected to jump straight back into premiership contention after some noteworthy recruiting during the offseason. After playing all three NAB Challenge games, the big fish Patrick Dangerfield will play his first official game in the hoops after some scintillating preseason form. Lachie Henderson and Zac Smith will also make their debuts for the club, but all eyes will be on Dangerfield. After miserable clearance numbers in recent years, Dangerfield has already managed to lift Geelong to sixth for differential during the NAB Challenge which has also been helped by the inclusion of Smith. Joel Selwood hasn’t been seen all preseason due to foot issues but will play after a promising performance in the VFL last weekend.
Hawthorn go into 2016 looking to win its fourth consecutive premiership, a feat only completed once by Collingwood from 1927-1930. But it enters Round 1 with a very different looking side to the one that lifted the cup in October. Jarryd Roughead, Liam Shiels and Brad Hill will all spend lengthy periods of time on the sidelines to start the season, adding to the likes of Brian Lake, David Hale and Matt Suckling who have either retired or moved on. That is a lot of quality to lose in one go and a true test of how capable Hawthorn’s depth players are. The Hawks NAB Challenge form has been solid though and they’ll certainly be up for a fight.
Hawthorn have gained control of this showpiece rivalry with four consecutive wins, but the inclusion of Dangerfield, Henderson and Smith make Geelong a fascinating prospect. The Hawks started 2015 slowly and with so many key players out, the Cats must be considered value at $2.15. It will be tight!
GEELONG TO WIN BY 6 POINTS
Bet to Consider: Geelong Head to Head @ $2.20 (Sportsbet lead at any break offer)