It’s official: round 1 of the 2020 AFL season will go ahead without any spectators in attendance.
It’s interesting times for the sporting world, but while American and European campaigns have been suspended or wrapped up early, the big kahunas at Aussie Rules HQ have decided the season will still kick off come Thursday – with the caveat of no fans in stadiums.
So, while we all try to wrap our heads around how weird it’s going to sound without tens of thousands of spectators cheering and jeering, there’s footy to be played and predictions to be made. Here’s our AFL round 1 preview, including some juicy AFL round 1 footy tips.
UPDATE: Since we published this AFL Round 1 preview, there’s been more updates on how COVID-19 will affect AFL Round 1 and the season. The major news is that the length of the season has been slashed to just 17 rounds, meaning every team plays each other once instead of twice.
In other coronavirus news, the first four rounds will – as of writing – remain as they are, although this is a developing situation and there are ongoing talks with AFL chiefs. It’s possible that the finals series could be pushed to October or even November if regular season fixtures are delayed.
For now, on to the preview!
7:25PM (AEDT) THURSDAY 19 MARCH @ MCG
The season opener could easily make the start of AFL round 1 a feast for the eyes or an absolute fizzer, with a lack of any live spectators certainly throwing a spanner in the works. There’s no doubt that the Tigers are monster favourites to smash the Blues on Thursday night – but you have to remember that Richmond’s rabid fan base do plenty to keep the boys going from the opening bounce right through to the final siren. You could certainly ask the question of whether the reigning premiers will endure some unexpected stage fright without the yellow-and-black army providing a strong audio backdrop.
There’s a reason AFL round 1 odds are so lopsided towards Richmond. The 2019 premiers have a beast of a player in Dustin Martin, who looks like he could play back-to-back games without stopping for a breather. Tom Lynch, who’s top of AFL round 1 tips to be the first goal-scorer come Thursday night, has a full preseason behind him, while everyone’s favourite Grand Final debutant, Marlion Pickett, looks like he’s going to slot into the side without any hassle. This team is such a force to be reckoned with that fans will barely notice the absence of newly retired Alex Rance. A victory for the Tigers can only put them in good stead for an early-season winning streak.
Carlton, on the other hand, collected a pitiful seven wins last season on the road to 16th place. It’s been a long time since the Blues even had a sniff at the finals, so opening their season against the reigning champions is not ideal. Still, there’s much to be positive about since the arrival of caretaker coach David Teague midway through the 2019 season, with six of those seven wins earned under his helm. The Blues have also managed to convince ageing Eddie Betts to leave Adelaide, although it was a less-than-stellar trade period otherwise. We’ve got a feeling Carlton will be wishing they’d managed to get the Jack Martin and Tom Papley deals over the line before deadline though. It could be another tough old season for the Blues.
AFL expert tip: Richmond
7:50 (AEDT) FRIDAY 20 MARCH @ MARVEL STADIUM
While the Western Bulldogs fell short right at the start of the 2019 finals series, the Pies were toppled by four measly points thanks to a preliminary final with the Giants that certainly didn’t go to script. This pair of high-flyers will no doubt make for great viewing, and it could easily be the pick of the round if both clubs show up for a fight. On one hand, you’ve got the Bulldogs, who are regarded as one of the best teams heading into the 2020 season, while on the other there’s a lot of talk about the Pies going one better this year to duke it out in the Grand Final. It’s a toughie to call, which is why their AFL round 1 odds are so tight.
The Bulldogs may have been humbled by GWS in the first week of the finals last year – who could forget that 58-point drubbing? – but they’re a terrific team on paper. Which is kind of the issue. They endured shameful losses against the Saints, Fremantle and Carlton last season, which is probably what caused them to lose a place in the top four (and a home final, to boot). The good news for Dogs fans this week is that they tend to turn it on against the big boys. A little confidence will go a long way, and if they manage to cause a minor upset in round 1 it could set the stage for a very happy 2020 season.
It’s been a rough few years for Eddie McGuire and his Collingwood faction – not due to any lack of quality in their team or on the pitch, but in how they finished the past two seasons. That horrible loss in the 2018 Grand Final was arguably eclipsed last season when the Pies completely dropped their pants in the penultimate fixture. But there’s talent aplenty at Collingwood, and you’d have to be a fool to think they will do any worse than top four this season.
AFL expert tip: Collingwood
1:45PM (AEDT) SATURDAY 21 MARCH @ MARVEL STADIUM
The Dockers had a 2019 season to forget – except for Nat Fyfe collecting his second Brownlow Medal, that is – and Essendon lacked any substance beyond sneaking into the top eight, but that doesn’t mean this clash will be a snoozefest. In fact, both the Bombers and Dockers are coming off the back of commendable preseasons. If nothing else, keep an eye on this match for new talent in both ranks. We reckon Essendon will take care of things fairly easily but that’s not to say the Dockers should be discounted. It’s going to be an intriguing AFL round 1 match-up, for sure.
It’s been almost 20 years since the Bombers won their last premiership, and we’re sorry to say that 2020 probably isn’t going to be the year that drought is broken. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel for Essendon supporters. Reason number one is that this is John Worsfold’s final season in charge, with former Crows defender Ben Rutten taking up his first coaching gig from 2021. On the oval, the Bombers have bolstered their squad with the addition of Tom Cutler and Andrew Phillips, but it’s the fact they managed to hang on to both Orazio Fantasia and Joe Daniher that should keep supporters really happy.
New Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir has a tough gig ahead of him, but we’d argue there’s no one the fans would rather lead their Dockers than a former player. Still, whether he can pull the WA club out of a rut that’s lasted four seasons is the big question. Any finals footy would be greatly appreciated at Fremantle, but they need to get off to the perfect start. New boys James Aish and Blake Acres will also want to make a statement if they manage to debut in round 1.
AFL expert tip: Essendon
4:35PM (AEDT) SATURDAY 21 MARCH @ ADELAIDE OVAL
It’s been interesting to watch the rapid descent of these two once-great clubs. What a few years ago would have been a blockbuster start to AFL round 1 is now little more than an afterthought – Sydney is expected to linger around the bottom of the table all year, while Adelaide will be very lucky to scrape into the top eight. Still, there’s talent to mine – plus the Swans’ Buddy Franklin is always a captivating player to watch, despite his age. Keep an eye on a couple of Crows youngsters in Darcy Fogarty and Tyson Stengle.
There’s no doubt John Longmire is a quality coach who can turn the Swans into a powerhouse winning machine, but there are very few supporters who would argue he had a good season last year. That’s not entirely his fault – the talismanic Buddy Franklin only managed 10 games, and the Swans’ failure to nab Joe Daniher from the Bombers might yet hurt them in the long run. Still, 2020 could be the perfect opportunity to rebuild and put them on track for a finals berth – if not this year, then the next.
Before the 2017 Grand Final you’d be laughed out of the room for suggesting the Crows would be a shadow of themselves within just a couple of years. But their absolute dismantling at the hands of Richmond on that day has catapulted them further and further down the ladder. There is, however, reason to get excited about the 2020 season. A new coach in the form of Matthew Nicks will inject the club with fresh blood, if nothing else. Tex Walker taking a step back from the captaincy could also reinvigorate a team that needs to start putting in the performances that merit the badge.
AFL expert tip: Adelaide
7:25PM (AEDT) SATURDAY 21 MARCH @ METRICON STADIUM
Shocking as their last season was, the Suns have taken to the new year with abandon, delivering quality performances in preseason games against the Cats and the Crows, and looking to drag themselves off the bottom of the ladder in 2020. While it’s hard to use those fixtures as a case that they’ll do well when the season proper starts, strap yourself in for a few surprises. The Power, on the other hand, will be rapt with their AFL round 1 opponents – despite their inconsistency giving them a 10th-place finish last season, it’s hard to go past the Port when their roster includes Charlie Dixon, Tom Jonas and young gun Todd Marshall.
The Suns have been the laughing stock of the AFL for a few years now – and not without good reason. They’ve finished in the bottom four for the past five seasons and unfortunately collected the wooden spoon in 2019 – managing only three wins in a year to forget. They’ve never made a finals series and they’re coming off the back of an 18-game AFL losing streak, but that could be just the incentive they need to deliver an upset. It also helps that they’ve managed to snag a couple of experienced players in Brandon Ellis (Richmond) and Hugh Greenwood (Adelaide) in the trade period.
We’re not much for superstitions but there’s a reason Port Adelaide supporters are rumbling about something special happening this season. It’s the club’s 150th anniversary, plus coach Ken Hinkley has said he’ll hand in his resignation if the Power don’t make the finals this year. Big words for a man who’ll lead quite a young and inexperienced team out at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night. Still, a thumping victory over the low-hanging Suns would be just the early start the Power need to get on a roll and keep themselves in the top half of the table.
AFL expert tip: Port Adelaide
7:25PM (AEDT) SATURDAY 21 MARCH @ GIANTS STADIUM
This is a meeting of the two clubs who believe they should’ve been lifting the premiership trophy last year. While the Giants fluffed their chances – and that’s putting it lightly – against the Tigers on Grand Final day, the Cats have only themselves to blame for falling into a slump as the regular season drew to a close. GWS have plenty to atone for, while Geelong will be out to prove last year’s minor premiership was no fluke – and an away win against the 2019 runners-up will be the perfect way to do it. We just don’t think it’ll turn out that way.
What can you say about their 89-point Grand Final drubbing that hasn’t already been said? Yes, it was undoubtedly the most embarrassing moment in the club’s short history, but you can’t claim the Giants don’t have the roster and the quality to go all the way again this year. Their finals series showed true grit and spirit, and beating the minor premiers in AFL round 1 will be the perfect way to silence their critics. So long as Jeremy Cameron keeps up his form from 2019, GWS supporters will be in for another good season.
Geelong are probably still kicking themselves about dropping the ball – and then some – when they were up 21 points against the Tigers in their preliminary final last year. But that’s nothing new for the Cats. They lost out at that stage of the series in both 2017 (against the Crows) and 2016 (against the Swans) as well. Can they go one better this season? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not. Tim Kelly has shot through to the West Coast Eagles but coach Chris Scott managed to hang on to talent like Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan and Tom Hawkins. At home they can beat anyone, but on the road it’s another story.
AFL expert tip: GWS
1:10PM (AEDT) SUNDAY 22 MARCH @ MARVEL STADIUM
Another battle of the bottom-dwellers hits screens on Sunday arvo, but if you go by preseason results then this might actually be a more hotly contested match than you think. The Saints, who finished a lowly 14th in 2019, took scalps off both the Pies and the Hawks, while the Kangaroos ran over the Swans after getting walloped by the Bulldogs. It’s tough to say whether either club will steal a place in the top eight come the end of the season, but this will certainly be an intriguing fixture to appease supporters.
Rhyce Shaw’s promotion from caretaker to head coach is one that’s split opinions in North Melbourne circles. He managed to win four of his first five games in charge, but whether he has the talent to do any better than axed Brad Scott remains to be seen. The bottom line is that the Roos have a quality forward line if Ben Brown and Nick Larkey can stay fit, but their reliance on older players like Shaun Higgins, Robbie Tarrant and Todd Goldstein could be their undoing.
St Kilda, on the other hand, are riding a wave of victories. Their successful preseason followed an end-of-2019 turn that saw Brett Ratten replace coach Alan Richardson. Supporters will be unhappy that Josh Bruce has jumped ship to the Bulldogs, but teenage sensation Max King has done a lot during preseason to warrant his name getting on the team sheet. It might surprise a few if the Saints can make the finals for the first time since 2011, but a good away win over the unpredictable Kangaroos could be the catalyst for a positive year.
AFL expert tip: Saints
3:20PM (AEDT) SUNDAY 22 MARCH @ MCG
With both the Hawks and the Lions coming off the back of poor showings in preseason, it’s difficult to tell what version of each club is going to show up on Sunday. The Lions have a lot to be proud of for what they accomplished last season. Who would’ve predicted that a club that was seen as an ‘easy win’ for pretty much the past decade would pull out all the stops to reach top spot with just one game of the regular season to go? Sure, they stuffed it up at the last moment, but against an inconsistent Hawks we reckon they’ve got the quality to take out the W, making them our pick in AFL round 1 footy tips.
Anyone who watched Hawthorn last season would tell you it was like night and day from the first half of the season to the last. Early on they couldn’t hold it together against the lowly Saints and the Dees, but in the run-in they picked up six wins from their final eight games. So which version of the Hawks will show up on Sunday? It’s tough to say – but Tom Mitchell being back from a year off after a broken leg will be music to the ears of Hawthorn supporters.
Get ready for another dramatic year for Brisbane. There’s quality, experience, youth and plenty of bounce following the 2019 season that ‘could have been’. There was plenty of activity in their trade period, but not all positive. They failed in their attempts to lure Jamie Elliott and Brodie Smith up north, although they only dropped a couple of fringe players and added a handful of interesting picks to their roster – Callum Ah Chee arriving from the Suns looks like he could do plenty with a decent squad of players around him.
AFL expert tip: Brisbane
6:20PM (AEDT) SUNDAY 22 MARCH @ OPTUS STADIUM
Had the Dees not toppled both the Crows and the Hawks in preseason you’d probably pit this one as a complete walkover. But they’re coming off the back of a couple of great matches, while the Eagles didn’t show up against the Bombers and Fremantle. It’s always hard for clubs travelling to Perth but Melbourne actually have a fairly decent record here, barring a catastrophic loss in the 2018 finals series that we just won’t talk about. Despite that, a home win for last year’s semi-finalists is the most likely outcome in these round 1 footy tips.
Had West Coast been more consistent they could have easily secured themselves a top-four finish last season and had an easier run in the finals series. Instead, they stumbled around and ended up getting done in by the Cats in the semis. They’ll hope to put that memory to bed with an opening round victory over the Dees. The Eagles picked up the best player of the entire trade period last October, and Tim Kelly will be eager to show that the six-year, $5 million contract he signed was warranted.
Melbourne didn’t fare as well in the trade period, but they did add Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson to their roster to shore up their depth, if nothing else. Just like the Suns though, many pundits expect the wheels to fall again for the Dees this year, just as it did following their surprising fifth-place finish in the 2018 season. Which Melbourne will show up on Sunday? Only time will tell, but if history’s taught us anything it might not be a pretty scoreline come the final siren.
AFL expert tip: West Coast