AFL Preview: The Season Restarts

It has been a long wait for footy fans but the AFL returns with a bang on Thursday night with the Richmond versus Collingwood blockbuster at the MCG. Let’s take a look at how things are shaping up and the different challenges for each club…. doing an AFL Preview is always tough, let alone under these conditions!

What We Know

  • The home and away season has been reduced from 22 to 17 games. We’ve played one round, which was completed before the COVID lockdown.
  • Every club will play each other once, but the entire schedule is not yet known. The AFL has revealed rounds 2 – 5, with further games and venues to be scheduled following that.
  • There will basically be no fans in attendance over these four weeks. There’s talk in some states of limited crowds being allowed to attend, but the key word is definitely ‘limited’ – they’ll be very small in number. This will have an obvious impact on home ground advantage.
  • Due to state border controls, clubs from Western Australia and South Australia have to relocate to play this set of games. West Coast, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Adelaide will be playing in Queensland, with all their games in Brisbane or the Gold Coast. The only exception is this week’s ‘Showdown’ between Adelaide and Port Adelaide, which will be played in Adelaide. Following that, the two clubs will move to Queensland for the next three games.

AFL Preview: Club-by-club

With all clubs playing each other once, it makes for a more even season… of sorts. Travel and venues are obviously very different this year, and we don’t yet really know how things will look after round 5.

All futures odds below are thanks to TopSport.

(GC: Gold Coast, KP: Kardinia Park, Geelong, AO: Adelaide Oval, WS: Giants Stadium, Western Sydney)

AFL Preview: Gold Coast

Top 8: $15 Top 4: $81 Premiership: $201

Next 4: West Coast (GC), Adelaide (GC), Fremantle (GC), Geelong (KP)

Where to start with the Suns? Expectations remain low, as they have for much of the club’s existence. They did have a solid off-season however, landing some much-needed experience in Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood, as well as picks 1 and 2 in the National Draft in Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.

Despite that, things didn’t start well as Port Adelaide handed them an eight-goal thumping in Round 1. If the Suns are going to be any more competitive this year, they’ll need to take something from the next few weeks: following West Coast they have Adelaide and Fremantle. If they can’t show something there, it might be yet another very long season.

AFL Preview: Fremantle

Top 8: $6 Top 4: $17 Premiership: $101

Next 4: Brisbane (Gabba), Port Adelaide (GC), Gold Coast (GC), Adelaide (GC)

What will life be like for the clubs temporarily stationed on the Gold Coast? Being away from home for so long can’t be a positive… but then again, they also get four weeks straight without getting on a plane, which is unheard of for Perth and Adelaide-based clubs. Fremantle aren’t tipped to do much this year, with young coach Justin Longmuir in his first season, but they were more than competitive away to Essendon in Round 1. It’s hard to see them causing any major headlines in 2020, but they might just be competitive if Round 1 is anything to go by.

AFL Preview: Adelaide

Top 8: $5.50 Top 4: $19 Premiership: $81

Next 4: Port Adelaide (AO), Gold Coast (GC), Brisbane (Gabba), Fremantle (GC)

The Crows look to be on the rebuild path in 2020, after shedding experienced players such as Eddie Betts, Sam Jacobs, Hugh Greenwood, Richard Douglas and Alex Keath, and investing heavily in the draft. They went down narrowly to Sydney in Round 1, in a game that made it a little hard to get a good read on how they look and the style of new coach Matthew Nicks. Approach with caution!

AFL Preview: Carlton

Top 8: $4.40 Top 4: $10 Premiership: $67

Next 4: Melbourne (Docklands), Geelong (KP), Essendon (MCG), St Kilda (MCG)

David Teague jumped into the senior role last season with immediate results… now the challenge is to make that improvement permanent. They got within four goals of Richmond in round 1, but were never really in the game after finding themselves 30 points down in the first quarter. It was a relatively quiet off-season for the Blues apart from the acquisition of Jack Martin, who’ll add some polish around the ball. They don’t leave Victoria over the next four weeks and will want to be very competitive in every game.

AFL Preview: Sydney

Top 8: $3.70 Top 4: $11 Premiership: $41

Next 4: Essendon (SCG), North Melbourne (Docklands), Western Bulldogs (SCG), Melbourne (SCG)

Sydney missing the finals is a very rare occurrence, and their 15th placing last season was their lowest finish in over twenty years. On top of this, they’ve lost a mountain of experience with Jarrod McVeigh, Kieren Jack, Nick Smith and Heath Grundy all retiring. They’re basically in ‘play the kids’ mode, but will get continued improvement from their younger core of McCartin, Mills, Heeney, Florent, Blakey, Hayward and Hewett. Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker ensure they retain some strength around the ball. While injury clouds linger for Buddy, the Swans are used to playing without him after he managed only ten games last season.

Sydney may not reach any great heights, but don’t expect them to be uncompetitive too often this season – if at all.

AFL Preview: St Kilda

Top 8: $3 Top 4: $9 Premiership: $31

Next 4: Western Bulldogs (Docklands), Collingwood (MCG), Richmond (Docklands), Carlton (MCG)

St Kilda were the big players of the trade period, bringing in Brad Hill, Paddy Ryder, Zac Jones and others after a disappointing 2019 that saw Alan Richardson replaced by Brett Ratten. The Saints are clearly looking for immediate improvement, but were unable to get over North Melbourne in Round 1. Despite a couple of tough opponents, the Saints don’t leave Melbourne for the next four weeks and will be looking to make a fast start to the season. Perhaps another club to approach with a touch of caution for the time being.

AFL Preview: North Melbourne

Top 8: $3 Top 4: $9 Premiership: $41

Next 4: GWS (WS), Sydney (Docklands), Hawthorn (Docklands), Bulldogs (Docklands)

Yet another club to switch coaches in 2019, the Roos have Rhyce Shaw in the big seat but were fairly quiet over the summer, clearly looking for organic growth. Shaw is said to have been a revelation around the club since taking the job, and that showed in Round 1 as they knocked off the fancied Saints. No matter where North are at, you can generally rely on them for a good contest – expect that to be the case again this year. They may be middle-of-the-road, but they’ll be in plenty of games.

AFL Preview: Melbourne

Top 8: $2.70 Top 4: $9.50 Premiership: $31

Next 4: Carlton (Docklands), Essendon (MCG), Geelong (MCG), Sydney (SCG)

Where to for the Dees? After a Top 4 finish in 2018, Melbourne were 2020’s disaster as they slumped to 17th on the ladder with a pathetic five wins. Injuries certainly played a part but can’t be the whole story – the list is a lot better than that. And it’s improved again with quality acquisitions in Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson. Melbourne went down to West Coast in Perth by 27 points in Round 1, but the Eagles will do that and worse to plenty of sides this year. They’re very, very hard to read, the Demons… but with four winnable games coming up, we’ll soon have a good gauge on where they’re at.

AFL Preview: Essendon

Top 8: $2.30 Top 4: $6 Premiership: $26

Next 4: Sydney (SCG), Melbourne (MCG), Carlton (MCG), Collingwood (MCG)

2019 was more of what we’ve come to expect from Essendon. The squad looks good on paper, but injuries and severe lack of consistency again put them in the middle of the pack. The injuries seem to be continuing, with Joe Daniher, Dyson Heppell, Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti all under clouds of varying seriousness. As for the consistency, it would appear Ben Rutten is now the senior coach in all but name, so we’ll see if a different voice has any impact. The Bombers should have 2-3 wins, minimum, over the next four weeks. Less than that and it’ll appear that not much has changed, once again.

AFL Preview: Port Adelaide

Top 8: $2.20 Top 4: $7 Premiership: $26

Next 4: Adelaide (AO), Fremantle (GC), West Coast (GC), Brisbane (Gabba)

Major inconsistency marked Port’s 2019 season, as the Power limped to tenth place and missed the finals. The kids were the highlight, with Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma providing spark and excitement to a side that otherwise lacked it at times. Port will want a solid Showdown win this week. Then they head to Queensland for three weeks, which makes them hard to predict. Will be a fascinating side to watch this year.

AFL Preview: Western Bulldogs

Top 8: $1.90 Top 4: $3.20 Premiership: $14

Next 4: St Kilda (Docklands), GWS (Docklands), Sydney (SCG), North Melbourne (Docklands)

The Dogs had a good off-season despite losing some experience last year in Liam Pickenand Dale Morris, as they filled some gaps with Alex Keath and Josh Bruce. Much of the core of their 2016 triumph remains, though they’re yet to return to anywhere near those heights since. Round 1 was ugly as they were blown off the park by Collingwood. I’d be waiting a little on the Dogs – a few winnable games coming up should tell us where they’re at.

AFL Preview: Hawthorn

Top 8: $1.70 Top 4: $3.30 Premiership: $15

Next 4: Geelong (KP), Richmond (MCG), North Melbourne (Docklands), GWS (WS)

The Hawks’ interesting list development continued in the off-season, as they brought in more mature talent in Jonathan Patton and Sam Frost. They’re not exactly expected to propel the Hawks into premiership contention, but they do fill gaps in true Clarkson style. The Hawks have a very tough four weeks coming up so don’t be surprised if they don’t make big strides early in the Win column – that may come a little later.

AFL Preview: Brisbane Lions

Top 8: $1.65 Top 4: $3.10 Premiership: $14

Next 4: Fremantle (Gabba), West Coast (Gabba), Adelaide (Gabba), Port Adelaide (Gabba)

2019’s surprise packet is tipped by some to regress a touch this season, and a comfortable loss to Hawthorn in Round 1 did little to dispel those doubts. The loss of their General, Luke Hodge, will certainly test them this year but with few other departures and the next four weeks all at home, they get a very good chance to launch their attack on 2020.

AFL Preview: Geelong

Top 8: $1.65 Top 4: $3.30 Premiership: $14

Next 4: Hawthorn (KP), Carlton (KP), Melbourne (MCG), Gold Coast (KP)

Great home and away season followed by a reasonably fast finals exit… 2019 seemed a little familiar for Geelong, didn’t it? The Cats are perhaps the one side who can retain a major home ground advantage this season even with the lack of crowds, due to the unique dimensions of Kardinia Park. They’ll start strongly again this season but as has been the case for a while now…it won’t be until finals time that we really know if the Cats have made any real improvement.

AFL Preview: Collingwood

Top 8: $1.20 Top 4: $1.90 Premiership: $6

Next 4: Richmond (MCG), St Kilda (MCG), GWS (WS), Essendon (MCG)

The Pies seemed to face constant injury problems in 2019, but showed genuine resilience to still finish in the top four. A narrow prelim loss to GWS will continue to sting, and should provide plenty of motivation for 2020. If they can keep the medical department quiet this year, the Pies will again be right there at the pointy end. It certainly looked that way in Round 1, when they throttled the Bulldogs by 52 points to start the season with a bang.

AFL Preview: GWS

Top 8: $1.20 Top 4: $1.95 Premiership: $6.50

Next 4: North Melbourne (WS), Western Bulldogs (Docklands), Collingwood (WS), Hawthorn (WS)

The Giant’s biggest hurdles this year may well be mental. Nobody doubtz their squad, but how will they respond after one of the worst Grand Final capitulations in league history? Will it fire them or break them? Round 1 is the only real evidence to date, with a solid five-goal win over Geelong getting them off to an impressive start. They’ll want 3-4 wins in this coming period. After that we should have a much better handle on where they’re at.

AFL Preview: West Coast

Top 8: $1.17 Top 4: $1.70 Premiership: $6

Next 4: Gold Coast (GC), Brisbane (Gabba), Port Adelaide (GC), Richmond (GC)

The Eagles could be the side with the most to lose from the COVID-affected season. Obvious flag contenders, they’ve lost their home ground – for the time being – and the home supporters who provide such a fortress. On the park they’re the same intimidating unit, but the longer they go without a full Optus Stadium, the harder it’ll be. Premiership sides generally need everything going right, and there are already some major spanners in the 2020 works for West Coast. Interesting times.

AFL Preview: Richmond

Top 8: $1.12 Top 4: $1.60 Premiership: $4.50

Next 4: Collingwood (MCG), Hawthorn (MCG), St Kilda (Docklands), West Coast (GC)

The reigning premiers are strong favourites yet again… and so they should be. Alex Rance is the obvious huge loss. But after winning a flag without him, the Tigers are better equipped than any side could be to cover him. Superstars around the ball, a rock-solid backline and a versatile, tremendously potent forward line… Richmond look to have the fewest doubts surrounding them of any club in the league.

Mark Haywood

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