Matches to watch for in the 2013 AFL season

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Lance Franklin celebrates a goal in Hawthorn's 2011 final against Geelong (Slattery Images)

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There are now under 50 days till the official start to the 2013 Toyota AFL premiership season.

And what a season it promises to be, especially with Brendon Goddard to run out in a jersey which will feature one less colour than usual, Kurt Tippett starting a new life in the Harbour City following a controversial turn of events during the off-season, a Carlton side to be coached by Mick Malthouse, and the Hawks to be strengthened in its bid to win a premiership that they should have won last year.

Here are some of the matches that we should look forward to in the new season”

Fremantle vs. West Coast, Round 1

Both teams were very impressive in season 2012 but only one of them can begin the season with a victory.

The Eagles took a backward step though in 2012, having finished in the top four in 2011 following a horrendous three years at the bottom. But they did finish fifth at the end of the season and performed well in the finals, thrashing North Melbourne by 96 points in the elimination final before losing to Collingwood in a close match.

Fremantle also performed well in the finals last year, smashing their MCG curse in emphatic fashion and ending the Cats’ premiership defence before coming so close to upsetting Adelaide in Adelaide.

If last year was a form guide, expect both teams to improve from their semi-final finishes in 2012. But who will gain bragging rights in this first match?

Carlton vs. Richmond, Round 1

Ah, the traditional Melbourne season opener. By the time the two rivals step out onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it will have been two months since the Australian Open tennis finished and Melbourne sporting fans will finally experience some competitive sport after two months (not taking the NAB Cup and Formula 1 into account).

The traditional season opener should set the tone for what should be an exciting season for both teams, but for Richmond supporters they will be hoping for a better start to the season as they attempt to make their first finals series since 2001.

For Carlton, it’ll only be the beginning of an exciting new era under Mick Malthouse. With Chris Judd relieved of his captaincy duties, maybe we can finally get to see the best of him this season.

Hawthorn vs. Geelong, Round 1

Another exciting match to close out the opening round of the 2013 AFL season. Last year Hawks hearts were broken not once but twice.

The second match last year was one of the matches of the season and Geelong looked down and out for all money when they found themselves trapped in Hawthorn’s forward 50 with some 40 seconds left on the clock. So they had to gamble and hope for a winner, which they eventually found through Tom Hawkins.

His post-siren goal ensured the Cats maintained their dominance over Hawthorn, which has existed since they lost the 2008 AFL grand final to them. Hawthorn are going to have to find a way to get past their bogey rivals if they want to start the season with a victory.

Collingwood vs. Malthouse, Round 2

Collingwood fans, mark Sunday, April 7 into your diaries now. The Pies will be out to ensure that Carlton’s decision to sign Mick Malthouse in September last year backfired spectacularly.

It will be the first time Malthouse leads his Carlton side out to face the side he coached to the 2010 premiership and three further grand final appearances. And after a year out of the coaching scene, Malthouse will be back better and ever and Carlton will be a much better side than they were last year.

Expect a sell-out crowd for what should be already the match of the season in just the second round. Interestingly, Carlton defeated Collingwood in both of their matches last year, which should further add some spice to the match.

Collingwood vs. Hawthorn, Round 3

If you compare AFL teams to WTA tennis players, Collingwood is Maria Sharapova and Hawthorn is Victoria Azarenka. Just like Azarenka dominated Sharapova in most of their tennis matches last year, Hawthorn did the exact same to Collingwood.

This includes victories in Round 1, 17 and the qualifying final. Hawthorn has had the edge over Collingwood in recent times and this showed in their victories last year. It’s also the battle of two of the in-form full-forwards in Lance Franklin and Travis Cloke, so expect a shoot-out when the two go toe-to-toe at the MCG on Sunday, April 14.

Can the Hawks continue their dominance over Collingwood in 2013?

St. Kilda vs. Brendon Goddard, Round 4

Saints fans, mark Saturday, April 20 into your diaries now and save your energy for this match, when you can boo and heckle Brendon Goddard all you like.

Goddard’s defection to Essendon last year via the free agency system made all the headlines and Saints fans will still be angry over his defection to leave Moorabbin for bigger money.

Whether he should be called a “traitor” to St. Kilda depends on how he performs at Essendon in 2013.

Essendon vs. Collingwood, Round 5

The traditional ANZAC Day match has provided a lot of memorable moments over the last few years, such as Jarryd Blair’s goal in the final minute last year giving Collingwood a one-point victory and David Zaharakis’ goal in the last 10 seconds which gave Essendon the 2009 victory.

It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago, James Hird and Nathan Buckley were captaining their respective sides into battle. Now they will be coaching each other on the AFL’s biggest day outside of the grand final for the second straight year.

Essendon has only triumphed twice since 2004, in 2005 and 2009. If the trend continues, you can confidently back Essendon to salute in 2013.

St. Kilda vs. Sydney, Round 5

This match will be one of historic proportions as it will be the first ever AFL premiership match to be played beyond the boundaries of Australia. The match in Wellington, New Zealand shouldn’t be missed especially if you are an AFL fan living in New Zealand.

The AFL has previously experimented with matches in Tasmania and the Northern Territory with great success. And what a way to begin the AFL’s foray into New Zealand with a match between the Saints and the defending premiers, the Sydney Swans.

And there is no reason why this foray shouldn’t be successful, because it will be.

Hawthorn vs. Sydney, Round 7

Hawks fans, mark Saturday, May 11 into your diaries now. This will be the date when Hawks fans can load up their fury on the Sydney Swans, who took the premiership cup outside of Victoria last year.

Hawthorn were the better side for most, if not all, of last year, but the bottom line is that they simply weren’t good enough on the biggest day of them all. Hawthorn lost last year’s AFL grand final the same way Victoria Azarenka lost last year’s US Open final to Serena Williams.

A good lead late in the match, only to have it taken away because they (or she, in the case of the US Open final) couldn’t hold on for so long.

This match won’t decide the premiership, but it will be sweet revenge if the Hawks can prevail.

Collingwood vs. Geelong, Round 8

Last year Collingwood unleashed on the team that denied them a record-equaling 16th flag in 2011.

The two matches last year showed that Collingwood were still a force, even in the post-Malthouse era, whilst Geelong were starting to show signs of decline after such a long time at the top.

This match should give a representation of how far the two teams have come since the 2011 AFL grand final. Collingwood have continued to dominate without success, whilst Geelong experienced their worst season for a long time.

Could the opposite occur in 2013, or will Collingwood continue to dominate at the expense of the Cats?

Geelong vs. Gary Ablett at Simonds Stadium, Round 10

Cats fans, mark Saturday, June 1 into your diaries now. The last time the Gold Coast Suns ventured down the highway to the Cattery was supposed to be the first time Gary Ablett played at Simonds Stadium as part of the opposition side. But unfortunately the comeback never eventuated and the Suns were spanked by 150 points.

This will be the best chance for Cats fans to finally unleash on the 2009 Brownlow Medallist, who defected to the holiday strip in 2010 for more money and, as it has turned out to be, limited success.

It will be interesting to see if Gary Ablett is cheered or jeered, depending on whose side you are on. It will also be the first time Josh Caddy faces up to the team he deserted last year, in pursuit of on-field success at Simonds Stadium.

Essendon vs. Gold Coast, Round 12

It will be two years since the two teams last met at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and there’s no doubt the Suns will still be haunted by the 139-point defeat that was inflicted upon them on that Sunday afternoon under the roof.

But by then the Suns should be an experienced team as they continue to develop the needs for success and stability within the team. How far they have come since May 1, 2011 will be tested when they face the Bombers under the roof on Saturday, June 15.

Greater Western Sydney vs. Port Adelaide, Round 12

In the corresponding match last year, Greater Western Sydney enjoyed their best ever win in an AFL match, defeating Port Adelaide by 34 points in what was Kevin Sheedy’s 1000th AFL match in some capacity. But it was also the match that cost Matthew Primus his job at Port Adelaide.

Now the Power return to Sydney’s Olympic Park for the first time since that black day in the club’s history hoping that things are different this time around, whilst GWS will be relying on that win to get them past the finish line once again.

Geelong vs. Hayden Ballantyne, Round 14

Cats fans, mark Saturday, June 29 into your diaries now. This will be the chance for you to finally unleash on Hayden Ballantyne, who in the first round last year knocked out Paul Chapman behind the play at Patersons Stadium.

Cats fans have never forgiven him for his sins and now he will be doomed to being jeered for every possession he collects at Simonds Stadium. Add to the fact that it’s a night match, adding to the intrigue and the Cats will be desperate to bury the demons of two losses to the Dockers last year.

Richmond vs. Gold Coast, Round 16

Hopefully the Suns will not be winless by the time they face Richmond in Cairns.

In the corresponding match last year, it looked as if the Suns would not win a match for the season when they found themselves 10 points down with 30 seconds left in the match. But some tactical decision making saw the Suns conjure a miracle victory which was capped off by a post-siren goal from rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt.

The victory kick-started the Suns’ season rather belatedly, whilst the Tigers’ finals hopes evaporated as they lost to the Suns for a second time in as many attempts. Richmond will be hoping not to repeat the same mistake for a third time.

Gold Coast vs. Carlton, Round 18

The last time Carlton landed on the holiday strip, they treated it as a holiday rather than a serious make-or-break match. The result? A 12-point loss, which not only resulted in the dismissal of Brett Ratten but also saw a disappointing season come to a close.

The Blues have been given a second chance to prove themselves on the Gold Coast, and will be hoping that they don’t repeat the same mistake again.

For the Suns though, it’ll be about hoping history repeats as they bid to avoid the wooden spoon. But don’t expect a repeat victory, as the Blues will have learnt from their lesson by then.

Tom Scully vs. Melbourne, Round 19

Finally, Tom Scully will be able to play in an environment which is well away from Canberra or Melbourne. The first time the Giants and Demons met last year at the MCG, Scully was jeered and taunted as Melbourne had the last laugh in a 78-point victory.

was no escaping in the second match either, despite the match being played at Manuka Oval where Melbourne had taken games against the Sydney Swans to in the past. Melbourne had (and still have) a strong link with its Canberra supporters, but they won’t get to see their man Scully face up against his old team in the nation’s capital this year.

As the match is being played at Sydney Showgrounds, Scully can now enjoy his football without being jeered by the crowd.

Port Adelaide vs. Gold Coast, Round 21

Gold Coast Suns fans will still have fond memories of the last time they flew to Adelaide to play Port Adelaide in 2011. It was the scene of their first ever AFL win and this sparked the Suns into AFL life.

Though they would only win three matches in their debut season, the season was still a success. For Port Adelaide though, it was the lowest point in a very disappointing season which saw them just avoid the wooden spoon to the Suns on percentage, when they defeated Melbourne in the penultimate match of the season.

Port Adelaide ensured that there was no repeat result when they annihilated the Suns on their home ground last year, but this will be Port’s best chance to prove the Suns’ victory in 2011 was a fluke.

Sydney Swans vs. Hawthorn, Round 23

What a way for both teams to potentially warm up for the 2013 AFL finals series with a grand final rematch at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

As both teams are expected to go deep in September, it’s very likely that the AFL will schedule this match for what should be the biggest Friday night regular season match in Sydney for years. This would allow both teams sufficient time to prepare for what should be another enthralling AFL finals series.

Sydney will have the crowd behind them as they bid to finish the season inside the top four (or at least top eight), whilst Hawthorn will be out to upset the fans who plan on attending this match.

Gold Coast Suns vs. Greater Western Sydney, Round 23

As Sydney and Hawthorn prepare for another finals series this year, this match may as well decide who wins the wooden spoon and, subsequently, who gets the first pick in the 2013 AFL Draft.

Last year the two matches were split, with the Giants recording their first ever win at home and the Suns getting them back on the holiday strip. Expect grand final-like intensity in this match as both teams attempt to offload the wooden spoon. You can consider this match to be the “2013 AFL reverse grand final”, as both teams will be expected to continue to struggle this season.

And so what a season it promises to be. Can Mick Malthouse take Carlton back to the finals this season and heap more misery on the club he coached to the 2010 premiership?

Can the GWS Giants win more than two matches this season?

Can the Sydney Swans defend their premiership?

There are so many questions that will be answered once the 2013 AFL season gets underway on Friday, March 22 with Adelaide hosting Essendon.

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