Is the unpredictability of Round 1 fact or fiction?

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    Since the start of the 2010 season, favourites have won 72.6 per cent of all home-and-away matches, but in Round 1 this winning percentage drops to just 59.1 per cent.

    This has made Round 1 the most unpredictable of the season, and provides a cautionary note to tipsters that playing it too safe in the opening round can be a short cut to the middle rungs of your competition ladder.

    Breaking down the performances of favourites playing at home versus away provides further insight.

    When looking exclusively at teams playing away, across all matches they have a win rate of 69.1 per cent but for Round 1 it is only 44.4 per cent.

    So what makes Round 1 that little more unpredictable?

    Sometimes betting markets or the wider footy public’s perceived expectations just don’t add up and this is especially so in Round 1.

    It’s a lot easier in hindsight of course, but across a summer and preseason of analysis, some factors can be made to seem larger or more important than they actually might be, while other are glossed over.

    The-Roar_AFL-BOLD-Predictions_Round-1-Tipping_Mar-2017

    This time last year, the Eagles were premiership favourites, and at the end of the 2016 home-and-away season they were only a win and percentage from first place. Their regular season finished with nine wins from their last ten home-and-away matches and they were one of the form sides entering the finals.

    Jump forward to preseason 2017 and the Eagles have lost their ‘next big thing’ tag and you can’t find many experts tipping them for the premiership. They have been described as ‘flat-track bullies’ who need to improve away from Domain Stadium, while Gary Lyon identified Jack Darling as needing to lift in big games outside of Perth.

    A review of the Eagles’ performances away from Domain Stadium reveals a five-win, five-loss record. Wins included games against the 2017 flag favourites the Giants, as well as 2016 preliminary finalists Adelaide.

    In terms of defeats, four of their five away losses came against the highly credentialled Swans, Hawks, Cats and Dogs.

    Darling kicked 18 of his 44 goals (40%) in these ten matches – an even performance for a key forward who started the season aged 23.

    Sure, these might not be the performances at a team or individual level that Adam Simpson will be hoping for in 2017, but neither are they as dire as some might have you think.

    In terms of information not given enough weighting, one variable largely underestimated by commentators and markets is the impact a new coach can have.

    Since 1997 there have been 61 new coaches appointed across the league. The average ladder change for these teams has been a move of 1.4 positions up the ladder. When you look exclusively at the 35 teams who have moved up the ladder, they have bumped by an average 4.7 places.

    A recent example came last year, when Brendon Bolton took over a Carlton outfit fresh off a wooden spoon. Despite a new coach at the helm, there was little optimism at Princess Park in 2016, even less after a Blues side made up of rookies was trounced by the suspension-hit Bombers in the preseason.

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    Yet when the real stuff started, the Blues surprised, opening the season with six wins in the first 11 games before eventually finishing in 14th place. Not a mind-blowing result, but still a lot better than predicted.

    In 2017 we see new head coaches at both Brisbane and Melbourne. Many expect the Dees, led by Simon Goodwin, to move up the ladder in 2017, while the Lions are being heavily predicted to finish last.

    Yes, Brisbane has the most inexperienced list in the competition, but they also have a stack of young talent, a few quality senior players returning from injury, and a former captain, who happens to be a past all-Australian, with a point to prove in 2017.

    With a new coach at the helm, who says the Lions are not capable of securing the wins that will keep them off the bottom of the ladder?

    When you sit down to make your selections for Round 1, try to see through the hype and hyperbole. Take a second look at the underdog, especially if they are playing at home, because if history is any guide they will win more than they will lose.

    (Author’s note: I now firmly accept that, after choosing to highlight the historical unpredictability of Round 1 seven days out from the start of a new season, the 2017 edition will go exactly as expected.)

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