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These two teams have played each other in the season opener every year since 2007, with the exception of 2014, for five wins each. However, the Tigers own the form side of this equation, having won the last six head-to-heads (including return matches outside of round one), and will enter this one as not only premiers but raging favourites. They’ll be missing a few premiership players with Daniel Rioli (foot) and Nathan Broad (suspended) out while Bachar Houli (calf) and Dion Prestia (hamstring) have had limited pre-seasons. The Blues are without defenders Sam Docherty and Sam Rowe plus Jarrod Pickett (wrist) but have been buoyed by the late pre-season form of Jacob Weitering, who is expected to be stationed down back this season, while recruits Paddy Dow and Matthew Kennedy plus Patrick Cripps impressed in the Blues’ two pre-season wins.
1. Can the Brownlow medallist pick up where he left off? Dustin Martin was the difference between the sides in the Tigers’ two wins over the Blues last season with 33 disposals and four goals in round one, and 30 touches in round 14.
2. It’s going to be a tough ask to penetrate the premiers’ backline. The Tigers had one of the best defences in 2017, conceding an average of just 74 points per game and only twice allowing their opposition to put 100-plus points past them.
3. It won’t help the Blues that they struggled offensively last season, with an average of just 72 points scored against – the worst in the competition.
4. If you want to get superstitious about it, the Tigers have the edge here too. Over the last decade, the reigning premiers have won their opening game of the following season seven times.
5. The Blues also have struggled to beat the Tigers in recent times, having last lodged a win against them in the elimination final of 2013.
6. He might have won everything else last year, but Dustin Martin had to settle for second place in the Official AFL Player Ratings. Martin polled a total of 666.6 points for the season to finish behind Patrick Dangerfield, who racked up 727.3.
With no Broad and possibly no Houli, Brandon Ellis could be faced with increased responsibility across half-back where he’ll need to play a more accountable role to make up for the absence of his premiership teammates.
PREDICTION: Richmond by 29 points.