The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2020 AFL season.
Thursday, March 19
Richmond vs Carlton
7.25pm AEDT, MCG
Well, they made us wait, but the AFL have finally decided that round 1 will go ahead and start on Thursday night as scheduled. We don’t know how many games we’re going to get this season, but seeing the players run out this weekend will bring some much-needed joy to all footy fans. The quarters will be shortened to 16 minutes each, allowing the AFL the possibility of cramming more games in before the virus situation escalates, if at all possible, but otherwise it’ll be footy as per usual — minus crowds, of course.
In what has been a hectic week for everyone involved, all the talk has focused on whether the games will be played and not on how they might actually play out. Now, everyone can prepare, media and players alike. The clubs playing on Sunday have some time to get their heads around it, but for Richmond and Carlton, it’s a quick turnaround between finding out the round is on and running out onto the MCG. The players may not be as mentally prepared as usual, and the fact that the stadium will be crowd-less adds another factor of peculiarity, but I expect both teams will simply be excited to get out there and play.
The Tigers are close to full strength, with Bachar Houli the only player from their best 22 set to miss. The Blues, on the other hand, are a little decimated, particularly in the forward line: they were already set to be without tall targets Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, and now Eddie Betts will join them on the sidelines after injuring his calf at training over the weekend. It leaves them short on firepower, and that’s not a great place to be in when you’re playing the reigning premiers. I expect the full strength Tigers will make fairly light work of the Blues, but, while it may turn out to be a one-sided game, it’ll be nice to sit down and enjoy the footy. For now.
Betting tip: Richmond (-19.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Friday, March 20
Western Bulldogs vs Collingwood
7.50pm AEDT, Marvel Stadium
The Pies probably haven’t had the best preparation leading into the opening round, with Taylor Adams battling a sore hip and Scott Pendlebury going through a coronavirus scare. They’ll be hoping those two are ready to go on Friday night, because they’ll need them against a strong Dogs midfield, particularly without the injured Adam Treloar. Jaidyn Stephenson will also miss due to injury, so it’s just business as usual at Collingwood in regards to injuries, but they’ll still be confident of knocking the Dogs off in this one. Young ruckman Tim English seems to have improved, but Brodie Grundy should still be able to take full advantage of playing against a younger body.
That being said, the Dogs will enter this at close to full strength after the speedy recovery of Aaron Naughton, who will form a formidable partnership in the forward half with new recruit Josh Bruce. Those two will take a while to gel, but I suspect they’ll give the somewhat undersized Collingwood defence a few headaches on Friday, and it might be enough to get the Dogs over the line.
Betting tip: Western Bulldogs to win @ $2.03 (BetFair)
Saturday, March 21
Essendon vs Fremantle
1.45pm AEDT, Marvel Stadium
The Bombers have fortunately had a host of key players under injury doubt become available in the last few days, so they’ll now enter this clash against Fremantle missing only Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, and of course, Joe Daniher. The Dockers haven’t been so lucky and are stuck with one of the longest injury lists in the competition. Because of that, even if this game was played in Perth they’d be up against it. As it is, the Bombers should be able to win this one comfortably—Freo are missing half of their preferred backline, as well as a group of important runners.
I suspect that’ll lead to them playing a very static brand of footy where they’ll struggle to move the ball, and the Bombers will love that: they’re great at pouncing on opposition turnovers and they look particularly dangerous when moving the ball quickly. It’s a recipe for trouble for Fremantle, and I feel that this one could blow out pretty easily.
Betting tip: Essendon (-14.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Adelaide vs Sydney
4.35pm AEDT, Adelaide Oval
I’m predicting these two clubs to struggle in 2020, so it’ll be interesting to see them face off against each other in round 1. Both clubs are going to have trouble scoring, the Crows potentially for the entire season, and Sydney until Lance Franklin and Sam Reid return. That could set us up for a turgid contest on Saturday afternoon, with both teams lacking a reliable avenue to goal.
The Crows would normally be favoured by the home ground, but will it matter when there’s no crowd to cheer them on? That’ll be an intriguing part of each and every game this weekend, but I suspect the Crows will still get the four points regardless; the Swans aren’t looking great at the moment, having been the worst performed team of the pre-season, and I can’t see that changing until they get a few of those forward targets back into the team.
Betting tip: Adelaide to win @ $1.70 (UniBet)
GWS vs Geelong
7.25pm AEDT, Giants Stadium
The Giants enter the 2020 season hellbent on making up for their poor Grand Final performance, and while they might not get the chance to atone for that in an ordinary season, they can take initial steps by beating the Cats on Saturday night. They’ve looked hungry all pre-season, and while they’ll be missing a few integral players, the Giants are good enough to cover them.
Joel Selwood will play for the Cats despite sitting out the majority of the pre-season, but recruit Jack Steven, who starred in their last practice match, will miss, with the club keen to take a cautious approach with him. That really hurts their chances of beating the Giants, because you’d think they’d need to be at their absolute peak to make that happen. The Giants play good footy at home, and not having a crowd to cheer them on won’t make much difference because they never get a huge number of fans to their games anyway. That might usually be a disadvantage, but this year it almost becomes a positive. The atmosphere will be sterile, and the Giants will take a clinical approach to dismantling the Cats. I expect they’ll do it comfortably.
Betting tip: GWS (-11.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Gold Coast vs Port Adelaide
7.25pm AEDT, Metricon Stadium
In a blow to Port’s chances, big man Charlie Dixon has today been ruled out of taking on the Suns, which is unfortunate considering the form he was in during the practice matches. In better news, fellow tall Scott Lycett has been cleared to play, and they’ll need him against gun Suns ruckman Jarrad Witts. I reckon this will be one of the closest games of the round; I’m tipping Port will be the better team in 2020, but I feel this will be a danger game for them.
The Suns came out of the blocks firing last year, and I expect they’ll do the same this year, keen to get off to a good start. They’re playing at their home ground, and while Port are the more experienced team, the Power are still relying on a host of younger players to play important roles for them. That’ll bring the Suns right into the contest, particularly if they can get a run on at some stage and place Port under scoreboard pressure. I’m expecting it to be close, but think the Suns might just pip Port on Saturday.
Betting tip: Gold Coast to win @ $2.65 (UniBet)
Sunday, March 22
North Melbourne vs St Kilda
1.10pm AEDT, Marvel Stadium
This should be a close game between two teams who are hoping to lift themselves into the top eight in 2020. The Saints will be mighty excited to showcase their new recruits, while the Roos are looking to get off to a good start for Rhyce Shaw’s first full season in charge. Ben Brown looks to have beaten the clock in his race to be fit, which is huge for North; even if he’s not perfectly fit, he’ll still provide a great target for them going forward.
Both teams are doing well on the injury front, with the majority of both best 22’s available. It should set this up as an interesting contest, one which should be close the whole way through. I don’t think the margin will rise above the four goal mark for the whole day, and I’m a bit torn on who I think will end up in front. The Roos probably have a slightly stronger midfield, but the Saints have added some much needed runners which will make them significantly more damaging. If they can get it out to those guys, and they can deliver onto the chest of first-gamer Max King, it might set up an exciting day for the Saints and give them plenty to look forward to in the future.
Betting tip: St Kilda to win @ $1.85 (BetFair)
Hawthorn vs Brisbane
3.20pm AEDT, MCG
The Lions couldn’t be in better shape heading into the new season, with a completely clean bill of health. That’ll put them in a good position to win their first game at the MCG since 2014, but the Hawks won’t be pushovers. They’ve got a few important half backs missing in Blake Hardwick and Jarmen Impey, but the return of Tom Mitchell means they’ve suddenly got a formidable midfield, one that should be good enough to go with the Lions for four quarters. If they can win their share of the ball and get it in quickly to Jon Patton and Mitch Lewis they might just be a chance at upsetting the Lions.
They’d probably still need some outstanding performances from their star players for that to happen, and while that’s possible, the Lions are the more well-rounded team and should be able to show that on the scoreboard. The crowd-less MCG should remove any intimidation factor so all they need to do is go out and play good footy, just as they did for the majority of 2020. I do think it’ll be a tight one, but the Lions should be the better team in the end.
Betting tip: Brisbane to win @ $1.83 (BetFair)
West Coast vs Melbourne
6.20pm AEDT, Optus Stadium
After a disastrous 2019 campaign, the Demons will kick-off their 2020 season where the downward spiral began, at Perth’s Optus Stadium. They haven’t been the same team since that preliminary final loss in 2018, but what better opportunity could they have to turn things around than by playing the Eagles over there in the opening round this year? Both clubs will field a strong 22, but it’ll be the Eagles who have significantly improved their team on last year through adding gun midfielder Tim Kelly. The Demons are hoping the same personnel who took them to the heights of 2018 will be able to improve drastically on last year’s efforts, and while the signs are positive, there are plenty of question marks still lingering as to whether they’re capable of that. If Christian Petracca can become a gun midfielder then they’ll be a much better team—they desperately need someone with his pace in there—but is he capable? He’ll have a tough task against the star-studded West Coast midfield, but that means we’ll get a really good idea of his improvement straight away.
It’ll be wacky seeing the Eagles play at Optus Stadium in front on no one, and while the crowd does probably give them a two or three goal advantage, just playing at their home ground will still make them hard to beat. I’m sure the Demons will throw everyone they’ve got at West Coast, but I still expect it to be a six goal victory for the home team.
Betting tip: West Coast (-19.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Best Bets of the Round
Essendon (-14.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Gold Coast to win @ $2.65 (UniBet)