Can the Blues make the eight? Only one expert thinks so

Another men’s AFL season is upon us, and after the year we all had in 2020, this one feels more special than usual. While Victorian grounds will not yet be at capacity, seeing the MCG and Marvel Stadium even half-full in round one will be a sight to behold.

Last year’s footy news was dominated by talk of hubs, protocol breaches, border closures and footy department budget cuts.

This year, the burning questions covered by our experts are on-field issues. Will Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron be the most lethal forward combination in the competition? How will Collingwood’s tumultuous trade period affect their game in 2021? And in a finals or bust season for coach Simon Goodwin, what is Melbourne’s biggest worry?

A sense of normality can be derived from the fact the season will open, as it has for much of the past 15 years, with Richmond and Carlton doing battle at the MCG. Unsurprisingly according to our experts, the Tigers – premiers in three of the past four seasons – remain among the teams to beat in 2021.

They have been remarkably unaffected by the attrition that can sometimes affect premiership teams, with only Bachar Houli unavailable for Thursday night’s game from the team that beat Geelong to the flag five months ago at the Gabba.

Thursday night is arguably more about Carlton than the Tigers. The Blues haven’t beaten Richmond in a season-opener since 2012. The following year marked Carlton’s most recent finals appearance, and it’s fair to say Blues fans are tired of rebuilding. The club’s off-season recruiting spree suggests Carlton are in it for the here and now, while premiership coach Robert Walls has laid down the gauntlet to David Teague, suggesting that finals are a must for the 16-time premiers. And yet only one of our experts has tipped Carlton to make the final eight. The Blues have had off-season injury woes too, and will head into this game significantly below strength.

Probably the most appetising fixture of round one comes the following night at the ’G when Collingwood – after one of the most turbulent off-seasons in recent history – starts their 2021 campaign. All eyes will be on Adam Treloar, who is expected to line up for the Western Bulldogs against the Pies following his acrimonious deadline trade last November.

Elsewhere, expectations will be high for Geelong following their off-season recruiting spree. They are clearly in it to win it, with the looming one-two punch of Hawkins and Cameron set to be a point of intrigue. So too will there be focus on the Brisbane Lions, and especially Joe Daniher who has impressed in the pre-season after three injury-riddled years at Essendon. There are plenty more storylines around the other clubs, so dig in!

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