The Big Questions – Melbourne 2024 Season Preview

Well, it’s certainly been an interesting time in the life of the Melbourne Football Club since they were bundled out of the 2023 Finals Series, hasn’t it? I reckon I could count on one hand the number of positive stories about anyone involved with the club since they last stepped off the MCG back in September.

Hell, Simon Goodwin saving a bloke’s life in the Bali surf barely rated a mention amongst the myriad stories of what was wrong with the club, the players, the culture, and anyone who happened to come into contact with someone who barracked for them.

You know what the best way to answer that type of publicity is?


Unfortunately, we still have 59 days remaining until the team can do that against the Sydney Swans in the season opener and shut people up, so until then, everyone at the club has to sit tight and await their chance to respond.

This article is not a gossip column. I’m not going to stack it with rumours of what is or isn’t happening with the people at Melbourne. If you want that, there are plenty of sites and mouthy Facebook or Twitter accounts that will entertain you. I suggest you head there and have a great time. More power to ya.

What I will be focusing on is the on-field performance of the Dees, what is possible, and what is not in 2024. And the hope is that there are still some supporters out there who enjoy that type of coverage and have not followed Kane Cornes and his ilk down the rabbit hole of sensationalism. Fingers crossed.

It’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2024, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2024.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel Punt. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about the upcoming season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

Isn’t it a bit early for a season preview? Well, I suppose, but do you know how long it takes to write seven thousand words? That’s 18 x 7,000… gets out the calculator… that’s 126,000 words. The average novel is about 85,000 words, so buckle the hell up with these previews.

Also, if there are any issues that arise after the publication of the preview, they will be covered in standalone articles to act as additions to this preview.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it. This is where we start the run to the new season and believe me – nobody does it better than The Mongrel.





Might as well get this one out of the way to begin with, as I am sure this will become a large topic of discussion as the season draws closer, particularly if Oliver has not rejoined the group by that stage.

Whatever is going on with Clayton Oliver, all I will say is that I hope he is able to get whatever support he needs to not only get back and play footy, but to be happy and healthy. I also hope the club is reaching out to his family to make sure they’re looked after. Too often, it’s forgotten that issues like this involve more than just one party.

That said, there is a chance we don’t see much of him, or any of him in 2024, and if that is the case, it is important to look at where the Demons find cover for a player who has given them so much in recent years. I mean, how do you replace someone who was well on the way to establishing himself as an all-time club great?

Two AFL Coaches’ Player of the Year Awards, four Bluey Truscott Medals as the Dees’ Best and Fairest, and three All-Australian selections… the guy has been incredible in his time with the Dees.

Oliver and Christian Petracca have made a formidable midfield duo, feasting on service from the league’s best big man, Max Gawn for years. Whilst 2023 was Oliver’s least productive season, we don’t need to look back too far to find an indication as to what these two can provide when they’re switched on and in sync.

In 2022, the pair combined to add over 60 disposals, 13.5 clearances, and over 30 contested possessions per game. That is ridiculous production, but the Dees now have to face the possibility that this tandem will be split this season. It’s foreign ground.

Petracca in the middle without Oliver is like watching Butch Cassidy and… nobody else. It is like Disney making a Buzz Lightyear movie without Woody in it (they have sucked). Hell, it is like a Star Wars movie with Han Solo, but without Chewbacca. Sure, things could still have the potential to be good, but it lacks that familiarity… that comfort that made things so great.

The Dees have to replicate Oliver’s production, which, let’s face it, was some of the best production in the league. How do they go about it?

Firstly, the club is blessed with the presence of Jack Viney, who immediately elevates his game to take the bulk of the contested footy and clearance work. In 2023, Viney averaged five clearances and close to 12 contested touches per game – he is no slouch, but he was already doing this stuff with Oliver in the side. If we’re asking for someone to cover Oliver, then who covers Viney?

Oliver was the number one player at Melbourne for average centre bounce attendances in 2023. Viney was second. We need to look a little further down the list to start to see where the value will come from.

Tom Sparrow was used sparingly at centre bounces, but he has clearly been doing an apprenticeship under the All-Australian collection the Dees possess. He attended just under half of the centre bounces for the Dees in 2023, resulting in a career-high 17.2 disposals, but just 2.6 clearances per game.

Does he have it in him to elevate that second set of numbers?

The Dees would be hoping so.

In his defence, it would be damn tough to earn a clearance when the bulk of them were shared amongst Oliver, Viney, and Petracca, with Gawn chipping in to take the footy out of the ruck cleanly and notch his regular 4+ clearances per game. It’s tough enough winning a clearance against the opposition without having to battle your own teammates!

The other option here is Angus Brayshaw.

After a horror finish to his 2023 campaign, stretchered off the ground after what will be remembered as ‘The Maynard Incident’, there were legitimate fears that he may not play footy again. After all, he doesn’t wear that helmet for decorative purposes. However, Dees fans have been buoyed by the work he has put in this preseason and it is looking as though he will be right as rain to continue his career.

Great news for him – great news for the Dees.

Great news in terms of covering the potential loss of Oliver, as well.

We must remember, this was a bloke that finished third in the Brownlow when he last played in the midfield on a permanent basis. Yes, we’re going back a little, but Brayshaw has clean hands, is great below his knees and is able to generate play for his teammates. Some blokes just know how to play footy – Brayshaw is one of them.

Toward the back half of 2023, Brayshaw started to move back through the midfield more often. Discarding the first half of the season, where he played in defence, he averaged 25.9 disposals and 5.5 clearances over the last 11 games of the home and away season.

It’s not like he forgot how to win the footy in the middle, right?

Look, my hope is that Oliver gets back sooner rather than later, but if he requires time away to get things right, then the Dees have options. Between Sparrow and Brayshaw, they have a 23 year old who would relish the chance to prove himself, and an old, steady hand who knows exactly what’s required.

Get well soon, Clayton. You’re missed, but the Dees can hold the fort until you’re right.



Now this is an interesting one and nobody seems to be talking about it.

McAdam is a nightmare matchup. In a few ways, he is a similar threat to Bayley Fritsch, inasmuch as he is deceptively good overhead and simply finds ways to hit the scoreboard.

At 27, McAdam has played just 50 games. He was a bit of a late bloomer, but has a healthy career average of 1.4 goals per game in his four years of senior footy. He also has a bit of mongrel in him, and that cost him weeks on the sidelines in 2023. I don’t mind it, personally – the Dees could use some more of it.

He will line up as a high half-forward and do his best work when he gets isolation against his opponent. McAdam rarely loses his feet and with the ability to clunk marks, he ‘should’ take a bit of heat off the Melbourne forward line. We’ll get to the key forward options soon, but any team that can boast Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett, and Shane McAdam in the forward half is going to be dangerous.

What is his ceiling at the Dees?

I could see him becoming a two-goal per game at this club. The Crows had Walker, Fogarty, and Thilthorpe as their main marking targets, and both Izak Rankine and Josh Rachele at ground level, but McAdam was able to carve his own niche in that team – he will likely do the same at Melbourne, only without dominant big men taking all the big grabs.

Staying on the park, whether due to injury, suspension, or form has been an issue for McAdam over the last four years, with 15 games the highest number he’s been able to put together. In his first season at Melbourne, I’d like to cut him a bit of slack and give him time to settle in and adjust, but at the same time, I feel that he is a player who needs to deliver quickly for the good of a club still in the premiership window.

If this bloke gets up and running in the first six or seven games, it gives the Dees more options in the way they use Pickett, and a very good marking target for his size inside 50. Pair him with Fritsch and the mid-size defenders from the opposition will hesitate to zone off more often than not. Either one can make you pay.

McAdam will likely not gather a heap of chatter going into the season, but if he is able to replicate what he did at the Crows, soon enough, people will be gushing over what a recruiting coup he was.



Let’s have a bit of a look-see and find a few things out.

I like 20/20 games from rucks. 20+ disposals and 20+ hit outs from a big man indicates he is not only getting his hands to the footy in the ruck, but is doing damage around the ground. In 2023, Max Gawn had only four of these games.

The Dees won three of them. The one they lost was the Qualifying Final and the big bloke did just about everything he could to drag his boys over the line – 27 disposals, 31 hit outs, ten clearances, ten inside 50s, 22 contested touches… hell, if he gave the rest of the team massages before the game, I wouldn’t be surprised – he was doing everything else he could to help.

What is a bit of a concern is that in years prior, Gawn had many more of those 20/20 games. He had eight in 2022 and eight in 2021. With just the four last season, is it a sign he is starting to slow down just a little? Or does he have plenty left in the tank for when it matters?

Gawn is one of the very few rucks that can completely control a game. He is a brilliant tap ruckman, but he is also 32 years old. He needs help, and thought he may have had it when the Dees recruited Brodie Grundy.

We all know how that worked out, but how they spell him this season now becomes an issue. And God forbid he cops an injury… do you know who the Demons’ backup rucks are this year?

Tom Fullarton is one. He has made his way to the team via Brisbane, and whilst he is looking at a spot in the forward line, his height will mean he’ll be expected to take some ruck contests, as well. And his best return in a game has been eight hit outs.

You read that correctly. Eight.

Next up, there is a 19-year-old (Will Verrall), and a 20-year-old (Kyah Farris-White) who will likely take a long while to develop. And then you have Ben Brown and Josh Schache that stand a couple of metres tall, and at this stage look about as useful as a hat full of arseholes in terms of ruck relief.

So the question from here changes a bit. It is not whether Gawn has to dominate for the Dees to have a chance – no, it whether he can stay on the park to avoid this team finding out the hard way that without their big fella, they’re in deep trouble.

Gawn is a giant of the game in more ways than one. He has been the best ruck in the game over the last ten years, and once again the Demons are going to have to lean heavily on him.

This year, there is no Brodie Grundy to step in if Gawn is hurt. There is no Luke Jackson to prance around like a unicorn. No – this is Max Gawn being available each and every week and putting this team on his back. It’s a massive undertaking.

However, if he is able to do that for the entire year, maybe… just maybe, the Dees can prove a lot of people wrong.

And Gawn may just cement himself as the best ruck of the AFL era in the process.



Hands up if you know what it is…

I don’t know whether he needs help tying his shoelaces, or he is putting his boots on the wrong feet, but Trac’s kicking at goal has left a heap to be desired over the last two seasons.

In 2022, he kicked 19 goals, but registered 31 behinds as he struggled to hit the side of a barn.

In 2023, it got better, but was still nowhere near good enough, as Trac had days where he struggled to hit the ocean from the beach, finishing with 28 goals and 34 behinds.

To save you a bit of maths, that adds up to 47.65.

A lot of shots. A lot of misses.

Christian Petracca is a beast (that autocorrected to “breast”. Is my phone telling me he’s a bit of a boob?) . No one dares to criticise him because he is just about the complete player. He wins his own footy, bursts from contests like Chris Judd used to, stands in tackles, and brings his teammates into the game. He also pumps the footy inside 50  as well as anyone in the game (ranked first in 2021, first in 2022, and fourth in 2023). Additionally… as if he needed another string to his bow, he is right up there with score involvements (first in 2021, second in 2022, and first in 2023) every single year. He just needs to make the most of his own chances.

A Christian Petracca that runs at 60% for kicking at goal, if we use the last two seasons as a guide, would kick 33.23 in 2023. For mine, that would almost be good enough to make him one of the favourites for the Brownlow.

Hell, maybe he’ll continue to spray them all over the place like Joe Ganino at a swingers’ party and still win it, but I’d love to see him rectify the one flaw that has permeated his game.

An accurate Christian Petracca is just about the ultimate weapon. What Simon Goodwin would give to be able to deploy it at crucial stages of the season?



I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw from Jacob Van Rooyen in 2023.

Sometimes, you talk to supporters of clubs and they tend to… hmmm… exaggerate what a young bloke is doing. Hell, I can remember several Richmond fans telling me that Callum Coleman-Jones was going to displace Tom Lynch at some stage. And now suddenly, we don’t talk about him as much anymore. Same at North Melbourne with Charlie Comben, and Hawthorn with Jacob Koschitzke. People get carried away when it comes to potential.

With Van Rooyen, all I’d heard from Dees fans was that he was a contested beast in the air that would crash packs and throw caution to the wind. I admit, I took that with a grain of salt, particularly as I ran into the bloke at a cafe and distinctly remember thinking “he is not big enough to crash packs and make a big difference the way supporters say he will.”

My apologies, Dees fans – I was wrong.

When JVR attacks the footy in flight, I felt for those who stood in his way. Not only does he throw himself at the pack, he can actually take a damn grab, as well! With multiple goals in six games in 2023, you’d have to be looking at ten or more games like that in 2024 as he continues to get quicker, stronger, and more confident in his abilities.

With his fellow key forwards looking like players at the end of their careers, Van Rooyen has the capacity to keep the Dees afloat with the way he plays his role. Whilst I fully expect him to have several games where he is not a huge factor (big forwards at a young age are hit-and-miss even at the very best of times) what we should start seeing more of this season is a player becoming more aware of his environment, of also of how and where the ball is going to enter attacking fifty, and a young man ready, willing, and able to take advantage.

Sure, the Dees may lean on Tom Fullarton, Ben Brown, Tom McDonald, and any other big body they choose to throw forward, but the longer the season goes, the more responsibility will fall to Jacob Van Rooyen.

And unlike last year, I don’t need anyone to convince me that he is ready to take it on.


This concludes the free section of our preview. Not bad, huh? The next two-thirds are for our members. You can join, y’know?


As mentioned above, the first five questions are free – the next 10-12 are for our members. I believe my work is worth twenty-five cents per day. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re welcome to join and keep reading