Seven Things I Learnt After Round Zero

A New season, and Gab Rossi is back at his Mongrel best.

Here are the seven things he learnt following Round… Zero?


1. I’ll never understand why it wasn’t simply called Round One

The idea of a mini round at interstate venues a week earlier than normal isn’t the worst idea, particularly when you consider that in recent years the NRL has got the jump on the AFL.

So, I get what it is they’re trying to do, and judging by the ticket sales and TV ratings, no doubt they’ll be declaring it a success and patting each other incessantly on the back. The thing is, so many people I know weren’t sure if these games were actually part of the season proper. Upon first hearing about this myself, even I was far from certain these games weren’t pre-season exhibition type games. In fact, with Carlton having to go to the GABBA, I was in fact praying for that to be the case, although we all know how that played out! I’m sure labelling the first fixture of games for the year Round One would’ve made it more abundantly clear to one and all that these games counted.

I guess we all know now and it’s not a big deal either way, but I just think it should’ve been called Round 1. I know – first world problems…


2. Brodie Grundy is back

It’s been a rough couple of years for Grundy. After being unceremoniously dumped off Collingwood’s list in order to make room in their salary cap, the Demons signed him up to form what would’ve seemed a formidable combination comprising Max Gawn and himself. A lot of the naysayers said it wouldn’t work. As it turns out, they were correct.

The end result for the former Pie was a year as a fringe player made all the more difficult due to the continued great form of the skipper. The writing was on the wall midway through the year. Melbourne realised they’d made a mistake, so very few people were surprised with his eventual move to the Swans. And boy did it pay dividends on Thursday night.

Grundy was arguably the best player on the ground in their strong win against the Demons, and Grundy got the better of Gawn in what would have been a satisfying night for the big man. Nobody doubted his talent, but some thought he might be on the way down. He’s silenced those people, and one can’t help but feel a little excited by the prospect of Grundy repeating the dose against the club that set him adrift two years ago when the Swans take on Collingwood this week. Maybe that huge contract that the Pies gave him which eventually created their salary cap issues might’ve been market value after all.


3. Harry McKay exorcises his demons

2023 was a harrowing and somewhat bizarre year for Harry McKay. The 2021 Coleman Medallist was clearly suffering from as bad a case of the yips as I’ve seen on a football field at AFL level. Some of his misses were inexplicable, while others were just embarrassing. Yet on Friday night, Harry found the target when it really counted and the football world were all very pleased for him.

It’s hard to imagine what the discussion might’ve been had he missed that winning goal. But I’m certain Harry slept well that night, knowing that he finally realised that he is actually a decent kick. He just needed some reminding.

Overall, his game was among the best finishing with three goals and seven marks from 13 touches. And with Charlie booting four goals, the pair are starting to look like the formidable coupling we all thought they could be. These boys turned it on after half time and played a huge role in the one point win after trailing by as much as forty-six points during the second term. And to win at the GABBA no less! Could this be the year?


4. Carlton supporters were ready to microwave their memberships before half time

As a Carlton fan, I have to be honest and say that when the Lions raced to a 46-point lead more than halfway through the second quarter, I was starting to question the worth of my membership. It looked ominously bleak at that stage of the game.

Brisbane were running rampant, kicking accurately for goal and looked like a team on a mission. None of us could envision what happened after that time. To cut a long story short, the Blues kicked eight in a row to momentarily take the lead. From that point it was goal-for-goal as the lead changed seven times before Harry put the Blues back in front with just over a minute remaining. The Lions pushed hard in that time in an attempt to snatch victory back but the Blues defence stood up handing them an incredible and highly unlikely win.

Whilst the Blues will celebrate the victory, there’ll be a lot of soul-searching among the Lions wondering how a 46-point lead was surrendered.


5, The Suns will be expecting a finals spot this year

There were some positive signs last year up on the Gold Coast. The Suns looked like finals contenders for much of the season but faded as the year wore on. Under new coach Damien Hardwick, they’ll be pressing for their inaugural finals appearance this year, and one gets the feeling this list is capable of winning the thirteen games required to get into the eight.

Ben King got off to a flyer, finishing with five goals. Matt Rowell seems to have recaptured that form that got him those three Brownlow votes in three straight games during his rookie season. He has shown glimpses since that time without really going anywhere near his true potential on a consistent basis, however, against the Tigers, he managed a lazy 20 clearances which was around half of that of the entire Richmond team on the day.

It’s a little early to know just how good the Suns are. At one stage the score was 73-6 in favour of the Gold Coast. Richmond did kick seven goals in a row either side of half time to avoid what looked like being a humiliating loss, but the final margin of 39 points still showed a gap between the teams, and the Tigers will need to bounce back against Carlton this coming Thursday.

With a few players still missing from their best 22, there’s every chance the Tigers will find themselves down the wrong end of the ladder early into the season. First time coach Adem Yze will be having nightmares about the Blues forwards no doubt.


6. The Giants picked up from where they left off in 2023

After starting last season rather indifferently with a 3-7 record after ten games, the Giants were probably the form side of the competition along with Carlton in the second half of the home and away season. Both sides had fallen as low as 15th on the ladder and looked way off the pace before stringing together several wins that saw them make the eight and progress to a preliminary final. In fact, the Giants fell just one point short of the eventual premier in last year’s penultimate week.

The Giants will be hard to beat at home this year, and they seem more than capable of wins on the road as well. And now it looks like their forward line has found a level of potency with Callum Brown, Jesse Hogan and Brett Daniels all finishing with four goals each. It does make you wonder if Jake Riccardi will be in their best 22 at this time. I’m sure that several clubs would be eyeing him off should it come to pass that he doesn’t get regular games. But for the rest of the club, they’ll be thinking big things this year, and knocking off the premiers is always something to value even if they had a few players missing.


7. The two ACL injuries this week are going to hurt

Make no mistake. It’s no coincidence for mine that Carlton’s fortunes changed dramatically once Keidean Coleman could take no further part in the game. He has really established himself as one of the best rebounding defenders in the game after last season. His efforts against the Blues in the Preliminary Final were sublime and had a major influence in righting the ship after Carlton’s fast start.

On Friday night he was already proving to be a thorn in the side of the Blues outfit. It’s a shame he’ll be missing this year, and it might just have some impact on the Lions’ prospects for 2024.

Of course, we’ve all now heard about Sam Docherty and his ACL injury as well. This would rate right up there with the more unjust stories in the AFL after all he’s been through. The man himself is probably already plotting his return in 2025 and is putting his rehab program in place as we speak. Despite turning 31 later this year and coming off a third knee reconstruction that would justify thoughts of retiring, I dare say Sam isn’t even considering that option. He’ll be missed this year in what could be a big year for the Blues. Chances are he’s probably thinking of a way to be back in time for finals. He may be kidding himself, but that’s just who he is. This year promises to be a terrific season, but the absence of both Docherty and Coleman will be noticed.