North Melbourne v Essendon – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R21, 2013 – North Melbourne by 45 points
Friday night’s match sees two teams with rather forgetful 2013’s battle it out to start their season on a high. Forgetful 2013’s for completely different reasons, these are two teams that could be an outside chance for a top 4 finish. If it wasn’t for North Melbourne blowing so many big leads against good opposition they would have been well and truly entrenched in the finals. Essendon played exceptional footy all year considering the supplements saga hanging over their heads, and would have made top 4 if it wasn’t for a late season collapse and a subsequent finals ban.
For the early part of this season, I’ll be looking in on whether the Roos can show some composure in tougher situations. On too many occasions in 2013 the Roos would really struggle to slow down the opposition once they kicked a couple of goals. A good team can slow down the pace and wrestle momentum from their opposition. If the Roos are serious about contending for a deep finals berth, they can’t just be a one paced team that’s incapable of a defensive mindset. That just won’t do in finals.
Essendon will try to forget 2013, even though it may hang over them for the entire year. Their focus early on will just be on getting out onto the field with no distractions and just playing footy. Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson takes over with James Hird sitting out with a 12 month suspension, which won’t mean too much change at Essendon. Bomber already knows the Essendon system, and brings the experience of 2 premierships to the table – a pretty handy interim coach.
Based on their 2013 seasons, this is too close to call. Their previous meeting occurred in the heart of the Essendon downfall, when no one really wanted to play footy. So with that behind them, Essendon should be back to business come Friday night. They should win this comfortably, with too much strength across all areas.
Prediction: Essendon to make a big statement in their first hitout post supplements. Bombers by 35.
Hawthorn v Brisbane – Aurora Stadium
Last Meeting: R14, 2013 – Hawthorn by 58 points
One of the ‘easier’ tips in Round 1 pits the reigning premiers against an up and coming Brisbane side. Im not predicting an upset, but if the Lions get up I won’t be surprised. Post-bye, they went 7-5, which included a devastating 1 point loss to Geelong with finals on the line. Hawthorn is a bit of an unknown in 2014 – can they repeat their effort from last year?
The Hawks have been near or around the top of the competition since 2008, so is this the year they drop off? Not likely. Not locking in another premiership, but it’s hard to see them missing out on top 4 again. There was a lot of talk last year about whether they still had the legs to compete with the elite of the competition. This was mainly in reference to Geelong and the Kennett curse, which was promptly eradicated in the Preliminary Final. Losing Lance Franklin is a blow, but I don’t think it will have the impact a lot of people are suggesting. Alastair Clarkson spent all of 2013 developing a forward line around Jarryd Roughead, who kicked a Coleman Medal winning 72 goals for the season.
For Brisbane, a ridiculous decision late last year in sacking Michael Voss may have led to a mass player exodus, but luckily they have kept their core group of young stars together. Even if Paul Roos was available, how can you sack a coach that had such a good finish to the year? Ridiculous. Justin Leppitsch takes the reigns, who as an assistant coach at both Brisbane and Richmond since his retirement in 2006, should be well prepared for the rigors of coaching. The Lions have lost the legendary Simon Black to retirement – that’s a left foot we’ll definitely miss, but the retained big Jono Brown for another year. Hopefully he, along with their talented young midfield, can drive the Lions into the top 8 in 2014.
This is a bit of a danger game for the Hawks. The dangers of the premiership hangover are always present, so the Hawks may look to replicate what Fremantle did last week and absolutely thump their opponents, sending a message to the rest of the AFL. Brisbane really have nothing to lose heading into this match, and in terms of public pressure, they have relatively nothing to prove in 2014, especially in this first match.
Prediction: Hawthorn will move swiftly into the 2014 season with an easy win, and forget that Buddy has even left their club. Hawks by 30
St Kilda v Melbourne – Etihad Stadium
Last Meeting: R13, 2013 – St Kilda by 35 points
A bit of a nothing match for the first round of 2014, but with so many tight matchups, we’ll forgive the AFL for this one. St Kilda is horrible and not getting better. Melbourne was horrible, but showed signs of improvement in the preseason. Both sides will be looking for a substantially better 2014.
St Kilda could legitimately be worse than GWS. They have one talented youngster in Jack Steven, a quality defender in Sean Dempster, and an underrated recruit in Shane Savage. Apart from that, their superstars like Nick Reiwoldt, Leigh Montagna and Lenny Hayes are all aging, they have an untested coach and lost both preseason matches – one of them to GWS by 68 points! This prompted new coach Alan Richardson to state that there was ‘some positive stuff’ that came out of the match. Nope. Not buying it. One shining light in their 2013 season was the performance of Nick Riewoldt. This man is an absolute superstar, and was the single reason they didn’t finish with the wooden spoon last year. With a 2013 season that will be hard to replicate, Riewoldt needs some teammates to step up to take some of the load. If not, they’re in for a horror 2014.
Melbourne on the other hand look to be heading the opposite direction. The signing of legendary coach Paul Roos has had an immediate effect, with a win over Richmond in preseason, and a competitive showing against Preliminary Finalists Geelong. With so many high drafted young players, Paul Roos will be able to get something out of this side. The recruitment of 2009 Adelaide Best and Fairest Bernie Vince is a huge signing for the club. Vince is a quality midfielder who played in a strong team. Roos will be looking for him to lead the way in the midfield, showing his much younger teammates how real footy is played.
Can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m tipping Melbourne. Someone has to win, and as far as preseason form goes, there is no reason why we should think St Kilda will even be competitive. Paul Roos is the best coach in the AFL and will have had an immediate impact on what was previously an aimless team.
Prediction: Good solid accountable team footy will get Melbourne over the line. Dees by 18
West Coast v Western Bulldogs – Patersons Stadium
Two teams that finished 2013 with similar records, but completing different feelings after the final game of the season. West Coast were touted as a possible premier, but a combination of bad luck with injuries, and what seemed to be a lack of interest from their coach John Worsfold led to a poor season. The Bulldogs on the other hand, after losing 7 of their first 8, went on to finish with a strong showing in their last 7 games. Coach Brendan McCartney is a quality coach who seems to have implemented a successful system at Whitten Oval.
No team bounces around the ladder like West Coast does. From their heights of 2005-2007, they quickly dropped to 15th, 11th and 16th in the following 3 years, then back up to 4th in 2011. 2012 saw a 5th place finish, and then back down to the lower rungs of the ladder in 2013. So don’t be too surprised if they finish close to the top in 2014. I’m tipping them for a top 8 finish this year, and barring any injuries to key players, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. A powerful forward line with Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling is fed by a hungry midfield with the likes of Selwood, Masten, Priddis, Shuey and Wellingham. They’re fed the ball by probably the best ruck combination in the league in Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui. The backline is solid, with captain and 4-time All Australian full back Darren Glass accompanied by the likes of Beau Waters and Shannon Hurn. A pretty lethal looking side.
For the Bulldogs, 2014 will be another season of building. Could they pull off a season like the 2013 Port Adelaide team? They are a great candidate for this, but I still think they lack the forward line. The recruitment of Stewart Crameri is big for them, but he was never the big go-to man at Essendon. Still young though, Crameri may develop into the perfect player for the Western Bulldogs. The development of Jarrad Grant is paramount to the future success of the Dogs – he misses the start of the season with a foot fracture. A great midfield that led the competition in centre clearances will look to continue their impressive form from 2013. The Bulldogs have the potential to be a tough side to beat. 2013 saw them close to the top in some key stats – namely 2nd in contested possessions, 2nd in total clearances, and 4th in tackles. If they can add to these stats and become more solid across all areas, a top 8 finish may be on the cards.
While these two teams finished 2013 with similar records, I can only see one result here, and that’s a big win for West Coast. Too big, too strong and playing at home will expose the younger Bulldogs team. It’s hard to see the defence of the Dogs hold up against the West Coast forward line, and even with All Australian ruckmen Will Minson, the midfield will struggle to hold up against the duo of Cox and Naitanui.
Prediction: West Coast to signal their 2014 intentions with a big win at Patersons. Eagles by 32