The following are previews with betting tips for Round 1 of the 2021 AFL season.
Thursday, March 18
Richmond vs Carlton
7:25pm AEDT, MCG
The 2021 AFL season kicks off with the usual Thursday night match of Richmond vs Carlton, and there’s perhaps, if possible, more excitement than usual. This time last year the feeling was different, with the confirmation the game would go ahead, but with no crowds. On Thursday evening the MCG will only be at half capacity, but that’s a whole lot better than what we became used to last season. The energy of the first bounce will probably result in an intense start to the game, but when things settle down we’ll find out whether the Blues have made significant improvements over the off-season, and whether the Tigers are still the team to beat in 2021.
With a few changes being introduced to the game, the teams that adapt best, the most quickly, will have an advantage in the early parts of the season. The interchange is down, which I think actually suits Richmond, and the man on the mark rule is sure to come into some controversy, but hopefully it has its intended effect of opening up the game — again, another thing that the Tigers will fancy.
Richmond will look fairly similar to the side that won the flag, with Josh Caddy and Jake Aarts coming in for Bachar Houli and Marlion Pickett. The Blues are also fielding a strong team, with Harry McKay and Levi Casboult both passing fitness tests to spearhead the forward line. The notable omissions of Eddie Betts, Jack Martin, and recruit Zac Williams will hurt — those three players each have a bit of X-factor that Carlton will sorely miss. Round 1 hasn’t been easy for the Blues in recent times, and I can’t see that changing in this one. They need to be competitive and show they can challenge the Tigers — which I think they can — but I’d be surprised if they snatched victory. I’m going with Richmond by four goals in an exciting return to crowds at the MCG.
Friday, March 19
Collingwood vs Western Bulldogs
7:50pm AEDT, MCG
The Pies and the Dogs again face off in Round 1, but there will be more feeling this time around. Collingwood’s turbulent off-season, when they decided to address persistent salary cap issues, resulted in Adam Treloar being unceremoniously offloaded, and he gets an early shot at sticking it to his former club. There was some doubt whether he’d be right to play, but he’s shaken off a calf complaint to take his place in the team. That’ll make for an interesting look at the Dog’s midfield, which is as stacked as any midfield going around. How they manage to rotate all those guys through the middle is a big uncertainty in predicting how the Dogs will fare this year. Having a deep midfield could turn out to be a huge advantage, but it could go the other way: they could have talented midfielders wasting away in the forward pocket.
How the Pies look will also be of genuine interest now that they’ve shuffled a few players out and brought in some younger talent. Ollie Henry will make his debut, and he looks a pretty likely type going off his pre-season performances. In terms of game style this one should be fascinating: both teams have struggled in their forward half, so it’ll perhaps come down to who can be most efficient. The Dogs’ recruitment of Stefan Martin means Brodie Grundy shouldn’t be able to dominate them as much as he has in the past, and that might just swing this one in their favour. I expect a tight, hard-fought battle, but I’m going with the Dogs — despite them being slow starters the last few years. I think they’ll have learnt their lesson.
Betting tip: Western Bulldogs to win @ $1.77 (Sportsbet)
Saturday, March 20
Melbourne vs Fremantle
1:45pm AEDT, MCG
This is a big season for the Demons and Simon Goodwin. They simply need to make the finals this year, no excuses. A win against the Dockers is crucial to getting things off on the right foot, but it won’t be easy. The Dees are missing their pillars up forward, with recruit Ben Brown and Sam Weideman both sidelined for the start of the season, so it falls to Tom McDonald and young Luke Jackson to provide targets against a pretty solid Freo defence.
The Dockers are a team many have predicted to improve significantly this year, so the Dees will need to be on their guard. Their big advantage, of course, is that the young Dockers probably aren’t that comfortable outside of Perth, and the MCG stage should tilt things in Melbourne’s favour. The Dockers also copped a few key injuries in their practice match, with Rory Lobb and Michael Walters both out for a while. Sean Darcy is also under an injury cloud, and if he doesn’t get up then we can expect Max Gawn to dominate and in that scenario the Dees should win comfortably.
That said, Melbourne are a very difficult team to grasp. They were poor in their pre-season game against the Dogs, but they were missing most of their best midfield. With a stronger team you’d expect they take care of the Dockers on Saturday, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tight contest.
Betting tip: Melbourne to win @ $1.52 (BlueBet)
Adelaide vs Geelong
4:35pm AEDT, Adelaide Oval
The Crows begin the 2021 season as one of the favourites for the wooden spoon, while the Cats are in consideration for the flag. The Crows have potentially become worse, losing 2019 best and fairest winner Brad Crouch, while the Cats have topped up for another tilt, bringing in Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins, and Isaac Smith. All three are A-graders at their best, though both Higgins and Smith are getting on. I think it’s fair to say if they manage to get the best out of those two this season it’ll go a long way to them contending, but if they slow down considerably — and the same could happen with Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins — then the Cats will probably be back in the same boat, the most experienced team but lacking the youth, depth and exuberance needed to win a flag.
They shouldn’t have too many issues with the Crows in Round 1; we’ll have a much better idea of their chances for season 2021 when they take on the Lions the following weekend.
Betting tip: Geelong (-25.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
Essendon vs Hawthorn
7:25pm AEDT, Marvel Stadium
What a massive Saturday night game this is. These two teams are relatively evenly matched, but external expectations are slightly different. The Hawks are rebuilding and it won’t surprise or outrage the most fervent Hawks fan if they don’t make the eight this year. On the other hand, the Bombers are expected to improve on last year and if they don’t compete this year, immediate pressure will fall on new senior coach Ben Rutten. Unfortunately for him, the succession plan means he will be judged more harshly than other first year coaches, but probably rightly so. He’s got a decent squad, but I think that’s all they are: decent.
The Bombers lost Adam Saad, Orazio Fantasia, Conor McKenna, and, of course, Joe Daniher. What do those guys have in common? X-factor. And speed, agility. I’m worried the Bombers will struggle this year, and it’ll be because they’re now a little pedestrian. I mean, they weren’t great last year anyway, but to lose that sort of talent hurts. To be fair, Fantasia and Daniher barely played last year, and McKenna didn’t have a massive impact either. But they’re still light on for game breakers, so they’ll desperately need some of their younger up-and-coming players to step up to the stage.
The Hawks will be looking for something similar, and the signs are already pretty good: draftees Connor Downie and Tyler Brockman look promising, as does promoted rookie Changkuoth Jiath. I reckon this will be a scrappy, fast-paced game of footy, and while it’s hard to confidently predict a winner, I’m going with Hawthorn. The Bombers might take a while to settle into the season with a new coach and so many new faces, but I expect Alastair Clarkson’s men, as usual, to be ready from the first bounce.
Betting tip: Hawthorn to win @ $1.84 (Sportsbet)
Brisbane vs Sydney
7:45pm AEDT, The Gabba
The Lions are definitely one of the teams in watch in 2021, with the youngest contending team sure to be hungry after another close miss last season. The addition of Joe Daniher means the Lions, who were already one of the most dangerous inside 50 teams, will now have another great avenue to goal. That’s provided he stays fit, but from all reports he’s had the best chunk of training he’s had for years. That makes the Lions a formidable opponent, without too many glaring weaknesses. The only one you could point at, perhaps, is the ruck. Let’s hope the decision to let Stef Martin go doesn’t bite them. It seemed a sound decision at the time, with big Oscar McInerney playing well in the back end of last year and Martin struggling with injury. But now, albeit purely based on pre-season form, Martin looks as fit as ever for the Bulldogs, while McInerney doesn’t look 100% comfortable shouldering the number one ruck duties.
Regardless of that, they’ll still be one of the better teams in 2021, and they should account for the Swans this weekend. Sydney will be looking to improve this year, and they’ll be hoping to unearth another few young guns. I can’t wait to see how Logan McDonald goes in his first game. They might just have their next gun key forward ready and waiting to learn the ropes from the aging Buddy Franklin.
Betting tip: Brisbane (-24.5) @ $1.90 (Sportsbet)
Sunday, March 21
North Melbourne vs Port Adelaide
1:10pm AEDT, Marvel Stadium
Reading through some of the expert predictions for 2021 on the AFL website, I was surprised to find Port were almost a unanimous tip for the premiership. That’s not a slight on Port — they’re as good a chance as anyone — but the fact is, there are a couple of other very good sides who will be mighty tough for them to beat. The Tigers, until proven otherwise, are still the best team in the comp, while all of Brisbane, Geelong, St Kilda, and the Bulldogs have significantly strengthened their lists. West Coast will be up there as well, and GWS will probably still be a pretty good team. But it does look like there’s a clear top four: Richmond, Brisbane, Geelong, and Port. I have trouble splitting them, and wouldn’t be surprised to see any win the flag.
That said, the Tigers, Lions, and Cats all have more runs on the board than Port, and I’ll wait to see how the Power begin the season before penciling them in for the flag. This game probably won’t tell us too much; North are destined for a bottom four finish, potentially even the wooden spoon. Like a few other rebuilding clubs, they’ll be looking for signs of promise from some of individuals, but as a team I can’t see them getting within six goals of Port on Sunday.
Betting tip: Port Adelaide (-31.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)
GWS Giants vs St Kilda
3:20pm AEDT, Giants Stadium
This match between the Giants and the Saints is perhaps the most even contest of the opening round. GWS had a disastrous season last year, missing finals completely after playing in the 2019 decider. They face the arduous task of climbing back to the top this year, but they’ve lost a few key players: Jeremy Cameron is gone, as are Zac Williams and the retired Heath Shaw. GWS are no stranger to losing good players, and this year they’ve also brought a couple in: Jesse Hogan and Braydon Preuss both have the potential to be really good players and fill key areas of need for the Giants. Unfortunately, they’re both currently injured, which leaves the Giants vulnerable in the ruck and probably up forward as well, although less so there.
The funny thing is, the Saints will also be weak in those areas: Max King won’t be available to spearhead the forward line, and with Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall both unavailable, the ruck duel in this game will be contested by two debutantes. That’s fair, I reckon.
So who wins? It’s tough to go against the Saints after their brilliant 2020 season, but the guys they’re missing are all integral parts of what made them so good. Because of that, and because I’m expecting the Giants to have a point to prove, I’m leaning towards the home team in this one.
Betting tip: GWS to win @ $1.65 (Bet365)
West Coast vs Gold Coast
6:10pm AEDT, Optus Stadium
Round 1 concludes with a clash between the Eagles and the Suns, and while West Coast will enter as warm favourites, there’s plenty of reason to keep an eye on this one. The Suns smashed the Eagles in their Round 2 encounter last year, and while the circumstances were extraordinarily different, both teams will be aware of it. The Suns will take confidence from that into this game, while the Eagles will be looking to learn from their mistake of perhaps taking the Suns lightly.
Gold Coast are another year older now, and if they manage to have a good year on the injury front there’s no reason they can’t challenge for the top eight position. And if I’m in the Gold Coast camp, I’d be going into this game with full belief of a win. The Eagles will be without Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo — two of their prime movers — and the Suns should head in with close to their best 22. The Perth factor makes things difficult, and that’s the reason why I’m still sticking with the Eagles, but the Suns should be giving themselves every chance to cause a huge opening round upset. Let’s see if they’ve matured.
Betting tip: West Coast By 1-39 @ $2.10 (Sportsbet)
Best Bets of the Round
Port Adelaide (-31.5) @ $1.91 (Bet365)