A worldwide health crisis, quarantine, self-isolation, travel bans and behind closed doors footy … we truly are in uncharted territory.
The 2020 AFL season is set to begin on Thursday evening, despite the ongoing spread of coronavirus, with Round 1 fixtures to be played without fans.
How long the season runs before a near-inevitable coronavirus-enforced break comes is anyone’s guess, but the campaign has already been reduced to 17 rounds, with the AFL expressing a desire to get the season done – no matter how long it takes in the calendar year.
Richmond enter the new season seeking a third premiership in four years, while Greater Western Sydney will be desperate to atone for the thumping the Tigers gave them in last year’s grand final.
Preliminary finalists Collingwood and Geelong have a point to prove, too, while West Coast will be significantly boosted by the arrival of Tim Kelly from the Cats.
The Western Bulldogs finished superbly last year and have also done smart work in the trade period, bringing in Josh Bruce and Alex Keath to add to their spine, while Brisbane and Hawthorn could be around the mark, too.
At the other end of the ladder, there is great interest in how St Kilda will fare in 2019 after a huge recruiting spree and with new coach Brett Ratten at the helm.
Gold Coast are likely to be scrapping at the bottom of the ladder again, while Fremantle, Adelaide and Sydney are tipped to struggle to make finals.
Melbourne dropped off dramatically in 2019 but impressed in the pre-season competition, giving supporters some signs of encouragement, but the peculiar nature of the Marsh Community Series means those formlines could be a great indication of what is to come – or the complete opposite.
The time for talking is nearly done, though, as Round 1 is finally here!
AFL Tipping – Thursday, March 19
Richmond v Carlton
Venue: MCG | Start: 7:25 PM
Reigning premiers Richmond have a healthy list and that is bad news for the Blues. Bachar Houli (calf) will miss for the Tigers but Damien Hardwick has a near full-strength team to choose from as his side open their premiership defence. Carlton’s forward line will be lacking firepower, with Charlie Curnow (knee), Harry McKay (groin) and Eddie Betts (calf) all sidelined. Dustin Martin warmed up for the 2020 campaign with an excellent performance in the AFL’s State of Origin clash to raise money for bushfire-affected communities and if Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch can stay fit all season, Richmond have one of the best key forward duos in the competition. Carlton famously came from behind to beat the Tigers in the 2013 elimination final but Richmond have won the last nine meetings since then, including five victories in the now-traditional season opener. A repeat is on the cards.
Head to Head: Richmond
Margin: Richmond 1-39
Line: Richmond -20.5
Total Game Points: Over +136.5
AFL Tipping – Friday, March 20
Western Bulldogs v Collingwood
Venue: Marvel Stadium | Start: 7:50 PM
This could easily be the match of the round, with two of the competition’s most exciting sides doing battle at Docklands. Expect both the Bulldogs and the Magpies to enjoy good seasons but home ground advantage might just tip this in favour of Luke Beveridge’s side. The additions of Josh Bruce and Alex Keath give the Bulldogs a much stronger look and they will once again be led by the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Josh Dunkley and Lachie Hunter in the midfield. Dunkley was outstanding in the back half of 2019 and if he can play like that for all of 2020, he will become a star of the competition. Collingwood fans and players will have spent the summer stewing over the agonising preliminary final defeat to GWS at the MCG, a match they really should have won. Adam Treloar (hamstring) is set to miss for the Magpies and the loss of a quality midfielder could be costly. Collingwood have won their last three against the Bulldogs, but lost five in a row before that – after winning six on the trot before that! A new streak could start on Friday evening.
Head to Head: Western Bulldogs
Margin: Western Bulldogs 1-39
Line: Western Bulldogs +1.5
Total Game Points: Over +142.5
AFL Tipping – Saturday, March 21
Essendon vs Fremantle
Venue: Marvel Stadium | Start: 1.45 PM
Both Essendon and Fremantle went undefeated in the Marsh Community Series – good signs after missing finals in 2019. How the Bombers will fare this year is a genuine mystery, though, and the club’s injury list is significant. Captain Dyson Heppell (foot), Joe Daniher (groin) and Cale Hooker (hip) have all been ruled out for this clash. Ben Rutten will take over from John Worsfold as senior coach in 2021 but previous succession plans have not always worked out, meaning the spotlight will be on the Bombers this season. There is also the issue of Essendon’s incredible drought, the Bombers last winning a finals match in 2004 – more than 5,670 days ago. It is hard to see that changing in 2020, but the Bombers are one of the toughest sides in the competition to read. Fremantle’s finals chances are far more unlikely after losing Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon in the off-season. New coach Justin Longmuir has young talent to work with but finals – and an away match in Round 1 against Essendon – looks beyond them.
Head to Head: Essendon
Margin: Essendon 1-39
Line: Essendon -13.5
Total Game Points: Under +140.5
Adelaide vs Sydney
Venue: Adelaide Oval | Start: 4.35 PM
Eddie Betts, Alex Keath, Hugh Greenwood, Sam Jacobs, Josh Jenkins and Cam Ellis-Yolmen all left the Crows in a mass exodus during the trade period – a deliberate move from Adelaide to rejuvenate their playing list. It seemed an admission from the Crows that they were no longer even close to the ‘premiership window’, marking a significant fall after they made the 2017 grand final. Don Pyke is gone as coach, replaced by Matthew Nicks, and while the Crows do have some impressive young talent, a finals berth does not seem likely in 2020. Rory Sloane and the Crouch brothers in midfield will keep the Crows competitive and this looks a very winnable game on paper against a side in a similar phase. Josh Kennedy, Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills will lead the way for Sydney but after a flurry of retirements last season saw Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack, Nick Smith and Heath Grundy leave the game, the Swans are short on big-game experience. Lance Franklin (knee) is sidelined for this match, too, leaving the Crows as favourites. Intriguingly, the last three matches between these sides have been won by the away team, Adelaide winning on visits to the SCG in 2018 and 2019.
Head to Head: Adelaide Crows
Margin: Adelaide 1-39
Line: Adelaide -5.5
Total Game Points: Under +140.5
GWS vs Geelong
Venue: Giants Stadium | Start: 7.25 PM
After winning 11 of their first 12 matches in 2019, Geelong went 6-7, stuttering their way into September before being beaten in the preliminary final by Richmond. The nature of that loss will sting, given the Cats led by 21 points at half time, and Tim Kelly’s departure to West Coast leaves a big hole in midfield. Geelong will hope Jack Steven (St Kilda) can help to cover Kelly, while Josh Jenkins has arrived from Adelaide. The club’s home advantage is huge – and should help them reach September. This task looks too difficult, though, against a fired-up Giants on their home deck. That GWS made last year’s grand final after finishing the season in sixth was impressive, and the club are targeting their first premiership in 2020. Stephen Coniglio is back fit and that is huge for the Giants, particularly with Tim Taranto (shoulder) out for around four months. Callan Ward (knee) is also sidelined, while Zac Williams (Achilles) faces a test for this clash against the Cats. Greater Western Sydney won the only meeting between the two sides in 2019 by four points in Round 4 in Geelong. They have only played the Cats at GIANTS Stadium once since 2014, that 2017 encounter ending in a draw. Greater Western Sydney should win this one.
Head to Head: Greater Western Sydney
Margin: Greater Western Sydney 1-39
Line: Greater Western Sydney -9.5
Total Game Points: Under +141.5
Gold Coast vs Port Adelaide
Venue: Metricon Stadium | Start: 7.25 PM
After four rounds in 2019, Gold Coast had recorded three wins and the one match they lost was by just one point. A frustrating run of 18 successive defeats followed, but the Suns have form for starting the season well. They started with two wins in a row in 2018 and triumphed in their first three clashes in 2016, too. The Suns are still a long way from finals contention but, as always, the club’s list is littered with the best young talent in the country. Stuart Dew’s side won both of their pre-season matches and looked good in wins over Geelong and Adelaide. Expect new recruits Brandon Ellis (Richmond) and Hugh Greenwood (Adelaide) to make an impact and young guns Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson look ready to go. Port Adelaide have finished 10th two years in a row and the heat is on coach Ken Hinkley. Charlie Dixon (groin) requires a test to play against his old side, while star midfielder Ollie Wines (shoulder) will miss the next four weeks at least. Port Adelaide lost Dougal Howard, Paddy Ryder and Billy Frampton in the trade period. The head-to-head history shows 10 successive wins for the Power, but the Suns could win this one in a close encounter.
Head to Head: Gold Coast Suns
Margin: Gold Coast 1-39
Line: Gold Coast +13.5
Total Game Points: Under +136.5
AFL Tipping – Sunday, March 22
North Melbourne vs St Kilda
Venue: Marvel Stadium | Start: 1.10 PM
Brad Hill, Dougal Howard, Zak Jones, Dan Butler and Paddy Ryder all arrived at the Saints in a huge trade period and with Dan Hannebery fit after an injury-interrupted 2019 – his first year at the Saints – St Kilda will have a very different look about them this year. Young key forward Max King will be asked to step up in the absence of Josh Bruce and Dylan Roberton is back, too, as new coach Brett Ratten aims to get St Kilda back in the top eight. Wins against Hawthorn and Collingwood in pre-season have only boosted the confidence of Saints fans, and a first-up win on their home deck at Docklands would be a big statement. North Melbourne play home fixtures at the ground, too, and brought in Aiden Bonar from GWS in the trade period. If Ben Brown (calf) misses, Nick Larkey will be asked to play a more important role in the forward 50. The Brown-Larkey combination looks a good one in 2020 for the Kangaroos, who will again rely on the likes of Shaun Higgins, Ben Cunnington, Robbie Tarrant and Todd Goldstein. Rhyce Shaw did a terrific job in improving North Melbourne in 2019 – more improvement could see them push for September. This is a very tough one to call.
Head to Head: St Kilda
Margin: St Kilda 1-39
Line: St Kilda -2.5
Total Game Points: Over +147.5
Hawthorn vs Brisbane
Venue: MCG | Start: 3.20 PM
Hawthorn finished the 2019 campaign in terrific fashion, winning six of their last eight to suggest a return to finals football could be on the cards. Tom Mitchell is back from a season-ending broken leg and even if the 2018 Brownlow Medallist takes a while, as expected, to get back to his best, his return is huge for the Hawks. Jon Patton (GWS) and Sam Frost (Melbourne) joined Alastair Clarkson’s side in the trade period, adding to Hawthorn’s spine. James Worpel was simply outstanding in 2019, winning Hawthorn’s best and fairest at just 20, and the club’s midfield looks strong again, with Mitchell, Worpel, Jaeger O’Meara, Tom Scully, Chad Wingard and Liam Shiels all at Clarkson’s disposal. The Hawks were poor in pre-season, though, losing to St Kilda and Melbourne. Brisbane finished second in 2019, an incredible effort given they were 15th in 2018. Bombing out of the finals in straight sets will have caused major frustration over the summer but Brisbane’s talent is undeniable, led by Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko, Hugh McCluggage, Charlie Cameron, Daniel Rich and Jarryd Lyons. Throw in young guns Cameron Rayner, Harris Andrews, Alex Witherden and Eric Hipwood and you can see why the Lions are bullish about their future. Charlie Cameron kicked 57 goals in 2019 and is coming off a strong pre-season. With small defender Blake Hardwick (pec) sidelined for Hawthorn, stopping Cameron will be even tougher for the Hawks. It could be critical to the outcome.
Head to Head: Brisbane Lions
Margin: Brisbane 1-39
Line: Brisbane -2.5
Total Game Points: Over +141.5
West Coast vs Melbourne
Venue: Optus Stadium | Start: 6.20 PM
West Coast lost both of their Marsh Community Series matches to Essendon and Fremantle, while Melbourne won both of theirs. Yet the Eagles still enter this match as big favourites – and rightly so. Tim Kelly’s first competitive game since arriving from Geelong will prove fascinating and he joins a star-studded West Coast midfield that includes the likes of Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff and Elliot Yeo. Nic Naitanui is fit again for the Eagles, and they seem likely to return to the top four in 2020. A Round 23 slip-up against the Hawks cost West Coast the double chance last year and it proved costly. Melbourne do not have fond memories of Optus Stadium, smashed by 66 points in a 2018 preliminary final at the venue. The Demons then had a shocking 2019, winning just five games and finishing second last. They were busy in the trade period, adding Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon to give them much-needed run. Having Steven May and Jake Lever fit for the full season would be a big help, too, but this task looks beyond the Demons. West Coast have won the last three meetings between the two sides and 12 of the last 14, too.
Head to Head: West Coast
Margin: West Coast 1-39
Line: West Coast -19.5
Total Game Points: Under +140.5