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A record crowd looks set to descend on the MCG as the AFL home-and-away season launches with the traditional battle between the Richmond Tigers and the Carlton Blues. Join The Roar for live scores, coverage and analysis from 7.25pm (AEDT).
A drought-breaking premiership, a Brownlow Medal, a Norm Smith Medal, a Leigh Matthews Trophy and the immediate demise of decades-old jokes about their club. Yep, 2017 wasn’t half bad for Richmond.
First defying the doubters to finish third on the ladder come finals time, then embarking on a September to remember by crushing three quality opponents in Geelong, GWS and Adelaide, it was a stunning season for the Tigers, and one the yellow and black faithful will remember for a long time to come.
Leading it all was Dustin Martin, the oft-controversial midfielder enjoying arguably the most prolific single season in AFL history, winning nearly every award in the business and securing one of the more lucrative contracts going around.
But the Tigers’ strength isn’t in one man: from the high-octane forward pressure of Jason Castagna and Dan Butler to the dogged defending of Dylan Grimes and David Astbury, Hardwick’s men are full of team players all doing their bit.
Their depth will be tested early in the year, with injured trio Bachar Houli, Daniel Rioli and Dion Prestia joining the suspended Nathan Broad on the sidelines, but Tigers fans should still be very optimistic about their chances of going all the way again in 2018.
The Carlton Blues might have gone slightly backwards from 2016, their first year under coach Brendon Bolton, but despite finishing 16th with only six wins for the season, there is still plenty to like about the direction the young side is heading in.
With bookends Charlie Curnow and Jacob Weitering tracking nicely, defender Liam Jones coming from nowhere to become a decent footballer and a bunch of up-and-comers in Sam Petrevski-Seton, Zac Fisher and Jack Silvagni all impressing as well, the signs are there that the Blues will soon be challenging for finals.
New recruits Aaron Mullett (North Melbourne), Jarrod Garlett (Gold Coast) and Matthew Kennedy (GWS), plus highly touted No.3 draft pick Paddy Dow, should all add some skill and spark to the line-up, and while they’ll be up against it to win here, don’t be surprised to see the Navy Blues cause some upsets this season.
In terms of development, Richmond are Formula One drivers while the Blues are still on their L plates. The Blues will try hard, but the Tigers should be too good here.
Richmond by 38 points.
The AFL expects the attendance for this match to exceed 90,000, which would be the highest ever for a Round 1 game and the most at a non-Anzac day or finals fixture since 2000.
Will the huge crowd see the mother of all upsets as the Blues give the Tigers’ flag defence a shaky start? Or will the yellow and black army unfurl their flag in peace on their way to a comfortable win?
Tune into The Roar’s live blog of this AFL season opener, and don’t forget to leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.