‘Impossible to beat’: Expert’s bold call
IT may be the year of the pig according to the Chinese calendar, but in AFL circles it's looming as the year of the Demons.
Melbourne were completely dismantled by the eventual premier West Coast Eagles in the 2018 preliminary final, but they've retooled and are expected to go to the next level.
Champion Data have ranked them the number one side in the competition and several experts have circled them as the team to beat.
The latest is former North Melbourne premiership player David King who believes they're going to be "impossible to beat".
"For me, they win the flag this year. They're not wanting for anything. They don't lack anywhere," King told SEN's Whateley.
"If Steven May stands up down back, then they want for nothing.
"They're clearly the toughest team in the competition, they've been rated the best list this year (by Champion Data), it's been the perfect build the way they've put this list together.
"Paul Roos took them backwards to go forwards and they went four wins, six wins, 10 wins and then they've gone 12 and 14."
The Demons have one of the league's best midfields led by 2018 All Australians Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver and this is where Melbourne will separate themselves.
"I think their midfield on the back of Max Gawn and the guys that he's hitting it to, Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney, they're just impossible to beat, they've got this proactivity that's hard to stop," he said.
"They've got innovation in the coaches box, I think there was a maturity about them last year that we hadn't seen before, I think the big question will be the big games.
"That's where they failed last year. They failed against Collingwood on Queen's Birthday, they failed in the Prelim, let's judge them on a couple of big games early in the season."
SWANS WINGS TO BE CLIPPED
Only once since 2003 have the Sydney Swans failed to appear in September action as they continue to prove to be a formidable opponent.
Over the past eight seasons, the Swans' lowest finish on the AFL ladder was sixth back in 2011.
But less than impressive form over the back half of the 2018 season and a heavy reliance on one star player has many pundits predicting a severe drop this year.
Lance Franklin enters the season under an injury cloud and is in a race against the clock to make it into the team ahead of their opening clash.
But former Essendon player Tim Watson raised serious questions over the teams ability to put points on the board if their superstar forward isn't on the track.
"(Buddy has) got to be an injury concern. Not only in the early part of the year, right throughout the year," Watson said.
"If he doesn't play, they're going to have to rely on Sam Reid… he's had his issues over the years.
"(Callum) Sinclair (could be an option) possibly as a tall forward.
"They've got a lot of good small players in their forward line. You still need some big guys down there who are going to be able to clunk the ball, and have these (small) guys play off them.
"Without Buddy you just can't see them kicking big scores."
HIGH-FLYERS RUSH TO THE HOSPITAL
Collingwood will be out to put the disappointment of the 2018 Grand Final loss behind them by going one step further in 2019.
High-flying defender Jeremy Howe endured a rollercoaster season dealing with injuries and suffered a gruesome blow in the lead up to this season.
After missing four games from a heavily-corked thigh, Howe copped a blow in the same spot last month from teammate Darcy Moore.
But things took a severe turn when Howe's leg began to swell and ended up with him going under the knife.
Turns out the blow from Moore had resulted in an extremely rare case of an artery pumping blood into his leg.
"They put this dye in your blood and track where it is all going and what they found was that I had an artery which was basically without an end," Howe said.
"So after I copped the hit from Darcy, the blood was just hosing out into the rest of my leg. They had to put a coil on it to close it off.
"Then I had another bout of surgery a week later to drain all the blood out."
Thankfully Howe has put the troublesome scenes behind him and says he is "cherry ripe" for the Pies opening clash.
"I'm right to go," Howe said.
"I had a good block (of training) for probably a fortnight leading in. But I'm on top of all the injuries now. The thigh's all good.
"I had a bit of a run around (against Carlton) and got the rust out. I had a good session (last) Friday and I'll go again on Wednesday and be cherry ripe for Friday."