Is Curnow ready to lead the Blues’ resurgence?
WITH the footy officially back in less than four weeks, SAM LANDSBERGER analyses what promises to be a blockbuster opening round.
CARLTON v RICHMOND
MCG, Thursday, March 21 7.20pm
Sam Walsh is certain to make his debut next to a match-up for the ages - Dustin Martin against Patrick Cripps. That clash will be worth the price of admission alone. Tom Lynch won't step out during the pre-season but could still play in Round 1 if he shakes off knee soreness.
How will Walsh handle 80,000 watching him under the MCG's bright lights? Are Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay ready to take the next step? And Riewoldt feared he might have "created a monster" by isolating the 195cm Cripps at full-forward in AFLX. Will the Blues be tempted to roll their skipper forward?
…ONE TO WATCH: How long will it take for Brendon Bolton to mention the "green shoots" in his post-match press conference?
COLLINGWOOD v GEELONG
MCG, Friday, March 22, 7.50pm
Could Gary Ablett break Tom Hawkins' six-year hold on Geelong's goalkicking? Ablett kicked 44 goals for the Cats in 2010 and is set to play as a forward this season. How will the Magpies handle grand final heartbreak? Adelaide crumbled last season and Sydney started 0-6 as runners-up in 2017.
A centre square of Brodie Grundy, Dayne Beams, Scott Pendlebury and Adam Treloar suggests there should be few problems while Jamie Elliott is running hot after missing the entire 2016 and 2018 seasons. Not to mention Jordan De Goey.
…ONE TO WATCH: Will it be three consecutive games in front of 90,000 for the Pies? And was Mason Cox's herculean September a flash in a very large pan?
MELBOURNE v PORT ADELAIDE
MCG, Saturday, March 23, 1.45pm
When was the last time Melbourne started the season as a popular premiership tip? Max Gawn will celebrate his 100th game. Will Braydon Preuss, who played forward in Friday's practice match, really fit in the same line-up? Jack Watts could get a crack at his old team after being left in the SANFL for last year's clash.
…ONE TO WATCH: Nathan Jones' time in the centre square looks over. The co-captain has been pushed to the wing by the club's growing bunch of midfield bulls.
ADELAIDE v HAWTHORN
Adelaide Oval, Saturday, March 23, 4.35pm
Chad Wingard begins life as a Hawk in familiar surrounds but what have the Hawks cooked up since Tom Mitchell's broken leg? Is it James Worpel in the guts or will James Cousins get first crack? Or is rookie Harry Jones the smoky for Mitchell's role? The Hawks are 3-0 against the Crows at Adelaide Oval.
…ONE TO WATCH: Richmond wanted to keep Tyson Stengle last year but the rookie was traded home to Adelaide for just pick 68. Dangerous goalkicker might be a steal.
WESTERN BULLDOGS v SYDNEY
Marvel Stadium, Saturday, March 23, 7.25pm
This 2016 grand final rematch will end comparisons to that Bulldogs side, with just 11 premiership players set to play, although Jason Johannisen (ankle) could make it 12. The new breed brings excitement with draftees Bailey Smith, Ben Cavarra and Rhylee West plus trade recruits Taylor Duryea and Sam Lloyd all strong Round 1 chances. Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney playing as permanent midfielders is a scary. Buddy (groin) is unlikely.
…ONE TO WATCH: Premiership pairing Tom Boyd and Jordan Roughead will be replaced by Jackson Trengove and Tim English in 2019.
BRISBANE LIONS v WEST COAST
Gabba, Saturday, March 23, 7.20pm
Harris Andrews at full-forward has been the talking point at the Gabba this summer although with West Coast's twin goalkicking towers that experiment might have to wait a week. Charlie Cameron - nominated for mark and goal of the year by Round 11 last year - returns while Lachie Neale slots into Dayne Beams' midfield position and jumper number. Premiership hangovers rarely kick in this early with recent reigning premiers going 5-1 in Round 1.
…ONE TO WATCH: Jack Petruccelle - the fastest player in the AFL - is quickly firming for retired Mark LeCaras' place in the forward pocket.
ST KILDA v GOLD COAST
Marvel Stadium, Sunday, March 24, 1.10pm
For Saints fans who enjoyed just four wins last year this is an entrée worth feasting on. Gold Coast's top picks will debut and Izak Rankine - the most talented player in last year's draft - has earned comparisons to Chad Wingard and Andrew McLeod. St Kilda draftee Matt Parker is expected to show off those neck tatts on debut.
…ONE TO WATCH: Suns No.6 pick Ben King should also make his debut and St Kilda fans are already thinking about him joining twin brother Max at Moorabbin.
GWS GIANTS v ESSENDON
Showgrounds, Sunday, March 24, 3.20pm
Will Leon Cameron tag ex-Giant Dylan Shiel? Sam Reid became football's human glove last year although Essendon hopes any attention Shiel receives will help Zach Merrett break free. Essendon was billed as last year's big riser before bombing to 2-6. Once again, the hype is overflowing. Will they handle the buzz?
…ONE TO WATCH: List managers Adrian Dodoro (Essendon) and Jason McCartney (GWS) will be cheering a little louder than usual given these clubs swapped early picks in the 2019 draft as part of the Shiel deal.
FREMANTLE v NORTH MELBOURNE
Perth Stadium, Sunday, March 24, 6.20pm
How many goals for Jesse Hogan? North Melbourne stopper Scott Thompson is suspended, Majak Daw is unavailable while Robbie Tarrant (shoulder) is touch and go. Even Sam Durdin (finger) is out for 8-10 weeks although re-signed defender Ben McKay has been a shining light this summer. Hogan will be used in bursts through the midfield.
…ONE TO WATCH: No Dustin Martin, Josh Kelly or Andrew Gaff but there's still plenty of puff around North's recruits. Aaron Hall is blitzing it while early indications are Jared Polec was worth the price tag.