The long wait is over and another eagerly anticipated AFL (Australian Football League) season kicks off on Thursday night as Richmond take on Carlton at the MCG. The Tigers beat Adelaide by 48 points in last season’s Grand Final to secure their first premiership since 1980, and they are among the favourites to seize glory this year. However, competition is fierce and there are several excellent sides vying for the big prize:
The mental scars caused by last season’s defeat at the hands of Richmond will be hard to overcome, but Adelaide are the early favourites to go one better and land the premiership this time around. They have kept the bulk of last year’s side together and added a great recruit in Bryce Gibbs, who should provide an injection of poise and quality in the Crows midfield. Keeping hold of Rory Sloane will be huge, as he has genuine star quality and he can always be relied upon to put in a strong defensive shift. They have plenty more excellent players, including Robbie Gray, Matt Crouch and Rory Laird, and coach Don Pyke will be desperate to make the most of the Crows’ premiership window. If they can raise their game when the opposition ups the intensity, as Richmond did in last year’s Grand Final with a pressure-packed game plan, they will be in with a strong chance of success.
The Swans are joint favourites for Grand Final glory at $6.50 along with Adelaide as we head into the new AFL season. The perennial finalists started last season 0-6, but from week seven onwards they showed they are a force to be reckoned with. They had the best defence in the competition, but only four-time Coleman medallist Lance Franklin registered more than 30 goals in 2017, so he will need more help this time around. Skipper Josh Kennedy has been supremely consistent in recent times, and the likes of Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery and Dane Rampe have plenty of quality. They have plenty of young talent coming through and they will certainly be a threat this year, particularly as they enjoy a comfortable draw.
Last season’s champions look hungry to defend their crown and they blew away Essendon and North Melbourne with big wins in the JLT Community Series. Damien Hardwick’s men are bidding to become the first back-to-back premiers since Hawthorn in 2015, and they should go into the season full of confidence. They have a pretty clean bill of health and they are led by Dustin Martin, who won the Brownlow Medal, Norm Smith Medal and Gary Ayres Award last season in a year of unprecedented individual glory. If he can kick 40-50 goals, if Jack Riewoldt is given better aerial support and if Jack Higgins has a big season, they can certainly defend their crown.
Greater Western Sydney
GWS are fourth in the betting at $8.50 and that looks like a really good option as the squad is teeming with star names. Of course, the big fish is Josh Kelly, who won the best and fairest last year at the age of just 23, but there is plenty of talent beyond him. Toby Greene, Callan Ward, Jeremy Cameron, Tom Scully and Lachie Whitfield are all top players, while the return of Stephen Coniglio will give the team a huge boost. If they have some luck with injuries this season, GWS have a great chance of winning the flag.
Gary Ablett’s return to Geelong is one of the stories of the season and he will form a deadly triumvirate with Partick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. Dangerfield will be keen to win back the crown of the best player in the AFL from Richmond star Martin, and you should expect another huge season from him. This is a team built for the present, with Selwood, Ablett, Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor all above 30, and it feels like a case of now or never for Geelong. If Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood live up to the hype, they could well be the best team in the land.
The AFL competition is pretty even these days and there are plenty more teams with a shot at glory this season. Plenty of hype surrounds Port Adelaide and Essendon, who have both been busy at the trade table, and they both have a legitimate shot at the top eight, as do Melbourne. Many sets of fans will go into the season full of belief that this could be their year, such is the open nature of the AFL, and that is great news for the health of the competition. There is plenty of value for punters, but the $9.50 on Geelong looks very tempting, as does the $8.50 on GSW.