Sliders and Gliders – Unexpected Risers and Fallers of the 2024 Season


Boy, the ladder predictions this year are a snoozefest.

Ask anyone in the AFL’s national media contingent, and you’re likely to get the same easy answers. Collingwood are going back-to-back, a previous top four team in GWS is going to hit another level, the Blues are here to stay.

I mean, they might be right, but they’re not exactly going out on a limb here, are they?

So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to take on the fool’s errand of going against the grain to pick a few surprise risers and unexpected backfires for the 2024 season. I’m calling this one Sliders and Gliders, which is god awful but it rhymes so let’s go with it.

Let’s start with the sliders.



  1. Melbourne
  • 2023 finish: 4th, out in straight sets

There’s not a single smell wafting through the Demons camp that resembles anything close to Christian Petracca’s cooking.

The odours of the off-season have been foul, and I fear they’re going to linger through to the regular action.

The Oliver situation looks a right mess, and has somewhat masked the more low-profile Joel Smith’s suspension, and while the Demons may be content to sip tea while their house is on fire, I’m not buying that everything inside the fences of Casey Fields is all daisies and daffodils.

But let’s push all that aside for a second and talk football. Even if you forget the fact that the Demons’ four-time best and fairest superstar is on shaky ground, I’m still not convinced Melbourne has set themselves up for another premiership tilt.

For me, it boils down to one factor, and that’s an over reliance on their remarkable ruckman.

Personally, Max Gawn is the greatest ruck I’ve ever seen (I was too young for Polly, and I’ve got Max ahead of Cox), but what the Dees are about to ask of him is unreasonable.

Now 32 years old with both historic and recent injuries on his record, the big fella remains in the elite tier of rucks, but can he shoulder the burden that is taking a team deep into the finals?

Of course Christian Petracca, Steven May and Jake Lever will play their parts. Viney is always reliable. But I suspect one breakdown from big Max will be enough to capsize Melbourne’s premiership hopes.

In short, Max is too important to lose even for a short amount of time. If he misses even a month with injury, I’ve got Melbourne missing the top four and maybe even the top eight.

Oh, and their forward line stinks.


  1. Brisbane
  • 2023 finish: 2nd, and oh so close

Okay, now we’re straying into some spicy territory. Lions fans will feel beyond stiff right now, and I expect are already planning to lynch me. The Mongrel did not require my address to write for them, so I feel relatively safe.

“We only lost the grand final by less than a goal!” I hear them screaming. “What about the young guns on our list? Lachie Neale has two Brownlows!”

I get it, really, I do. But man, it’s going to be hard for the Lions to be that good again.

Don’t get me wrong, they will probably still wipe the floor with anyone who steps foot inside their beloved Gabba, so I fully expect them to play finals again.

However, I do not expect them to be able to reproduce the same run of form that led them within a straight kick of a premiership at the back end of the year again.

Brisbane racked up 17 wins to finish second on the table at the end of the regular season last year, and the unfortunate reality is that they will need to repeat that mammoth effort to have any chance of getting over the hump in 2024.

Home finals are a must, leaving them absolutely no wriggle room for a dip in 2024.

That means the likes of Jaspa Fletcher, Keidean Coleman and Darcy Wilmot absolutely must take steps forward, particularly with Will Ashcroft sidelined for a good chunk of the season.

Now, it’s entirely possible they do take those steps forward, but development is never linear and while Brisbane’s long term prospects look as solid as any club’s, I’ve got them taking a small dive in 2024.


  1. Western Bulldogs
  • 2023 finish: 9th, West Coast wrecked em

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get excited about the Western Bulldogs.

They’re like a kid’s birthday party. There’s rides, fairy bread, maybe a petting zoo… but at the end of the day you’d rather be at the pub.

Bontempelli, Liberatore, Naughton, Ugle-Hagan, English… what’s not to like?

Well, their defence for one, and the injury to Bailey Smith for another.

But more pressing for me is the lack of support lending hands to these elite tier stars.

The Dogs have a great reputation for recycling players on the brink and breathing life into their careers, but last year the approach of giving chances to hard-nut fringe footballers ran its course.

The reliance on Bontempelli specifically reached sky high levels, and if he or Tim English weren’t on fire, the Dogs were done like a dinner.

Now they head into a season (without Smith) hoping the likes of James Harmes, Oskar Baker, Nick Coffield, Anthony Scott and more can fill important holes.

That seems unlikely to me, and with others like Jack Macrae, Adam Treloar and Rory Lobb more than likely past their best footy, it leaves a tonne resting on the main man’s shoulders.

Much like the Demons, I don’t like the Dogs solely due to their over-reliance on one superstar player.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you have to rely on one player, it’s nice for it to be Marcus Bontempelli. But in the AFL, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, and I’m not sure the Dogs are getting much better as time goes on.



  1. Gold Coast Suns
  • 2023 finish: 15th, oh hey there Dimma!

Alright, enough Debbie Downer stuff, let’s crack into some positives.

I really like the Suns this year, and not just because they hired a three-time premiership coach (although, that helps).

It’s hard to go through their list and find a player that “doesn’t” have room for growth. At 31 years old, David Swallow might be the only one? And even then, he has a tremendous value to this team.

Touk Miller is also more of a known quantity than a wildcard at this stage, but even he has scope to return to a higher form than he displayed in 2023 (not that he was bad by any means).

Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Ben King, Jack Lukosius… we know the story around these guys and we’ve heard all about what their ceilings could be.

But what about Sam Flanders, who burst into relevance last year? Or Bailey Humphrey, who might be the most likeable young player in the AFL? Even those considered a tier below (think Alex Davies) could be unlocked by a new coaching system.

Speaking of coaching, let’s consider the difference a switch from Stewy Dew to Dimma Hardwick might make.

In 2023, the Suns ranked:

  • 17th for handballs per game
  • 15th for tackles
  • 16th for goal assists

Now, far be it from me to claim an understanding of Stewy Dew’s gameplan while I sit on my couch and eat Doritos every weekend, but something tells me Hardwick’s Suns might be a little more aggressive than those figures suggest.

We’ve been hearing about the Gold Coast Suns’ ceiling for more than a decade now, but I think they might finally have the means to reach it.


  1. Fremantle
  • 2023 finish: 14th, back to regular programming

Now the Dockers are a really curious case in 2024.

Their coach’s job hangs in the balance as rumours of a Bevo coup spread like warm butter, and a performance sub par to expectation last season has fans clamouring for an immediate return to top flight.

But do those expectations marry up with the reality of a team that remains among the youngest in the competition?

Among almost any metric, Fremantle were the second youngest team in the AFL last season – both on field and when considering the total list. Only the Hawks could lay claim to having a more inexperienced team.

That means teams like North Melbourne, the Gold Coast and West Coast, all of which finished below Fremantle on the ladder, fielded a more mature list than the Dockers. Yet the narratives around these teams couldn’t be more different.

The Roos, Hawks, Suns and even the Eagles (however delusional that may be) are touted as rising young sides ready to make waves in the future, while the Dockers are considered constant disappointments by many, not even expected to make a splash let alone create a wave.

Still, even in a disappointing year, Fremantle strung together ten wins last season. If North Melbourne or the Hawks put that same win tally on the board, how different would the conversations about them be to those of the Dockers heading into a new year?

But narratives aside, young players don’t stay young forever, and the Dockers have so many talented kids on the cusp of hitting their prime years.

Caleb Serong, Hayden Young and Luke Jackson were all drafted in 2019, and all are entering their 22 or 23-year-old seasons.

Jye Amiss, who kicked 41 goals last season, will be 20 years old this season (yes, 20!). Josh Treacy alongside him will be 21. Young mids Matt Johnson and Neil Erasmus may well leapfrog Jaeger O’Meara for a spot at just 21 years of age. The list goes on and on.

Fremantle have a really good mix of key position power and star midfielders, all on the same trajectory and upswing. I’m not sure how deep they can go in 2024, but I am absolutely certain they’re in for an improved season.


  1. Adelaide
  • 10th, but Keays kicked that goal…

Okay, this kind of feels like low-hanging fruit. Given how close the Crows came to finals footy last season, it would hardly be a “glide” for them to come good on a top-8 berth in 2024.

Nonetheless, I like to watch them, and it’s my column so I can talk about who I like thanks.

Working majorly in their favour, Adelaide showed they can really harness home field advantage last season.

They went 9-4 in games at Adelaide Oval, and while recognising those aren’t “insanely” dominant numbers, among those four losses were a one-point defeat to the premiers Collingwood, a narrow loss to preliminary finalists GWS and another one-point heartbreaker to the top-8 Swans.

I think they can take another step forward at home this year, and turn their home deck into a house of pain, a la West Coast in the 2000s.

From there, they just need to slightly improve their road form to really cement themselves deep into the top 8.

In terms of their list and game plan, there’s plenty to like. Matty Nicks’ men captured the hearts of neutral observers with their aggressive, all-out scoring approach last year, and there’s no reason to think any of that is set to change.

Izak Rankine, Tex Walker, Josh Rachele, Riley Thillthorpe and Darcy Fogarty will continue to invade the dreams of defenders like a Freddie Kruger film, and Jordan Dawson, Rory Laird and Matt Crouch (who was back to some strong form late last season) will continue to feed them.

In an ever-changing AFL landscape, there’s something to be said about stability and familiarity. Sure, Rachele might see more midfield time this year, and Daniel Curtin is a new face to be excited about, but all in all I think a similar 22 and a similar plan can take a big step forward for the Crows this season.