Summer’s done, the weather is cooling, and on the eve of another AFL season we run the rule over who will get the chocolates in the opening round of the year.

Melbourne v Western Bulldogs @ MCG

Wednesday 16th March, 19:10 (AEDT)

MelbourneWestern Bulldogs
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
J.Smith, S.May, C.SalemBE.Richards, A.Keath, B.Williams
HBJ.Bowey, J.Lever, J.HarmesHBC.Daniel, Z.Cordy, B.Dale
CA.Brayshaw, C.Oliver, E.LangdonCB.Smith, J.Dunkley, L.Hunter
HFC.Spargo, T.McDonald, A.Neal-BullenHFC.Weightman, J.Schache, A.Treloar
FJ.Viney, B.Brown, B.FritschFL.Vandermeer, A.Naughton, J.Johannisen
FOLM.Gawn, C.Petracca, T.SparrowFOLT.English, J.Macrae, M.Bontempelli
I/CL.Jackson, J.Jordon, J.Hunt, K.PickettI/CS.Martin, T.Liberatore, M.Hannan, R.Smith


History:
Played 170: Melbourne 90 v Western Bulldogs 79 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL GF 2021: Melbourne 21.14 (140) dftd Western Bulldogs 10.6 (66)

Final Thoughts: In a clash befitting the season opener, the AFL has finally caved and pitted the previous year’s grand finalists against each other for the first bounce of the ball in 2022. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two sides who battled it out for the premiership cup last season are also this year’s flag favourites; Melbourne ($4.60) favoured over the next-best Dogs ($6.50) to go back-to-back.

Playing in front of a home crowd — something they were cruelly robbed of given COVID issues during last year’s final series — will represent an emotional night for Dees fans. On the ground, though, they’ll have to cover a number of gaps with three premiership players in Michael Hibberd (calf), Harry Petty (calf) and Trent Rivers (knee) already ruled out. A host of stars are fit and raring to go, however, and while the big dance last September turned into a blowout, this one is tipped to be far closer.

Tip: Melbourne 1-39 @ $2.10

Carlton v Richmond @ MCG

Thursday 17th March, 19:25 (AEDT)

CarltonRichmond
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
A.Saad, O.McDonald, J.WeiteringBD.Grimes, R.Tarrant, N.Balta
HBZ.Williams, M.McGovern, S.DochertyHBJ.Short, N.Broad, D.Rioli
CM.Kennedy, A.Cerra, L.O’BrienCJ.Ross, T.Cotchin, M.Pickett
HFM.Owies, H.McKay, J.MartinHFS.Bolton, L.Baker, S.Edwards
FJ.Silvagni, C.Curnow, C.DurdinFT.Lynch, I.Soldo, J.Riewoldt
FOLM.Pittonet, P.Cripps, G.HewettFOLT.Nankervis, D.Prestia, D.Martin
I/CN.Newman, W.Setterfield, T.De Koning, Z.FisherI/CJ.Gibcus, J.Graham, J.Aarts, J.Castagna


History:
Played 223: Carlton 125 v Richmond 96 (2 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL R1 2021: Richmond 15.15 (105) dftd Carlton 11.14 (80)

Final Thoughts: The ‘traditional’ season opener (at least in a modern sense) is tipped to be the closest it has been in years with Richmond seemingly on the slide and Carlton conversely on the up. But the latter is rhetoric we’ve heard time and time again, and if history is anything to go by, the Blues will give up the early jump, put in a spirited fightback and finish with an honourable defeat. In the last four season openers between these two, Richmond have finished as winners by between 24-35 points. In fact, the Blues haven’t won this customary clash since way back in 2012.

But there’s a sense of optimism around Princes Park. And while that’s nothing new at this time of the year, a host of pundits are tipping this to be the year Carlton finally return to the Top 8 (although they’re still $2.88 to do so with Palmerbet). The Blues expect Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow to be fit, while Richmond co-captain Dylan Grimes is fighting a race against time.

Tip: Line, Carlton +14.5 @ $1.90

St Kilda v Collingwood @ Marvel Stadium

Friday 18th March, 19:50 (AEDT)

St KildaCollingwood
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
D.Howard, B.Paton, C.WilkieBI.Quaynor, D.Moore, J.Madgen
HBB.Hill, J.Battle, J.SinclairHBS.Pendlebury, J.Howe, N.Daicos
CD.McKenzie, J.Gresham, R.ByrnesCJ.Daicos, T.Adams, S.Sidebottom
HFD.Butler, M.Wood, J.HigginsHFT.Bianco, B.Mihocek, B.McCreery
FT.Membrey, M.King, D.KentFO.Henry, J.De Goey, J.Elliott
FOLR.Marshall, J.Steele, S.RossFOLB.Grundy, P.Lipinski, J.Crisp
I/CJ.Webster, M.Owens, B.Crouch, J.HayesI/CM.Cox, J.Noble, T.Brown, J.Ginnivan


History:
Played 222: St Kilda 60 v Collingwood 160 (2 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL R16 2021: Collingwood 8.13 (61) lost to St Kilda 10.10 (70)

Final Thoughts: Two sides who significantly underachieved in 2021. The Saints were expected to make the finals (with some tipping Top 4) only to finish 10th, whereas the Pies, while not necessarily tipped to make the Top 8, were not expected to finish way down in 17th as they did. But hope springs eternal, and this season represents a blank canvas. Especially for new Collingwood coach Craig McRae.

Early markets suggest the former Lion has some work to do, with the Pies $5.50 hopes of making the Top 8 with Palmerbet. The Saints are better chances of returning ($2.80), but will need injuries to be on their side this campaign. In short, this is a tough early-season clash to pick, and one that could prove a nightmare with tipsters.

Tip: St Kilda 1-39 @ $2.10

Geelong v Essendon @ MCG

Saturday 19th March, 14:10 (AEDT)

GeelongEssendon
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
J.Kolodjashnij, S.De Koning, J.HenryBJ.Stewart, J.Laverde, J.Kelly
HBZ.Tuohy, T.Stewart, M.BlicavsHBN.Hind, J.Ridley, D.Heppell
CM.Holmes, C.Guthrie, I.SmithCA.McGrathm Z.Merrett, N.Cox
HFT.Stengle, E.Ratugolea, B.ParfittHFA.Perkins, K.Baldwin, D.Shiel
FJ.Cameron, T.Hawkins, S.HigginsFB.Ham, P.Wright, D.Smith
FOLR.Stanley, P.Dangerfield, J.SelwoodFOLS.Draper, D.Parish, K.Langford
I/CZ.Guthrie, L.Dahlhaus, B.Close, T.AtkinsI/CJ.Caldwell, M.Guelfi, N.Martin, M.Redman

 

History: Played 220: Geelong 100 v Essendon 115 (5 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL R16 2021: Geelong 15.8 (98) dftd Essendon 8.9 (57)

Final Thoughts: Fans and pundits alike have a fairly good grasp of what Geelong’s ceiling will be in 2022. One of the league’s most experienced list with a handful of stars, nothing less than Top 4 will likely be acceptable for a club very much in their premiership window.

For Essendon, though, their ceiling is far harder to grasp. Could they replicate 1993 and go all the way with a young side? The notion that young teams coming off a strong season will improve (similarly to Sydney) works in theory, but doesn’t always eventuate. Ben Rutten’s men are $2.25 to make the Top 8 again, perhaps reflecting just how competitive the fight for fifth to eighth will be again this season. This clash will be a fascinating early marker of where these sides are at, and what damage they could potentially do in 2021.

Tip: Total Points Over 157.5 @ $1.88

GWS Giants v Sydney Swans @ Accor Stadium Australia

Saturday 19th March, 17:10 (AEDT)

GWSSydney
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
L.Keefe, P.Davis, I.CummingBP.McCartin, D.Rampe, H.Cunningham
HBL.Whitfield, S.Taylor, H.PerrymanHBB.Campbell, T.McCartin, J.McInerney
CX.O’Halloran, J.Hopper, L.AshCJ.Rowbottom, J.Kennedy, D.Stephens
HFT.Taranto, H.Himmelberg, D.LloydHFE.Gulden, I.Heeney, W.Hayward
FB.Hill, J.Riccardi, J.BranderFS.Wicks, L.Franklin, H.McLean
FOLM.Flynn, S.Coniglio, J.KellyFOLT.Hickey, L.Parker, O.Florent
I/CC.Ward, T.Green, C.Idun, M.de BoerI/CA.Sheldrick, L.McDonald, C.Mills, N.Blakey


History:
Played 22: GWS 9 v Sydney 13

Last Meeting: AFL EF 2021: Sydney 10.13 (73) lost to GWS Giants 11.8 (74)

Final Thoughts: The Swans won’t have to search far for motivation in this one, with revenge front of mind after a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Giants in last season’s Elimination Final. With another year of football under an impressive crop of young players, it’s hard to see the Swans going backwards in 2022. The losses of Jordan Dawson (Adelaide) and George Hewett (Carlton) certainly hurt, but the re-signings of the likes of Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney in the off-season are bigger (albeit less sexy) stories.

Both sides are missing their respective livewire forwards in Toby Greene (suspension) and Tom Papley (hamstring) in this one, although Green is arguably more important to the Giants’ fortunes. Results between these two clubs, who have developed a strong rivalry in recent years, traditionally seesaw, and three of the last five results have been decided by two points or less. Early markets suggest this clash will be no different.

Tip: Line, Sydney -2.5 @ $1.90

Brisbane Lions v Port Adelaide @ Gabba

Saturday 19th March, 20:10 (AEDT)

BrisbanePort Adelaide
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
D.Gardiner, H.Andrews, M.AdamsBR.Burton, T.McKenzie, A.Aliir
HBB.Starcevich, D.Rich, C.Ah CheeHBR.Bonner, T.Jonas, D.Byrne-Jones
CM.Robinson, D.Zorko, H.McCluggageCD.Houston, O.Wines, K.Amon
HFZ.Bailey, D.McStay, L.McCarthyHFZ.Butters, M.Georgiades, C.Rozee
FC.Rayner, J.Daniher, C.CameronFJ.Finlayson, T.Marshall, R.Gray
FOLO.McInerney, J.Lyons, L.NealeFOLS.Lycett, W.Drew, T.Boak
I/C J.Berry, N.Cockatoo, D.Fort, N.AnswerthI/CS.Powell-Pepper, L.Jones, X.Duursma, J.Mead

 

History: Played 39: Brisbane 19 v Port Adelaide 18 (2 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL R7 2021: Brisbane Lions 13.15 (93) dftd Port Adelaide 5.14 (44)

Final Thoughts: Among a host of cracking matches to kick off the AFL season, this one is right up there. Both clubs have finished in the Top 4 in the past two seasons (in Port Adelaide’s case, top two) and, like Geelong, can offer few excuses should they fail to reach the Grand Final in 2022. To put it bluntly, they are both smack-bang in the middle of their premiership window, and patient supporter bases will only wait so long given the talent on both lists.

The Lions and Power are considered next-best options behind last year’s grand finalists in pre-Round 1 premiership betting, currently at $7.00 and $10 respectively with Palmerbet. This clash, the, will be an intriguing indicator of where (and how) both sides will set themselves up this season. While evenly matched in most aspects, Brisbane will be tough to beat on home turf.

Tip: Anytime goalscorer, Hugh McCluggage (BL) @ $1.83

Hawthorn v North Melbourne @ MCG

Sunday 20th March, 13:10 (AEDT)

HawthornNorth Melbourne
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
B.Hardwick, S.Frost, D.Grainger-BarrasBJ.Ziebell, A.Corr, K.Turner
HBH.Morrison, J.Sicily, J.ScrimshawHBL.McDonald, B.McKay, A.Hall
CJ.Ward, J.Newcombe, L.ShielsCJ.Polec, J.Simpkin, H.Greenwood
HFC.Wingard, D.Moore, J.WorpelHFC.Taylor, N.Larkey, J.Stephenson
FJ.Gunston, M.Lewis, C.MacdonaldFJ.Horne-Francis, C.Zurhaar, T.Xerri
FOLM.Lynch, J.O’Meara, T.MitchellFOLT.Goldstein, L.Davies-Uniacke, T.Thomas
I/C (from)F.Maginness, D.Howe, C.Jiath, C.Nash, T.Phillips, E.Jeka, N.Reeves, K.HartiganI/C (from)J.Mahony, B.Scott, La.Young, J.Walker, C.Coleman-Jones, T.Powell, C.Lazzaro, K.Hayden

 

History: Played 178: Hawthorn 98 v North Melbourne 78 (2 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL R9 2021: Hawthorn 12.8 (80) lost to North Melbourne 13.9 (87)

Final Thoughts: Could these two clubs finish last and second-last in season 2022? The markets certainly suggest it might happen. North are joint $4.00 favourites in Palmerbet’s ‘least wins’ market (alongside Gold Coast), while Hawthorn are at $7.00 as a fellow bottom-four fancy. There are sizeable concerns about Hawthorn’s list in 2022, and one AFL pundit has posited that new coach Sam Mitchell has been “set up to fail” such was four-time premiership winning coach Alastair Clarkson’s unwillingness to go to the draft in his final years in charge.

Not that North Melbourne’s list is much better, mind, however they are at least in the second year of a rebuild under David Noble. A tough one to pick first up, but a firing Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara should be enough for Hawthorn to get the chocolates at a (predicted) sun-bathed MCG.

Tip: Margin, Hawthorn 1-39 @ $2.25

Adelaide Crows v Fremantle @ Adelaide Oval

Sunday 20th March, 16:10 (AEDT)

AdelaideFremantle
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
T.Doedee, J.Butts, L.BrownBL.Ryan, A.Pearce, H.Chapman
HBB.Smith, N.Murray, C.JonesHBH.Young, B.Cox, J.Clark
CJ.Dawson, R.Sloane, M.HingeCA.Brayshaw, W.Brodie, M.Walters
HFN.McHenry, E.Himmelberg, B.KeaysHFD.Mundy, B.Acres, L.Schultz
FJ.Rachele, D.Fogarty, R.ThilthorpeFM.Frederick, R.Lobb, L.Henry
FOLR.O’Brien, H.Schoenberg, M.CrouchFOLL.Meek, C.Serong, S.Switkowski
I/C (from)J.Rowe, L.Gollant, J.Soligo, L.Sholl, B.Cook, W.Milera, A.McPherson, B.FramptonI/C (from)J.Treacy, B.Banfield, M.Crowden, D.Tucker, G.Logue, N.Erasmus, B.Walker, T.Colyer

 

History: Played 41: Adelaide 23 v Fremantle 18

Last Meeting: AFL R5 2021: Adelaide 11.6 (72) lost to Fremantle 12.12 (84)

Final Thoughts: If pundits are relatively certain of where the four clubs might finish in the prior two clashes in Round 1, there’s far less certainty around what these two teams might throw up in 2022. Having missed the finals since 2015, Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir (now into his third season) now faces pressure to succeed. There’s little doubting the Dockers’ top-end talent, but their depth (and players 16-22 on match days) could well define their season. The will also have to do without their main outlet in the forward 50 at least for Round 1, with Matt Taberner suffering a hamstring injury.

Adelaide are still within a rebuild, but having picked up one of the biggest names in the trade period in Jordan Dawson, have acquired a high-class user for the half-back flank. Expect this one to be tight.

Tip: Total score, over 158.5 @ $1.88

West Coast Eagles v Gold Coast Suns @ Optus Stadium

Sunday 20th March, 19:40 (AEDT)

West CoastGold Coast
PosPlayerPosPlayer
B
S.Hurn, T.Barrass, J.RothamBD.Swallow, S.Collins, S.Lemmens
HBJ.Nelson, J.McGovern, L.FoleyHBL.Weller, C.Ballard, W.Powell
CS.Petrevski-Seton, J.Redden, Z.LangdonCJ.Sharp, T.Miller, B.Ellis
HFJ.Petruccelle, H.Dixon, W.RioliHFN.Holman, L.Casboult, J.Lukosius
FL.Ryan, J.Kennedy, J.WatermanFI.Rankine, M.Chol, B.Ainsworth
FOLN.Naitanui, X.O’Neill, A.GaffFOLJ.Witts, M.Rowell, N.Anderson
I/C (from)B.Hough, I.Winder, J.Jones, B.Williams, J.Williams, C.Jamieson, H.Edwards, P.NaishI/C (from)C.Burgess, A.Davies, B.Fiorini, S.Flanders, C.Graham, D.Macpherson, N.Moyle, A.Sexton

 

History: Played 13: West Coast 10 v Gold Coast 2 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL R1 2021: West Coast 12.11 (83) dftd Gold Coast 8.10 (58)

Final Thoughts: While some clubs have experienced smooth sailing throughout the pre-season, West Coast have very much not. Jack Darling’s will-he-won’t-he play regarding vaccination has clearly caused disruptions, and now the key forward has a foot injury. And he’s not alone. A host of key, experienced players are carrying injuries going into 2022, including Dom Sheed, Elliot Yeo and Jamie Cripps who are all likely to all miss Round 1.

But to put the cherry on top, star midfielder Tim Kelly has now tested positive to COVID-19, while gun forward Liam Ryan is understood to be under safety protocols. It’s why at the midweek point leading into this Sunday’s game, West Coast go into a clash against Gold Coast — at home, no less — as underdogs. It’s not a sentence most Eagles fans would’ve expected a month ago.

Tip: H2H, West Coast @ $2.10