2024 AFL Pre-Season Schedule and Expectations

We’re almost there, everyone.

After a long summer, we are getting so close to the start of the 2024 season that you can practically taste it. The early predictions are all in and the teams are raring to go, but before we get into the real stuff we need to get through the preseason.

Many of the clubs have already completed their internal trials and all will have both a match simulation with a neighbour and one official hit-out at the end of the month. These games are a great chance for the teams to shake off the last of the rust from the off-season, and to give fans a glimpse of what they can expect this year.

But with each team at a different stage of development, the goal of these matches isn’t always as simple as seeking out a win. For some that may be the case to get off to a good start, but for others there are particular areas of their game they need to fix up, and others still who use the matches simply as a testing ground.

So let’s take a quick closer look at who each of the clubs will be playing and what they will be wanting to get out of the preseason.


All games broadcast on Foxtel and Kayo. The Mongrel Punt will provide coverage for all clashes



Match Simulation v Port Adelaide, Alberton Oval, Friday Feb 23

Community Series v West Coast, Hisense Oval, Saturday March 2

Years of pain seem to be reaching their end for Adelaide, with the Crows being robbed only just missing out on a finals spot last year. Things could have ended very differently for the Crows had a few close results gone their way and while Adelaide won’t have a chance to rectify their biggest issue from last season (their poor record on the road) they will still have a chance to address their other weaknesses.

Defence became an issue for the Crows and wasn’t helped by the injuries to their stock of young defenders. They were ranked 14th for scores conceded from clearances and they were 9th for total conceded scores with an average of 82. This is way off the best defensive teams who average around 67. Keeping their opposition under this score will likely be the goal for Nicks’ team during these early hit-outs and it would go a long way to seeing them once again come out of pre-season with two wins.

Port Adelaide is a great test, with the Power averaging 92 points per game last season. The Crows have had the better of their bitter rival lately and will be frothing at the mouth to get a victory over them on their home turf. West Coast should be an easier task but the Crows will still want to be alert so they remain in good habits ready for the season’s official start.

Round 1 v Gold Coast at Heritage Bank Stadium.



Match Simulation v Gold Coast, Brighton Homes Arena, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Sydney, Blacktown International Sportspark, Thursday February 29

No doubt the sting of the Grand Final loss has been burning all summer for the Lions. After many years of being around the mark, they finally got their chance at premiership glory only to fall agonisingly short in a thrilling Grand Final. The fact that the game was so close actually creates a problem for Brisbane because what more could they possibly do? 17 wins, undefeated at home, first in clearances, equal second in inside 50s, and first in preventing their opponents from getting inside 50.

But there was one area where the Lions were sorely lacking, and it was their tackling pressure. Incredibly they finished dead last for average tackles per game. This was also the stat that Collingwood clearly beat them in on Grand Final day, winning the count 73-53. This needs to be addressed, and fast. With everything else appearing sorted, tackling needs to be the sole focus of the pre-season so they can get their numbers up closer to the 64-67 range which is on par with the top four tackling sides.

The Lions will get the first look at the new Gold Coast, and while the Suns may throw out a few curveballs this should be a win. Sydney is another good test for the Lions, with the Swans being the second-highest tackling team last year. If Brisbane can win the tackle count against these guys it would be a big green tick to start the year.
Opening Round v Carlton at the Gabba



Match Simulation v Geelong, Ikon Park, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Melbourne, Ikon Park, Wednesday February 28

It was a very quick and very dramatic rise for Carlton last season and a lot of experts are predicting that trajectory will continue to see the Blues into the top 4 this year. Most of the stats indicated that fifth was about where they belonged based on both their own numbers and what they gave up to the opposition. With the big guns in Curnow, Walsh, and Cripps firing and the incoming of new young talent, Carlton are poised to be a real threat for years to come.

But they still have a lot of work to do. At times last season the Blues were unpolished, often letting teams out of pressure situations too easy and making too many mistakes themselves. The poor start to the season was another obvious problem, with the Blues sitting at 5-8-1 at their bye, including a 6 game losing streak. Whether it was because they simply weren’t ready to go from the start or it took some time for things to click, they can’t allow this again. Pre-season is the dress rehearsal for Carlton this year, and they are going to need to bring their A-game to make sure they are fully ready to go this time around.

With the luxury of both games at home the Blues will be wanting to make it two from two. They are playing two sides who are a bit of a question mark this season in Geelong and Melbourne but they did beat both in 2023. You can all but guarantee they will get at least one win from these games, but only they will know if they’ve done enough mental preparation to be ready for the current toughest task in football straight out of the gate in Opening Round.

Opening Round v Brisbane at the Gabba



Match Simulation v North Melbourne, AIA Centre, Wednesday February 21

Community Series v Richmond, Ikon Park, Tuesday February 27

There’s really only one question for the Pies, can they do it again? They haven’t been able to go back to back since 1935/36 against South Melbourne, almost 50 years before South officially became the Sydney Swans (1982). Yet, there appears to be no chinks in the Collingwood armour. Their only low stat is rebound 50s, but that’s probably because they don’t allow their opposition to get into the 50 in the first place. They have shown very few lapses in concentration and have the fitness to run out a full four quarters of high intensity. You really can’t tip against them at this stage.

So if it’s not to be another case of the Collywobbles, then what do they need to do? The toughest thing for Collingwood is that no doubt the other teams have spent (and will continue to spend) copious amounts of time analysing how to not only replicate them, but beat them. No doubt Craig McRae has been tweaking the game-plan over the summer, but he won’t want to give teams any extra time to analyse it. The balance for Collingwood will be getting themselves match-day ready but without giving too much of the new act away.

Being given North and Richmond as opponents was probably exactly what they were hoping for so they can get off to a great start while keeping the new tricks hidden up their sleeves. They should be able to beat these two while barely getting out of second gear, and can keep their main focus on preparing for the Preliminary Final rematch against GWS in Opening Round.

Opening Round v Greater Western Sydney at Giants Stadium



Match Simulation v St Kilda, RSEA Park, Friday February 23

Community Series v Geelong, GMHBA Stadium, Friday March 1

The Bombers feel like they’re in a bit of a limbo lately. Finishing 11th last year after being comfortably in the top 8 was a disappointing way to end Brad Scott’s first year as coach, but is on trend for the team that has been bouncing between 7th and 15th for the past several years. The Essendon fade-out is becoming the new football cliche since Richmond shook the ‘Ninthmond’ tag, and if they want to get out of the cycle there’s one clear thing they need to do.

For Essendon it’s all about building up the physical and mental endurance. Finding the balance between doing enough to win games, but keeping something left in the tank for the end of season is what is going to elevate Essendon above being an ‘ok’ team. Much of the work for this would have been done over the summer training sessions but the pre-season games are still important to get the boys back into game-day mode.

The Bombers will have St Kilda first up and then will take a trip down the highway to play Geelong. Both of these games are pretty 50/50, and it will be interesting to see whether they ease back into things or if they aim for some early wins. Either way we won’t be able to take too much away from the results, the real judgement will come from how they finish the year off.

Round 1 v Hawthorn at the MCG



Match Simulation v West Coast, Mineral Resources Park, Saturday February 24

Community Series v Port Adelaide, Alberton Oval, Friday March 1

And speaking of teams that are seeming to stay in place, what is going on with Fremantle? Being over in the West we don’t put much of a spotlight on them but perhaps we should as they’ve been floundering in the bottom half of the ladder for years now. When they made finals in 2022 it looked like maybe they were on the way up, only to fall back to 14th last year. And then things seemed to get worse in the off-season with more players jumping ship and only getting draft picks in return.

If things are to get back on track Fremantle need a good start to the year. They were on the low end of all the key stats in 2023 which suggests perhaps that a hunger for the ball wasn’t there, and this needs to be the focus in the pre-season matches. Players need to be showing plenty of run and making daring choices with the ball movement. We know the talent is there to do this and these days playing safe football is not going to get you anywhere.

First up for them is a derby against West Coast and this is a great chance to get a first win and rev up the hunger. They’re currently on a five-game winning streak against them in official matches, and there’s nothing quite like beating your biggest rival to give you a spark. Then it’s off to face Port Adelaide who will be a tougher opponent but if the Dockers can match the Power for intensity, especially in the midfield, it will put them in the right mindset to start the season on the front foot.

Round 1 v Brisbane at Optus Stadium



Match Simulation v Carlton, Ikon Park, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Essendon, GMHBA Stadium, Friday March 1

Geelong is one team people will be watching very closely to start the season. Was last year an anomaly or is this really the end of the Cats’ empire? 2023 was only the second time Geelong have missed finals in Chris Scott’s 13 years as coach, and the first time missing since 2015. It does appear that age is starting to catch up with the Cats (finally) but they haven’t completely neglected to build up a list of younger players as well. Now with the veterans starting to retire, it’s their time to shine.

But if the Cats are to keep their dominant streak going then they need to adapt, improvise, and overcome. Those who don’t change quickly get left behind in this game and not even Geelong are immune. Once a midfield powerhouse they dropped to 13th for clearances last season, and only Brisbane were worse when rebounding from the 50. Scott has been at the helm for a long time now and has successfully changed his game-plan many times. This pre-season for the Cats will be all about exploring new plans, approaches, and positions for players as they seek to find the next road map to catapult them back up into the top four where we are so used to seeing them.

This may be the first time in a long time that Geelong will be playing two teams who finished above them for pre-season, and it feels even stranger to say those two teams are Essendon and Carlton. While taking on the Blues is unlikely to have a happy result, if Geelong can get a win against Essendon at home this would get them off to a better start than last year (and will keep the other teams just a little bit nervous).

Round 1 v St Kilda at GMHBA


Gold Coast

Match Simulation v Brisbane, Brighton Homes Arena, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Greater Western Sydney, Manuka Oval, Thursday February 29

This is the team we’re all waiting to see, the All-New Gold Coast Suns (Hardwick’s Version). The decision to sack Dew and bring in Hardwick has had its scrutiny (personally I think Dew was completely screwed over) but nonetheless, here the Suns go again with a new coach and a new plan to get a premiership within three years. But this time they are starting from arguably the best position they have ever been in. The midfield was starting to run well, sitting third in hitouts and fourth in clearances, and the tall forwards were starting to become more reliable.

What will matter for Gold Coast is how well they can execute the new game-plan, and finding ways to get the game back on their terms when momentum swings. In this way having tough opponents works in their favour; it allows them to really put the new game plan to the test. Then they can start fixing up the weaknesses in time to bring their all for the first edition of the Hardwick Cup.

Many will be expecting to see this team blast their way into season 2024 but with two very tough pre-season opponents this is unlikely. Plus, Harwick is no fool, he knows this is about the long game, and there’s no point giving everything to games that aren’t for points. If the Suns can make Brisbane and GWS really earn their wins then that’s still a pass mark, and if they can catch one of them unaware to get a win even better.

Opening Round v Richmond at Heritage Bank Stadium


Greater Western Sydney

Match Simulation v Sydney, Tramway Oval, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Gold Coast, Manuka Oval, Thursday February 29

Oh there’s a big big sound alright. GWS have been very up and down lately but they sure made a big impact with their first season under Adam Kingsley. Their relentless attack was the second best in the league when rebounding from the 50, second highest in handballs, and fourth for inside 50s. Perhaps most impressive was how they continued to improve as the season went on, suggesting the thing that these young Giants need most is just time.

However, as much as a few wins can get a young team on a roll, a few losses can see them crumble, and those losses will come about from periods of taking the foot off the pedal. It was perhaps the only fault of the Giants last year that they had periods where they let teams get back into games. This is to be expected of a young side but not of a premiership side.

The Giants will be wanting to not only win both of their pre-season matches, but win them through solid four quarter efforts. If they can do this then there’s no question that they should be able to take care of Sydney and Gold Coast. With another summer of endurance training under their belts, is this the year of the Giant?

Opening Round v Collingwood at Giants Stadium



Match Simulation v Western Bulldogs, Whitton Oval, Friday February 23

Community Series v Western Bulldogs, UTAS Oval, Saturday March 2

This is an odd one, because Hawthorn and Western Bulldogs are the only ones to play each other twice, with the first game at the Dogs’ home and the second down in Tassie. But for Hawthorn this could work in their favour. Last season we saw the Hawks progress quicker than many would have expected and they were even able to beat eventual premiers Collingwood only weeks before the finals.

They had some terrible games too though, and their best and worst were still miles apart. When they beat Brisbane they notched up 426 disposals, 62 inside 50s, and 14 centre clearances. In their next game against the Suns they had 385 disposals, 37 inside 50s, and 7 centre clearances. Huge difference. The challenge is now on for the Hawks to bring what they had in the Brisbane game each and every week.

This is a long-term goal, but what better way is there to test out your consistency than to play the same team twice? In the first game Hawthorn just need to focus on simply bringing out the best that they can. Then in the second game the real challenge, doing that again or even better, and certainly trying to get the win. If they can bring in their best effort week in and week out they could be a sneaky chance to slip into finals this year, after all there always seems to be one team that surprises us.

Round 1 v Essendon at the MCG



Match Simulation v Richmond, Casey Fields, February 18

Community Series v Carlton, Ikon Park, Wednesday February 28

It wasn’t announced with the rest of the match simulations on the AFL page but it’s since been confirmed that Melbourne will have a game against Richmond to kick off their pre-season. The Demons were tipped to be a real shot at the premiership last year, but a straight sets finals exit has left a few speculating if the premiership window has started to close.

Yet all the stats say that the Demons are still one of the ones to beat. When it came to outplaying their opponent few did it better, with their only flaw being unable to both start and stop rebound 50s. But there’s no denying that the Gawn/Grundy combination simply didn’t work and Melbourne would have spent the summer coming up with a new solution to the forward line issues. They’ve recruited McAdam and Billings to bolster their stocks, and now pre-season will be about addressing how best to position the forwards and nailing down those forward entry strategies.

The first game against Richmond at home should be a win for the Demons. Much more intriguing will be the second game against Carlton. Both of their matches last season were low-scoring and decided by under a goal. It’s very unlikely we’ll get a game as thrilling as those were, but it still could be telling of where both sides might end up this year. If Melbourne can succeed in sorting out their scoring issues, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them right amongst the contenders yet again.

Opening Round v Sydney at the SCG


North Melbourne

Match Simulation v Collingwood, AIA Centre, Wednesday February 21

Community Series v St Kilda, RSEA Park, Sunday March 3

It was an interrupted season for North due to the racism investigation into Alistair Clarkson so we didn’t really get to see what North are trying to do. Still there were some signs of improvement. In season 2022 the Roos lost 14 games by 45 points or more, in 2023 it was only 6. It seems that the bleeding has finally stopped, so now it’s time to start the comeback.

The Roos were still pretty poor in almost every stat but this can be attributed to trying to implement a new game-plan while spending the majority of the season without the man who created it. So, pre-season for the Roos is going to be about figuring out what stage of the development plan they are at. Now that Clarkson is back he can get them playing exactly how he intends them to. Getting them to a point where they can win more games is certainly the next milestone, and if they can get a sneaky win against a top 8 side even better.

But that probably won’t come just yet. Playing Collingwood isn’t ideal and St Kilda isn’t much better, but it does give North the chance to test themselves. Percentage doesn’t matter here so North can have more freedom to play that high-risk high-reward football just to see how well they can pull it off and it will give Clarkson some much-needed intel on what needs to be focussed on.

Round 1 v GWS at Giants Stadium


Port Adelaide

Match Simulation v Adelaide, Alberton Oval, Friday February 23

Community Series v Fremantle, Alberton Oval, Friday March 1

Port Adelaide were looking like the new Collingwood for a little while there last season; they just kept finding ways to win. But unlike Collingwood, the Power, well… they ran out of power. It suggested that perhaps there were problems that were being hidden and these came to light later in the year when it was clear that Port’s defence was not up to the challenge when it came to the top teams. Over the trade period Port were clear about who they wanted and were able to land both the ruck and defence stocks they so desperately needed.

So for the Power it’s all about how the new guys are going to fit in. The midfield already has things running pretty smoothly so they will be hoping that Soldo and Sweet can come in and just tap the ball where the mids want it. But down back will be a bit more of a shuffle as the Power works on drying up opposition scores and stopping easy end-to-end ball movement, something they were second worst in the league for last year.

First up will be a Showdown at home against their arch-rivals Adelaide, and they will be really wanting to get this win. The Crows won all the Showdowns last season and it’s not a trend Port would like to continue. And then they have Fremantle who normally you would expect Port to beat, but being only pre-season it’s more of a 50/50, especially given Freo won this hit-out last year.

Round 1 v West Coast at Adelaide Oval



Match Simulation v Melbourne, Casey Fields, February 18

Community Series v Collingwood, Ikon Park, Tuesday February 27

It’s officially rebuild mode for Richmond. With the exit of players and the coach it’s time for Richmond to start over and take things back to the drawing board. They did quite well last year in identifying the players that they can build a new team around but they were well down in almost all of the key statistics.

For Richmond the goal of pre-season is the goal they’ll have for the entire season and that is just simply to keep building up their next generation of stars. Particularly they need to build their new forward line which will likely soon be losing Lynch after losing Riewoldt who has been the anchor down there for a decade. The loss of Soldo also puts a lot of pressure on the ruck stocks, and that’s another area that now needs to be re-evaluated.

Richmond play two tough opponents in Melbourne and Collingwood, and are unlikely to get a win in either of these matches. You’re in for a rough year Richmond fans but already signs are looking good that the bad times won’t last too long.

Opening Round v Gold Coast at Hertiage Bank Stadium


St Kilda

Match Simulation v Essendon, RSEA Park, Friday February 23

Community Series v North Melbourne, RSEA Park, Sunday March 3

Once again we are unsure what to expect from St Kilda. Despite defying all expectations last year to make the top eight, the experts are predicting the Saints to miss the finals and they are generally not being talked about much. But you would wonder why, because even with their injuries they still managed to play high-possession fast footy and there wasn’t too much of the boring Ross Lyon™ football style.

So what are the experts seeing that we aren’t? Well despite all their high possession, the Saints were still on the low side for scoring, came dead last in clearances, and gave their opposition plenty of the ball too. The test then becomes one for Ross, does he get tempted to slide back into his old boring style of play or does he have faith that his new plan and players are good enough to get to the top? The Saints need to stay the course, keep perfecting the new game-plan and just patch up the few glaring problems. Hopefully we don’t see a whole new defensive style from the Saints, because surely by now Ross has learnt his lesson.

They play both of their pre-season games at home, first against Essendon and then North Melbourne. These should both be wins for the Saints and getting the job done would send a message that they are not going to be the push-overs that everyone seems to be expecting them to be this year.

Round 1 v Geelong at GMHBA Stadium



Match Simulation v Greater Western Sydney, Tramway Oval, Thursday February 22

Community Series v Brisbane, Blacktown International Sportspark, Thursday February 29

Sydney would know they probably didn’t earn a finals spot last year, and will be determined to earn it this time around. They seemed to be slightly scarred from the 2022 Grand Final loss but overall the team still had a good foundation and it was enough to make them better than over 50% of the competition. Yet, they need to do a lot to get back to a Grand Final appearance.

They sure knew it too. Sydney were one of the most active during the trade period, most notably picking up Grundy and Adams which suggests they know exactly where the problems lie, their hitouts and clearances. It’s a big part of their game and these pre-season hitouts are going to be crucial to get Grundy and the midfield synchronised and to run various new clearance plays to see what is going to work and what won’t.

Sydney have one of the tougher draws with GWS and Brisbane, but these are the teams they need to be able to beat to get back to where they want to be. If they can come away from these games having been highly competitive, and maybe even sneaking a win, it will set up Sydney to start their 2024 campaign on a strong note.

Opening Round v Melbourne at the SCG


West Coast

Match Simulation v Fremantle, Mineral Resources Park, Saturday February 24

Community Series v Adelaide, Hisense Stadium, Saturday March 2

Saying it’s been a rough time for West Coast is probably sugarcoating it. They have been a laughing stock in the AFL after getting whooping after whooping after whooping with very little change over the past two years. There have been a decade’s worth of injuries and even when veteran players got on the park they under-performed. What do you do when you are so far in the hole?

What West Coast needs is some hope, and they may have found it. It wasn’t certain they would get Harley Reid but in the end they won their man and he is just the latest in young unearthed talent. The Eagles have the luxury of having not too many expectations and they need to play like that. Unleash the young guys to see what they can do this pre-season, and let them get confidence in themselves.

Fremantle first up will be an interesting test for the young Eagles. There is a chance for a win here, especially if Fremantle take the game a bit easier, but Adelaide at home is likely to be a loss. Coming out of pre-season 0-2 might not appear to be very hopeful, but it’s going to be more about how they play out these games rather than the results.

Round 1 v Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval


Western Bulldogs

Match Simulation v Hawthorn, Whitton Oval, Friday February 23

Community Series v Hawthorn, UTAS, Saturday March 2

Where are the Bulldogs at? They have to be one of the biggest underachievers of late with their list of stars and having a premiership coach at the helm. Something just feels off about them, and it’s hard to pin down exactly what that is. Some have suggested that the team relies too much on their stars rather than having a solid team structure due to the same players being among their best every week.

So what do the Bulldogs do now? You can’t get rid of your stars, that’s insane, but here is where Bulldogs could perhaps make the most use of the practice games. By having the stars take a backseat and letting the young guys take the reins it could instil some confidence in the rest of the team that anything the stars do, they can do too. With the likes of Libba and Bont heading towards the end of their careers the second level of players need to start stepping up anyway. This pre-season should be all about unearthing and raising up the next pack of Dogs superstars and with that any other problems are sure to reveal themselves.

The Bulldogs will be wanting to win both of their games against Hawthorn, and they should come away with at least one win. Ok yes, the Hawks did beat the Dogs late last year, but all things considered, they are still the better team. They should definitely get the win at Whitton Oval at the very least but they don’t have the best record at UTAS (2-4), so Hawks could get the better of them there.

Round 1 v Melbourne at MCG


But of course what we see in pre-season always needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Nobody is going to be going their hardest in any of these games.

All of this is just the appetiser for another spectacular season of AFL footy, and I simply can’t wait.

Bring it on.