Footy is finally back in Melbourne and what a way to kick off proceedings with the traditional Thursday night clash between arch rivals Carlton and Richmond.
Both teams will be going into the blockbuster game full of confidence following their strong showings in the NAB Cup.
Under new coach Mick Malthouse, Carlton were quick to make an impression in its four matches leading up to the NAB Cup Grand Final. A second-half lapse against a spirited Lions outfit eluded the Blues of a pre-season premiership.
Similarly, the Tigers were quite impressive throughout the NAB Cup and showed that they can win tight contests. Not being able to finish off close games was Richmond’s biggest downfall last season.
The come-from-behind wins over Essendon, Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs will provide the playing group with a real sense of belief and reassurance.
In his first home-and-away game as Carlton coach, Malthouse was blessed to have close to a whole list to choose from at the selection table. He has chosen an experienced side, which looks to be reasonably settled across the ground.
The Blues’ elite midfield will be led by newly-appointed captain Marc Murphy. The only regular missing from Carlton’s midfield contingent is last year’s best and fairest winner Heath Scotland, who is serving a two-match suspension for an off-field indiscretion over the summer.
A calf injury to Jarrad Waite means that Levi Casboult will be the focal point of the Blues’ forward line in only his second-year at AFL level.
At the other end of the ground, full back Michael Jamison has the tough ask of limiting the influence of reigning Coleman Medallist Jack Riewoldt.
Shaun Hampson has edged out Robbie Warnock for the back-up ruck position, while reliable defender Jeremy Laidler has been named as an emergency.
Richmond will also be near enough to full strength, with only Dylan Grimes and Nathan Foley unavailable due to injury. Coach Damien Hardwick has gone with a similar side to last season, leaving out new recruits Aaron Edwards and Chris Knights.
Despite having an injury-interrupted off-season, Troy Chaplin will play his first game for the club after nine seasons with Port Adelaide and is likely to play a key role in the defensive half.
The Tigers’ rising midfield will be challenged against Carlton, especially around the scrimmages and stoppages. With Trent Cotchin likely to receive the hard tag, the likes of Reece Conca, Shaun Grigg, Daniel Jackson and Dustin Martin must stand up and take on extra responsibility.
Tyrone Vickery returns to senior football after missing the bulk of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury. His presence at centre half-forward allows Riewoldt to remain deep in the square and gives the running midfielders an option to kick to up the ground. The 200cm big man will also be used as a back-up in the ruck to help ease Ivan Maric’s heavy workload.
First-round draft pick Nick Vlastuin looked certain to make his debut after impressing in the NAB Cup, but he has been surprisingly overlooked for tonight’s clash.
The Tigers have lost the last nine matches to the old enemy and haven’t sung the song after Round 1 since 2008. The most recent of these defeats (Round 18 of last season) left the Richmond faithful in a state of despair. An uplifting goal from Brock McLean with less than a minute remaining gave the Blues a gusty four-point victory.
It may only be Round 1, but there is so much at stake for both Carlton and Richmond. The boys from Visy Park are eager to show their critics that they are a top-eight side and can still win big games of footy. Equally, the Tigers are desperate to break the drought and establish themselves as a genuine finals contender this season.
This game could go either way, seeing as both teams are evenly matched on paper and just as hungry for the four premiership points.
Can Richmond finally put an end to the hoodoo, or will Carlton make it a staggering 10 wins in a row? All will be revealed tonight when the two bitter foes meet in front of a finals-like crowd at the MCG.
Mitchell Wood is a second-year Bachelor of Sport Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @Mitchell_Woody