The First Quarter Of 2024 – Analysis of Rounds 0-6

Before we get into the meat of this article, there is something I need to get off my chest.


The Craziness of the Opening Round

Football is a pretty simple game, but every now and then the AFL do a Rocky and Bullwinkle (for those under 30 Google ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’) and pull some very strange rabbits out of the hat in an attempt change a game which isn’t broken. The concept of the Opening Round is another product of the AFL’s Mad Hatters Party (once again, Google it) gone wrong, whereby by the end Round One,  eight teams will have played two games. Ironically, it will take until week seven of the season, or Round Six, for all teams to have finally played the same amount games.

For struggling clubs, and clubs on the build, early wins, and the possibility of an elevated ladder position for a few weeks means the world for membership sales. It creates the possibility of more sponsors dollars in the bank, and most importantly, it lifts the hopes and dreams of their supporter base. Sadly, it is possible for a club like North Melbourne to win their first match in Round One and still be as low on the ladder as twelfth by the end of that round.

As a kid (many moons ago, when Rocky and Bullwinkle were on the telly), I supported a team that permanently lived somewhere near the bottom of the ladder, however, I always looked forward to Round One for the sole reason that if we won our first game for a week at least we would be in the upper echelons of the ladder. It gave me some bragging rights in the schoolyard, it gave me hope for the season – real hope, well at least until the end of Round Six, when reality would normally have shattered my dreams, but that the early season hope was surreal.

I don’t why the AFL just didn’t do a split Round One over two weeks, with all teams having played one game before the start of Round Two. It allows the struggling clubs, who do gear themselves for an honest Round One showing, to capitalise fully on the excitement of the early season, and for the AFL to highlight the game in the northern states.

As it is now, it will take until week seven, or Round Six, for all teams to have played the same number of games. It won’t be until the end of Round Six for the true positioning of all teams will be equal. For example, if team ‘A’ loses their first three games, they could be four games behind the ladder leaders – they are coach killer statistics.

End of rant.



Now, on with the meat and potatoes.

The Importance of the First Quarter of the Season (first six games)

There is always hype about the first game of the year for each club, to the point it feels like it is the most important game of the year, such is the appetite of the AFL starved supporter. At the end of a normal season Round One, nine teams would have won, and nine teams would have lost. It normally takes a about six weeks for the season to settle into itself and for all teams to figure out what is working and what needs to improve.

The importance of the win/loss ratio by the end of Round Six differs for all clubs. History has shown winning only two games in the first six weeks does not necessarily preclude a club from making the finals, however, winning only two games out of six can also be the precursor to a coach being sacked mid-season.


What Do The First Six Games Mean For Your Club?



In Round One, the FlagPies will unfurl the flag in front of their adoring fans, at the MCG, on what should be a balmy Autumn’s evening against the Sydney Swans – a team I believe they don’t like very much, but this will be after they have played their first match of the year, against the other Sydney team who I think they don’t like very much either – the Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Given the Pies have had a shortened pre-season due to their success last year (the price of success) and the quirkiness of the Opening Round (Collingwood’s and Brisbane’s preseason is up to six weeks shorter than the majority of teams who didn’t make the finals last year), Collingwood have a very difficult start to the year.

GWS (a), Swans (h), St Kilda (a)(MCG), Brisbane (a), Hawthorn (Adelaide Oval) and the Battle of the Prison Bars, Port Adelaide (h)

The Pies are playing five finalists from last year. They are more than capable of winning all six games. Such a result would terrorise the rest of the competition, however, if last year is any guide, they will ease their way into the season. Anything above a three win ratio would be a very stable foundation for the Pies for rest of the season, given the strength and depth of their list. Dare I say it, even if they started with only two wins from their first six games, they would still back themselves to go back-to-back.


Brisbane Lions

Like Collingwood, the Lions are coming off a shortened pre-season, but they should be bloody hungry after the heartache of last year and frothing at the gills to let their loyal supporters know they are ready to take the next step. The Lions first six games are all difficult in their own way, and on paper, they have the hardest draw of any club over this period.

Carlton (h), Freo (a), Collingwood (h), North Melbourne (Norwood Oval), Melbourne (a) and, Geelong (h),

Very daunting, however four of those games are at the Gabbatoir. The Carlton and Collingwood games are crucial home games psychologically for the Lions as they loom large as rival contenders at year’s end, while Fremantle is a real away danger game early in the year as they have demons of their own exorcise. And whilst I’m mentioning Demons, nobody seems to be sure where they fit in this year, and the same can be said about the Cats, which makes both games dangerous, and if they take their game against the Roos lightly, then that may result in an embarrassing upset.

Brisbane has the potential to be the ‘team’ of the year, however, premierships aren’t won in March and April and I don’t expect them to win all six games. Five wins would be the ideal start to the season, but I believe four wins would be the internal expectations of the club. Three wins, or three losses (glass half full, half empty), wouldn’t mean the end of their season either. The Lions are just too classy to lose four or more games in their first six matches – that would have alarm bells ringing if they did.


Carlton Blues

Carlton’s early season draw is not necessarily soft, but on paper and form they should win at least of four of their first six games, possibly even five, or all six if they run really hot early. Brisbane and the GWS are the two true danger games if this team is as good as they demonstrated late last year.

If a team ever needed to prove they are the real deal, and not just a one season wonder, it is Carlton. I really fancy Carlton this year (that is hard for me to say), but unlike the Pies and the Lions, they don’t have the runs on the board to wholeheartedly declare they have arrived – not just yet, anyway. Early season wins would embolden the Blues’ resolve for the rest of the season, however, if they win just one or two games, they will again find themselves fighting for a top in the top 8 spot rather than a spot in the top 4.

Lions (a), Richmond (h), North Melbourne (a)(Marvel), Fremantle (Adelaide Oval), Adelaide (h), and the Giants (h)

It is an enticing and entertaining draw, and it will test whether the Blues are ready to be talked about in the same breath as the top two – they need to win at least four to be ready to start walking the walk.

Rider – early season injuries to key players do cast a shadow over the Baggers.


Greater Western Sydney

I watched GWS early last year snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat in the Battle of the Bridge, and I just thought it was a fluky win, where for 10 minutes everything just went their way. Even late in the season, I remember thinking the Giant’s bubble would burst, but they just kept on winning and at the end, they were a questionable (not necessarily wrong, but it was open to interpretation) umpire’s call away from a Grand Final.

From year to year, normal two or three finalist from one year, fail to make the finals the next year for one reason or another, but having been fooled last year, I won’t be fooled again this year. Having said that, the GWS won’t be able to go about their business incognito again this year, but I still expect they will make the finals and the Top 4.

A home game against the reigning Premier at home should be a bloody ripper and while most will fancy the Pies, a Giants win would not surprise. Following the Pies, a home game against the Roos, and a trip to Perth to play WAFL, I mean West Coast, will see them with two if not three early wins. Following the trip to Perth is a bye and then 50/50 games against Gold Coast (Adelaide Hills), St Kilda (h), to wit they should win one, which would then set up a Round Six blockbuster against the Blues at Marvel Stadium. The Giants need to win at least four of their first six games to ensure they can setup a solid run at the Top 4 come years end.


Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, St Kilda

I stated earlier that normally, two or three finalists from one year fail to make the finals the following year. As such, these four teams on paper seem the most vulnerable teams from last year to drop out (there is also some vulnerability about both the Blues and the Giants). On the other hand, anyone of these four teams could improve and challenge for the flag.

Going on last year’s form, and movements over the summer, all four of these teams should win at least three of their first six games – the operative word being ‘should’. If should was a guarantee then I’d be a millionaire. Alas, like footballs clubs, life is made up of a number of should-haves, could-haves and would-haves.

The vulnerability of the Power is self-doubt and a demanding board leaving Ken Hinkley to walk barefoot on eggshells most of the time. Melbourne’s vulnerability is its Demons which they need to exorcise. Sydney’s vulnerability is being a good honest team without ever naturally being the best team for a whole season. As for St Kilda, just ask any of their supporters and they can give you an endless list of vulnerabilities, hoodoos, curses, and wretched bad luck stories that has besmirched the club since 1966.

Power first six games:
West Coast (h), Richmond (a), Melbourne (h), Essendon (h), Fremantle (h), Collingwood (a)

Demons first six games:
Swans (a), Bulldogs (h), Hawthorn (a)(MCG), Port Adelaide (a), Adelaide (a), Brisbane (h).

Swans first six games:
Melbourne (h), Collingwood (a), Essendon (h), Richmond (a), Eagles (Adelaide Hills), Gold Coast Suns (h)

Saints first six games:
Geelong (a), Collingwood (h), Essendon (a)(Marvel), Richmond (Norwood), GWS (a), Western Bulldogs (h)

Three early wins or fewer for any one of these four clubs places them in the pool of other mediocre clubs fighting a place between seventh to fourteenth, whereas four or more early wins means the year becomes serious and club expectations would explode – confidence is an amazing aphrodisiac.


Adelaide Crows

For a moment, like many in the football world, I almost felt sorry for the Crows late last year. Almost, but not quite. For one, I don’t believe in luck, and secondly, I am a football atheist who doesn’t believe in the Gerard Whateley’s and Robbo’s Footballing Gods. At the end of the day, the Crows lost games from winning positions in 2023, and like all clubs they were on the receiving end of an umpiring howler late in the season – it happens to all clubs.

The Crows have a lot to prove in 2024, and a good start of three or four wins is vital. Apart from the sycophantic radio commentators who call their home games, nobody will have much sympathy if you don’t win the close games this year, no matter the reason.

Adelaide, like the Bulldogs, are the kind of team that could finish anywhere from Premier to sixteenth on the ladder.

The Crows first six games:
Gold Coast (a), Geelong (h), Fremantle (a), Melbourne (h), Carlton (a), Essendon (h)


Western Bulldogs

Here’s a challenge to all at the kennel, win 16 or 17 games this year and make the top 4. For years now your finishing position on the ladder belies the talent you have on your list. Since winning the flag in 2016, you have looked threatening, yet you keep on finishing fifth or lower. Yeah, you had a dream run in 2016 and won the flag from nowhere, but you have failed to make the top 4 ever since, and last year you missed out on the finals altogether.

A bit bark and vigour wouldn’t go astray this year. Like the Crows, it is really time to put up or shut up. Relative to other clubs, the Puppies have a reasonable draw and to elevate themselves from mediocrity and four early wins would be expected.

Melbourne (a), Gold Coast (h), West Coast (h), Geelong (Adelaide Oval), Essendon (h), St Kilda (a)(Marvel)


Geelong and Richmond

2023 wasn’t the best year for either the Cats or the Tigers as age, injuries, and retirements caught up with them both after years of success. Both clubs are looking to kick-start another era of success, realising it could take time with a bit of pain along the way. If either team gets a decent start to the season, then confidence and club culture could take them a long way in 2024.

Geelong and Richmond, two of the most successful clubs recently will do what is necessary to ensure success in the future, including enduring some short term pain.

The Cats first six games:
St Kilda (h), Adelaide (a), Hawthorn (a)(MCG), Western Bulldogs (Adelaide Oval), North Melbourne (h), Brisbane (a)

I reckon by the end of Round Six, the Cats will have a fair indication if they can make another dash for a flag, or whether they are building for the future.

The Tigers first six games:
Gold Coast (a), Carlton (a)(MCG), Port Adelaide (h), Sydney (h), St Kilda (Norwood Oval, West Coast (a), Melbourne (h)

The Tiges have a new coach, a few legends have recently retired, and a few early season injury concerns, which means their form could fluctuate from week to week as they settle into a new era.


Fremantle Dockers and Gold Coast Suns

I recently asked HB Meyers if I could concentrate my attention on the Dockers and the Suns this year as I believe both clubs often underperform, and as a result, slip under the radar, and exist in the never-never wastelands of the AFL.

Fremantle have a habit of teasing success and then faltering in a very unflattering style, while the Gold Coast Suns continually kill the careers of coaches as they slide around the bottom half of the table seemingly going nowhere. Example pertaining to the Suns – the Carlton game last year you had them on toast until half time, and then, well I don’t what was in the water at half time, but you played like a bunch of drunken sailors as you let the Baggers run all over you – so typical Suns.

Both clubs continually tease their supporters without delivering. The time is now to start to show something.

Fremantle first six games:
Brisbane (h), North Melbourne (a), Adelaide (h), Carlton (Adelaide Oval), Port Adelaide (a), West Coast (a)(but still home)

Yeah, you will probably beat the Roos and the Eagles, but that will prove nothing unless you knock off one or two of last years finalists. Make a statement, Dockers.

Gold Coast Suns first six games:
Richmond (h), Adelaide (h), Western Bulldogs (a), GWS (Adelaide Hills), Hawthorn (h), Sydney (a)

Win four out of your first six then you may well be on your way, lose four of your first six and your season may be in trouble, as it gets a lot harder over the next bracket of six games. The more I look at the Suns’ draw over the first six rounds, the more it seems every game is just as winnable as it is losable – the Suns destiny is in their own hands.


Essendon, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, and West Coast Eagles

It must really sting the once proud and mighty Bombers that they find themselves bracketed with the cellar dwellers before the season has even started. In the words of the famous (well, kinda famous) Adam Ant (google it), it is time for the Bombers to finally, Stand and Deliver. (I thought you were going to tell them to unplug the jukebox – HB)

Unlike Essendon, Hawthorn is on the bottom bracket, as the club is giving Sam Mitchell plenty of time to build a young group of players into the next edition of high-flying Hawks. The kids are coming along nicely, but there will be more pain before the success comes, but it will come.

As for North Melbourne and West Coast, win a few early games and make yourselves relevant for a while. While the Roos are expected to improve this year, the poor old Weagles are only one or two injuries away from being a worse team than they were in 2023.

Essendon first six games:
Hawthorn (h)(MCG), Sydney Swans (a), St Kilda (h)(Marvel), Port Adelaide (a), Western Bulldogs (a)(Marvel), Adelaide (a)

For reasons unknown, the Bombers normally play well against the Swans, and the game generally ends in controversy, but Essendon do have a good recent history in Sydney against the Swans. A good start to the year would be three wins in the first quarter of the season.

Hawthorn first six games:
Essendon(a)(MCG), Melbourne(h)(MCG), Geelong (h)(MCG), Collingwood (Adelaide Oval), Gold Coast (a), North Melbourne (a)(Marvel)

It is an interesting draw which will test the Hawks much publicised improvement over the pre-season – let’s just wait and see.

North Melbourne first six games:
GWS (a), Fremantle (h), Carlton (h), Brisbane (Norwood), Geelong (a), Hawthorn (h)

Win a couple and give your supporters reason to buy a membership.

West Coast first six games:
Port Adelaide (h), GWS (h), Western Bulldogs (a), Sydney Swans (Adelaide Hills), Richmond (h), Fremantle (h)

Try and be competitive and snatch a win from somewhere before the Darby or is it Derby?


And with that, the season is a quarter over! Time to get to work, boys – the year goes past in the blink of an eye, and early wins are worth just as much as late ones.