Blindside Sport’s AFL Predictions for the first week of Round 1 are in!
Collingwood v Fremantle – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R7, 2013 – Fremantle by 27 points.
The 2014 AFL Season kicks off on Friday night at Etihad Stadium featuring last year’s Grand Finalists Fremantle, taking on the underperformers of 2013 in the Magpies. While credit should be given to the AFL for an opening round of such tight encounters, one must wonder why the Grand Finalists are being forced to travel in the first week. But I guess they’re playing Collingwood. Regardless, it should be a tight encounter to open the season.
Collingwood head into the 2014 season relatively unscathed, with the exception of new recruit Jesse White coming over from the Swans, and swingman Ben Reid. Neither are serious injuries that will keep them out for too long, but coach Nathan Buckley would definitely be looking to get these key men back quickly. Unlike last year, the Collingwood midfield has had a stable build-up to the season, with Swan, Pendlebury, Beams, Sidebottom, Ball and new addition Taylor Adams all expected to line up on Friday night.
For last years’ runners up, the injury list that plagued them throughout last year still remains. Hayden Ballantyne, Garrick Ibbotson and Zac Clarke, all first team players will miss the first couple of weeks. Add to that Essendon recruit Scott Gumbleton, out with a serious hamstring injury for up to half a season, and you’ve got a stuttered start to the season for some key players. Like all good teams though, they will cover this easily, with Aaron Sandilands healthy (apparently – give it 3 weeks), and Melbourne recruit Colin Sylvia adding more size and intensity to an already impressive midfield.
A very difficult match to predict. With a new era beginning at Collingwood after the de-throning of Nick “I’ll guard this patch of turf” Maxwell, the Pies may turn out to be a more unified team focused on one thing only – winning premierships. What better way to test that then against one of the top teams in the competition. For Fremantle, I think they may struggle to find some early season form. Like Sydney back in the 05-06 era, a team with such set defensive structures and accountability may struggle to switch on early in the season, so keep an eye on that. Ross Lyon is one hell of a coach, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m completely wrong either.
Prediction: Fremantle will be able to shut down the powerful running midfield of Collingwood and come up trumps in a tight affair. Fremantle by 10 points
GWS v Sydney – Spotless Stadium
Last Meeting: R16, 2013 – Sydney by 129 points.
Assuming this is a pretty straightforward victory for the Swans, all eyes will be on Lance Franklin in his debut for the 2012 premiers. And thanks to injuries to Kurt Tippett and Adam Goodes, Buddy will have a relatively free forward line to work his craft. With so many questions to be answered, there is no doubt some aspect of Buddy’s performance will be criticised. If he kicks only one or two goals you can expect social media to light up with claims he’s overrated and a worthless pickup for the Swans. If he kicks a bag, then it’ll turn to the cost of living allowance that allowed Buddy to play for a team already loaded with stars. Concerns over a lack of goals from Buddy in the preseason shouldn’t worry the Swans too much, especially considering the lack of midfield supply in the first game against West Coast. His performance in the second game reflected more of what Buddy will bring to Sydney, with 2 first half goals before sitting out the second half.
The Swans will be looking to continue the success from last year with a strong 2014. A ‘disappointing’ season with only a preliminary final appearance shows just how high the standards are set in Sydney. Take into account the long line of injuries last year to key players, the Swans’ depth was stretched to an extent not seen at any other AFL club. With only 3 main injuries remaining, the Swans should be at full health relatively soon. With the addition of Buddy, that’s a serious concern for the rest of the AFL.
For GWS, all focus will be on another season of development. New coach Leon Cameron takes over from Kevin Sheedy in what has been a well thought out and smooth process. Big man Jonathon Patton should return from his ACL injury that saw him miss the majority of the 2013 season, and when combined with All Australian full-forward Jeremy Cameron, the GWS forward line will look pretty lethal. Another pre-season for the Giants puts more kilometres in the legs, so expect them to be stronger for longer in the close matches.
This match should be pretty straightforward for the Swans. Yes, the Giants are another year older and will have shown some improvement, but against the powerhouse Swans, they will be no match. Like last year’s first round match, this probably won’t be a major blowout, with the Swans still working their way into another deep finals run.
Prediction: Sydney to be too strong in every area. Buddy to kick 4 goals. Sydney by 45
Gold Coast v Richmond – Metricon Stadium
Last Meeting: R16, 2013 – Richmond by 9 points.
Two teams in the running for a finals berth come September. The Suns improved out of sight last year, proving they’re not just a one man team in Gary Ablett. Gaz definitely had one of his better seasons in 2013, but it was the whole squad that stepped up. Jaeger O’Meara had a debut season to remember, collecting the AFL Rising Star Award and playing a key role in the Suns’ midfield. Ruckman Tom Nicholls burst onto the scene last year, and with an ACL injury to Zac Smith keeping him out of early 2014, Nicholls will be the go to man for the Suns in the middle. Like the Giants, another pre-season into the young bodies will work wonders for 100% effort for an entire four quarters. While it wasn’t a major issue last year, it may give them the extra 2 or 3 wins needed to be in finals contention.
A disappointing finish to a great season last year for Richmond. On the cusp of the top four, bowing out to a team that technically didn’t make the finals must have been tough. Putting into perspective though would have been the message, with the Tigers well on their way to being in premiership contention over the next five years. A big win for the club in the offseason was the resigning of Dustin Martin. While nowhere near the magnitude of the Lance Franklin signing, Martin resigning is a sign that all is well at Punt Road. There would have major discussions if he had left, wondering where they had gone wrong, but it is good to know that everyone is now on board and aiming for that one goal. The signing of Carlton ruckman Shaun Hampson adds to their ruck combination which could now be regarded in the league’s top 5, which goes a long way to feeding their impressive midfield.
This match is very important for both sides for so many reasons. For the Suns, a win here puts them in the right frame of mind for the first half of the season. Nothing beats match wins, and giving confidence to a young group will go a long way to ensuring success in 2014. For the Tigers, a win here almost puts last year’s finals loss out of their minds. A win will mean a new season, new beginnings and a chance for a run at a top 4 finish. A loss here will have the doubters wondering if they are a legitimate finals team, let alone a top four team. The finals loss to Carlton will play on their minds, and the season will start on the wrong foot. A must win for Richmond
Prediction: Previously stated that I’m tipping Gold Coast. For about the 10th time I’m changing this, and head back to Richmond. Too much depth in the midfield. Tigers by 3
Carlton v Port Adelaide – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R23, 2013 – Carlton by 1 point.
Who knows what’s going to happen at Carlton this year. Every year for about the past 5 it’s all been about a shot at a premiership, with spectacularly miserable results. They have one of the best midfields in the competition, complete with taggers. They have an elite ruckman feeding this deadly pack. They have some big name key players in Jarrad Waite, Andrew Walker and Michael Jamison, but can’t string it together. Some decent offseason recruits in Dale Thomas, Sam Docherty and Andrejs Everitt will definitely help, but who can really tell? The playing group will definitely benefit from another preseason under Mick Malthouse, which was desperately needed after confusion last year over the game style they were actually playing. So much heartache for many of the Carlton supporters I know, so let’s hope they live up to their potential this year and play the finals football they so desperately need.
In stark contrast to Carlton, Port Adelaide came from absolutely nowhere to make the second week of finals, and made it seem easy in the process. Their brand of footy throughout the year was made for finals footy, showing Collingwood what it was all about in the first week of finals in 2013. What seems to be the mould of the successful modern day midfield in big hard bodies like Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle, Port Adelaide have. Kane Kornes, Travis Boak, Brad Ebert and Ollie Wines may not be household names like Ablett or Pendlebury, but they get the job done. Add to that with the speed around the edges with youngster Chad Wingard and you’ve got a great combination. Can they take another step forward though in 2014? With 13 teams regarded as being in contention for the 8 spots in the finals, it’s too early to tell. With maybe the exception of Geelong and Collingwood, most of these teams aren’t going backwards, so every match is crucial to ensuring a finals berth in 2014. This is one of those games.
Again, another tough match that ive gone back and forth over the past week. Not as much rides on this match in terms of momentum and confidence for Port Adelaide as it does for Carlton though. Carlton needs to win this game. Needs to. Can you imagine if they don’t? Media pressure, social media hate mail, and then internal pressures to perform aren’t going to serve the club well at all. For Port Adelaide, their momentum from last year will carry them through the early parts of the season, so it will be key for them to harness this and head into the bye with a winning record.
Prediction: Carlton will come out of the blocks hard as they did most of last year. But the difference another offseason with Mick Malthouse makes will be on show in the second half. Carlton by 12.