1. Carlton v Richmond
Both talked up a storm in pre-season, but losses to unfancied interstate opponents have set up arguably the season’s first must-win encounter between the traditional rivals.What had in recent seasons served as the opening clash on the Victorian football calendar, the Thursday night blockbuster has now been sent to round two, but with action returning for the first time in 2014 to the MCG, there should a packed house. The Tigers had seemingly overcome their Carlton hoodoo after the corresponding clash last season, but two subsequent losses to the Blues including last year’s elimination final capitulation would doubtless have awoken old doubts.
Battle of the winless
Winless teams with top-four aspirations in 2014 are set to clash in round two, leaving a tough battle ahead for the losers.
2. Sydney v Collingwood
Another two sides who have had a fortnight to mull over their first-round losses clash at ANZ Stadium, and again the stakes are high. Collingwood were woeful against the Dockers, but have a strong record against the Swans at the venue, having lost just once there since 2005, and just twice to Sydney in all over the same period. Things have not quite reached panic stations for the Swans after their shock loss to GWS, but another defeat here when favoured will heap serious pressure only two weeks into the audacious Lance Franklin experiment.
3. Essendon v Hawthorn
The premiers take on arguably last weekend’s most impressive winners in front of what will be a sell-out crowd at Etihad Stadium. Hawthorn eased into the season, wearing every punch the Brisbane Lions had to throw in Launceston before careering away late. They will probably need to step it up a gear though to overcome the Bombers, who far from being fazed by the drama unfolding around them on Friday instead dismantled North Melbourne. Paul Chapman vowed never to lose to the Hawks after the 2008 grand final, and while playing at Geelong was able to keep true to his word. Another vintage performance from the new Bomber fan favourite might be necessary to win this clash of bitter enemies.
4. Western Bulldogs v North Melbourne
The last of the three square-offs between two of round one's vanquished sees two flat-track bullies shape up at a venue where both played clearly their best football last season. North Melbourne have as much to play for as anyone this weekend, humiliated by the Bombers on the prime time stage after receiving a heap of fanfare all summer long. The Bulldogs were equally disappointing out west but have proven tricky opponents at times for higher-rated opposition at Etihad Stadium in recent times.
5. Port Adelaide v Adelaide
Even by Showdown standards this one looms as an enticing clash. The brand new Adelaide Oval is unveiled, and after Port pinched two epic duels last season the Crows will be desperate to stem their rivals’ growing momentum in the City of Churches. Then there’s the "jumpergate" drama that enlivened February like few footy controversies before it, and the chance for the Power to put an early eight-point gulf between themselves and a side likely to be challenging them for a finals berth. The Saturday twilight slot ensures that all eyes in the footy world will be squarely focused on South Australia for this one.
6. St Kilda v GWS
This presents an unlikely opportunity for two lowly sides from 2013 to go unbeaten through a couple of a rounds. For a club as fledgling as the Giants, every victory is in some respect groundbreaking, and having overcome their big brother Swans for the first time in round one, they will now be looking for a maiden victory outside of Sydney or Canberra. The Saints impressed with their intensity, and this is a genuine chance for them as well to make further inroads in Alan Richardson’s first season at the helm. An intriguing afternoon awaits at Etihad Stadium.
7. Brisbane Lions v Geelong
The Lions very nearly achieved a miraculous double against the Cats last season, coming from the clouds to win after the siren at the Gabba and then suffering a cruel finals near miss in the last round of the year at Simonds Stadium. Much has changed in Brisbane since then, but Justin Leppitsch’s men would have surprised a few with a spirited showing against Hawthorn. The loss of Tom Rockliff will be a major setback, and with Geelong hitting their straps late against Adelaide, this is a tough assignment. A 12:10 pm start in Brisbane due to a lack of daylight savings poses its own set of challenges. The long-range forecast is for 33 degrees and 68 per cent humidity. How the Cats’ veterans cope with the unfamiliar conditions presents an interesting sub-plot.
8. Melbourne v West Coast
Defeat to a heavily undermanned Saints’ outfit would doubtless have served as a reality check for Paul Roos and the Melbourne faithful, the difficulty of the impending challenge to regain respectability and then wins put starkly into focus. Return to the more familiar expanses of the MCG should assist the Demons’ cause, but West Coast were back to their suffocating and clinical best on Sunday against the Bulldogs, and even if they can redress their accuracy issues in front of goal, it is hard to see Melbourne opening their account this Sunday.
9. Fremantle v Gold Coast
Eight games were played since the Dockers pummelled the Magpies into submission, yet there was still probably no round one winner who looked more ominous than Fremantle. Back at home where they have won 17 out of their past 18 games, the Dockers are football’s immovable object. The Suns may have built momentum at home, but this will be well and truly a bridge across the Nullarbor too far.