After an AFL season like no other in 2020, fans are desperate for a return to normality in 2021. And we begin with a familiar question – who can topple the Tigers?

Richmond v Carlton @ MCG

Thursday 18th March, 19:25 (AEDT)

D.Astbury, D.Grimes, N.BaltaBL.Plowman, L.Jones, T.Williamson
HBL.Baker, N.Vlastuin, J.ShortHBS.Docherty, J.Weitering, A.Saad
CD.Prestia, T.Cotchin, K.LambertCW.Setterfield, P.Cripps, M.Murphy
HFJ.Aarts, S.Bolton, J.CastagnaHFL.Fogarty, H.McKay, J.Newnes
FT.Lynch, D.Martin, J.RiewoldtFZ.Fisher, J.Silvagni, M.Gibbons
FOLT.Nankervis, K.McIntosh, J.CaddyFOLM.Pittonet, P.Dow, S.Walsh
I/CD.Rioli, N.Broad, J.Graham, S.EdwardsI/CS.Petrevski-Seton, L.O’Brien, L.Casboult, E.Curnow

Played 222: Richmond 95 v Carlton 125 (2 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 1, 2020: Richmond (105) def Carlton (81)

Final Thoughts: The Blues haven’t knocked off the Tigers in this traditional season opener since way back in 2012. And it doesn’t appear like the drought will be broken in 2021, either. Coming off a third AFL premiership in four seasons, (newly re-signed) Damien Hardwick’s side has every right to start firm favourites in this one. And with just Bachar Houli unavailable from the starting 22 from the Grand Final against Geelong, they’ll have few excuses in their first game at the MCG since July.

Carlton fans will be desperate to see the electric Adam Saad in the navy blue but will have to wait one more week to see fellow prized recruit Zac Williams (suspension). Coach David Teague knows 2021 is a do-or-die season: another finals-less season, and he will be out the door. Teague expects key forwards Harry McKay and Levi Casboult to be fit for Thursday night’s opener.

Tip: Total Game Points: Over 170.5 @ $1.88

Collingwood v Western Bulldogs @ MCG

Friday 19th March, 19:50 (AEDT)

CollingwoodWestern Bulldogs
B.Maynard, J.Roughead, J.MadgenBB.Williams, R.Gardner, C.Daniel
HBJ.Crisp, D.Moore, J.HoweHBT.Duryea, A.Keath, A.Scott
CJ.Noble, S.Pendlebury, T.BrownCP.Lipinski, A.Treloar, L.Hunter
HFJ.Elliott, B.Mihocek, W.Hoskin-ElliottHFB.Smith, A.Naughton, J.Dunkley
FJ.Daicos, M.Cox, J.ThomasFT.English, J.Bruce, M.Bontempelli
FOLB.Grundy, T.Adams, J.De GoeyFOLS.Martin, J.Macrae, T.Liberatore
I/CO.henry, I.Quaynor, T.Ruscoe, B.SierI/CB.Dale, L.McNeil, M.Wallis, L.Vandermeer

Played 158: Collingwood 110 v Western Bulldogs 47 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 1, 2020: Western Bulldogs (34) def by Collingwood (86)

Final Thoughts: There’s one man who all eyes will be on in this one: Adam Treloar. The new Dogs recruit was sensationally let go by Collingwood in a controversial trade period, and there’s certain to be some feeling on Friday night from both clubs. And after an off-season from hell, the Pies will be desperate to let their footy do the talking. The good news for Nathan Buckley is that both best-and-fairest Taylor Adams and Brayden Maynard have been declared fit, however Steele Sidebottom won’t get up for Round 1.

For the Dogs, they’ve not only added Treloar but Stefan Martin to their centre bounce mix and now boast one of the competition’s deepest midfields. They’ve made slow starts in recent seasons, and need to start strongly ahead of what’s expected to be a log jammed mid-ladder this AFL season.

Tip: Line: Western Bulldogs -3.5 @ $1.90

Melbourne v Fremantle @ MCG

Saturday 20th March, 13:45 (AEDT)

N.Jetta, S.May, A.TomlinsonBT.Watson, J.Hamling, A.Pearce
HBC.Salem, J.Lever, J.HuntHBR.Conca, B.Cox, L.Ryan
CJ.Harmes, C.Petracca, E.LangdonCJ.Aish, N.Fyfe, B.Acres
HFN.Jones, T.McDonald, A.Neal-BullenHFC.Serong, A.Cerra, T.Colyer
FC.Spargo, L.Jackson, B.FritschFS.Switkowski, M.Taberner, L.Schultz
FOLM.Gawn, C.Oliver, T.SparrowFOLL.Meek, A.Brayshaw, D.Mundy
I/CK.Pickett, J.Jordon, T.Rivers, A.BrayshawI/CL.Henry, H.Young, E.Hughes, C.Blakely

Played 39: Melbourne 16 v Fremantle 23

Last Meeting: AFL Round 16, 2020: Melbourne (33) def by Fremantle (47)

Final Thoughts: Saturday afternoon footy back at the ‘G? How good. After a preliminary finals appearance in 2018, it’s been a lean couple of years for Dees fans having missed finals action on both occasions. And while it’s too early to jump into coaching speculation, we can certainly forecast that Simon Goodwin won’t be at the helm if they miss September action for a third straight season. Melbourne will need someone to stand up early season in the forward line, with Sam Weideman and Ben Brown both out in the early rounds.

Similarly for the Dockers, there’s issues about who will kick their goals in 2021. Nevertheless they remain a difficult side to break down, and with exciting midfield polish will push the Dees all the way on Saturday afternoon.

Tip: Total Points: Over 161.5 @ $1.88

Adelaide v Geelong @ Adelaide Oval

Saturday 20th March, 14:35 (AEDT)

A.McPherson, J.Butts, L.BrownBL.Henderson, M.Blicavs, J.Bews
HBW.Hamill, B.Smith, J.KellyHBT.Atkins, T.Stewart, J.Kolodjashnij
CL.Sholl, R.Sloane, P.SeedsmanCI.Smith, J.Selwood, S.Menegola
HFJ.Rowe, B.Frampton, N.McHenryHFS.Higgins, G.Rohan, C.Guthrie
FS.McAdam, T.Walker, L.MurphyFG.Miers, T.Hawkins, L.Dahlhaus
FOLR.O’Brien, R.Laird, B.KeaysFOLR.Stanley, B.Parfitt, P.Dangerfield
I/CT.Lynch, S.Berry, H.Schoenberg, T.DoedeeI/CM.O’Connor, Z.Guthrie, J.Clark, J.Jenkins


History: Played 46: Adelaide 20 v Geelong 26

Last Meeting: AFL Round 13, 2020: Adelaide (37) def by Geelong (65)

Final Thoughts: The Crows are in for some hurt in 2021, and on the surface a Round 1 encounter with last year’s grand finalists — who have topped up with Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins no less — is a daunting one. But let’s not forgot that the 2020 season went late due to Covid, and Matthew Nicks’ side have had a considerable head-start in pre-season training. That’s not to say an upset is on the cards here, but Adelaide may just put up a greater fight than expected, and would seem a good option at the line.

Tip: Line: Adelaide +25.5 @ $1.90

Essendon v Hawthorn @ Marvel Stadium

Saturday 20th March, 19:25 (AEDT)

J.Laverde, A.Francis, M.RedmanBS.Frost, K.Hartigan, C.Jiath
HBN.Hind, C.Hooker, J.RidleyHBJ.Impey, B.Hardwick, H.Morrison
CA.McGrath, Z.Merrett, D.HeppellCT.Phillips, J.O’Meara, W.Day
HFB.Ham, N.Cox, K.LangfordHFL.Breust, J.Koschitzke, J.Worpel
FH.Jones, P.Wright, A.McDonald-TipungwutiFS.Burgoyne, J.Ceglar, T.Brockman
FOLS.Draper, J.Caldwell, D.ShielFOLB.McEvoy, L.Shiels, T.Mitchell
I/CN.Cahill, W.Snelling, D.Parish, D.SmithI/CO.Hanrahan, D.Moore, D.Howe, T.O’Brien

Played 164: Essendon 99 v Hawthorn 95

Last Meeting: AFL Round 14, 2020: Hawthorn (71) def by Essendon (87)

Final Thoughts: If the Pies v Dogs clash is a newly-formed grudge match, this is one that etched in the history books. And while the bid to move the game to the MCG failed, expect a rocking Marvel Stadium. The Dons have not won a final since 2004, and it’s unlikely they’ll get a chance to break the drought in 2021 (currently $5 with Palmerbet to make the Top 8). And having lost the likes of Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia, they’ll need every inch out of their senior core this season.

Similarly to the Crows, Hawthorn are tipped to finish in the bottom four and after a huge cleanup of played aged 30-plus, will rely on youngsters stepping up to chalk up wins throughout the 2021 season.

Tip: Margin: Essendon 1-39 @ $2.50

Brisbane Lions v Sydney @ Gabba

Saturday 20th March, 19:45 (AEDT)

D.Rich, H.Andrews, J.PayneBD.Rampe, H.McLean, H.Cunningham
HBB.Starcevich, R.Lester, G.BirchallHBJ.Lloyd, T.McCartin, J.Dawson
CH.McCluggage, D.Zorko, J.BerryCB.Campbell, L.Parker, O.Florent
HFZ.Bailey, J.Daniher, L.McCarthyHFN.Blakey, S.Reid, C.Warner
FT.Fullarton, E.Hipwood, C.CameronFI.Heeney, L.McDonald, E.Gulden
FOLO.McInerney, J.Lyons, L.NealeFOLT.Hickey, J.Rowbottom, T.Papley
I/C (from)C.Ah Chee, M.Robinson, K.Coleman, H.SharpI/C (from)J.Kennedy, C.Mills, S.Wicks, G.Hewett


History: Played 53: Brisbane 23 v Sydney 29 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 17, 2020: Sydney (41) def by Brisbane (73)

Final Thoughts: It’s an exciting time for Swans fans with the club announcing this week that their top three draft picks (Logan McDonald, Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden) will all make their AFL debuts on Saturday. The club hasn’t fielded three fresh picks in the same game since 1990. John Longmire has assembled a strong core of young players aged 18-24, and in two to three seasons will be a real force. For now, however, they start as considerable underdogs against a Brisbane side who are hungry for revenge in 2021. Chris Fagan has led his exciting side to back-to-back runners-up spots. But in the ensuing finals series the Lions have won just one of four. That has to change in 2021. And a fit and firing Joe Daniher might just be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Tip: Total Points: Under 155.5 @ $1.88

North Melbourne v Port Adelaide @ Marvel Stadium

Sunday 21st March, 13:10 (AEDT)

North MelbournePort Adelaide
L.Young, B.McKay, S.AtleyBR.Burton, T.Clurey, D.Houston
HBJ.Ziebell, A.Corr, L.McDonaldHBA.Aliir, T.Jonas, D.Byrne-Jones
CJ.Polec, L.Davies-Uniacke, J.StephensonCX.Duursma, O.Wines, K.Amon
HFK.Turner, J.Walker, T.ThomasHFO.Fantasia, P.Ladhams, S.Motlop
FJ.Mahony, N.Larkey, C.ZurhaarFZ.Butters, C.Dixon, R.Gray
FOLT.Goldstein, T.Powell, J.SimpkinFOLS.Lycett, W.Drew, T.Boak
I/C (from)C.Taylor, B.Scott, A.Bonar, D.TysonI/C (from)T.Marshall, M.Bergman, K.Farrell, R.Bonner


History: Played 36: North Melbourne 22 v Port Adelaide 14

Last Meeting: AFL Round 16, 2020: North Melbourne (42) def by Port Adelaide (78)

Final Thoughts: With the additions of Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir to an already-strong list, the Power are a side that should be feared in 2021. And they’re current third-favourite for the flag, at $7 with Palmerbet. Port are almost at full strength for the season opener, after Hamish Hartlett and Todd Marshall were both declared fit for Sunday’s clash. However Connor Rozee and Sam Powell-Pepper will miss.

North are similarly tipped by many to finish within the bottom four in 2021. But fans will be eager to see how the side approaches their first game under new coach David Noble. Jed Anderson (calf), Jared Polec (hamstring) and Robbie Tarrant (adductor) are all under a cloud ahead of Sunday afternoon.

Tip: Margin: Port Adelaide 40+ @ $2.25

GWS Giants v St Kilda @ Giants Stadium

Sunday 21st March, 15:20 (AEST)

GWSSt Kilda
H.Perryman, L.Keefe, N.HaynesBD.Howard, C.Wilkie, J.Webster
HBI.Cumming, P.Davis, S.ReidHBN.Coffield, J.Sinclair, H.Clark
CC.Ward, J.Kelly, J.BuckleyCJ.Steele, S.Ross, B.Hill
HFT.Taranto, T.Bruhn, T.GreeneHFD.Butler, J.Higgins, J.Billings
FB.Hill, H.Himmelberg, M. de BoerFT.Membrey, S.McKernan, J.Lonie
FOLM.Flynn, S.Coniglio, J.HopperFOLP.Hunter, J.Bytel, J.Gresham
I/C (from)L.Ash, S.Taylor, C.Idun, T.GreenI/C (from)B.Long, J.Battle, T.Highmore, M.Wood


History: Played 11: GWS 5 v St Kilda 5 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 18, 2020: St Kilda (82) def GWS (30)

Final Thoughts: After a stunning 2019 saw them reach the Grand Final, the Giants came crashing back down in 2020 in a poor showing given the talent that still runs deep in their list. Although that talent has been somewhat picked apart with star forward Jeremy Cameron (Geelong) departing the club in the off-season. The Giants are even-money to make the finals, and their predicament could well depend on winning games against clubs around them on the ladder — just like this one.

The Saints, by contrast, over-achieved in 2020, landing a first finals appearance since 2011. Injury concerns have scuppered Top 4 hype for now, and this clash will be an interesting marker for where they’re at.

Tip: To get 25+ disposals: Tim Taranto (GWS) @ $1.91

West Coast Eagles v Gold Coast Suns @ Optus Stadium

Sunday 21st March, 18:10 (AEDT)

West CoastGold Coast
S.Hurn, T.Barrass, B.SheppardBC.Budarick, S.Collins, S.Lemmens
HBT.Cole, J.McGovern, J.NelsonHBW.Powell, C.Ballard, O.Markov
CL.Duggan, D.Sheed, J.ReddenCO.Markov, H.Greenwood, J.Lukosius
HFX.O’Neill, J.Darling, J.CrippsHFD.Swallow, S.Day, L.Weller
FL.Ryan, J.Kennedy, O.AllenFI.Rankine, B.King, D.MacPherson
FOLN.Naitanui, T.Kelly, A.GaffFOLJ.Witts, M.Rowell, T.Miller
I/C (from)Z.Langdon, N.Vardy, J.Petruccelle, J.RothamI/C (from)N.Anderson, J.Bowes, W.Brodie, A.Sexton W.Powell, C.Graham, A.Sexton


History: Played 12: West Coast 9 v Gold Coast 2 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 2, 2020: Gold Coast (90) def West Coast (46)

Final Thoughts: The Eagles’ premiership window is very much ‘now’ given a number of experienced players are in their finals years. And a glance at their list reveals just how much quality they have across the park. But whether they can fire at the same time is another question altogether. They will miss Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo in the season opener.

The Suns have had a knack of starting seasons strongly in recent years, but they’ve been handed a serious test first up in this campaign. Despite all their improvements in 2020, they still only managed five wins. That column simply has to improve in 2021.

Tip: Margin: West Coast by 1-39 @ $2.10