Thumbs Up, Down, and In The Middle – Your Team After Three Weeks

Two or three games won’t win you a flag, but they can certainly lose it if you’re not careful. Some teams have had good starts, some have had bad and some indifferent. It seems trivial to talk about now but all too often we see these fast or slow starts often mean the difference to top four or top eight aspirations.

So a few weeks in, let’s briefly take a look at your team and how the start has fared for them. Let’s use our thumbs, since this article needs a corny gimmick for my own amusement.

Now keep in mind the thumb is all relative. You might see some weird thumbs up for teams that might be looking a bit worse for wear than other teams. That is the power of the thumb.


Adelaide (0-2): Thumbs down

Oh boy, we’re going out of the gate with as strong a thumbs down as we can get right now.

It’s taken two weeks for the expectation to truly deflate with Adelaide. Quite a few people, myself included, thought this would be the year that the Crows finally move back above Port Adelaide as the best team from SA. They still can of course, but they’ve been truly humbled in two losses to the Suns and Cats where they just didn’t look like taking the leap.

What’s working?: In both games the Crows have showed true grit being down significant margins. They wrestled a five-goal deficit back in the wet against the Suns to make it a nailbiter at the end, and then came back similarly against Geelong to draw level before the Cats pulled away again.

What’s going wrong: Injuries up forward and down back haven’t helped, while Matthew Nicks has made some truly staggering coaching decisions, particularly against Geelong.


Brisbane (0-2): Thumbs down

If Adelaide’s expectations have deflated, Brisbane’s is a messy explosion accompanied by an enormous bang. An 0-2 start including a massive choke against Carlton, and they have Collingwood coming up who will be desperate to not fall into a 0-4 hole? Ouch. At least that’s at the Gabba, but Carlton have already cracked that particular armour.

Maybe, just maybe, we can excuse this start given Carlton look pretty good and Fremantle are showing vast improvement from 2023, but if they fall into an 0-3 hole then big questions will be asked.

What’s working: Not a lot, but if there’s one thing to say about Brisbane it’s that the sheer grit they have will eventually shine through and Chris Fagan will not allow this rot to continue if we know anything about him. The first half of the Carlton showed they have flag-calibre play in them.

What’s going wrong: Keidean Coleman going down is something they simply haven’t recovered from. The midfield isn’t firing either despite the talent they have as well. The team balance just feels off.


Carlton (2-0): Thumbs up

Carlton fans will need cardiologists given what the team is putting them through and no doubt the team would want to have beaten Richmond by more given the gap in talent, but a 2-0 start is big for two reason:

They became the first team in over a year to leave Brisbane with four points in hand

Brisbane and Collingwood have dropped games and don’t look nearly as good

I was tempted to go thumbs sideways because the Richmond game wasn’t impressive, but I think the Gabba win more than makes up for it.

What’s working: Harry McKay has come under criticism in the past, but he’s had an amazing start to the year where he’s actually outshining his two-time defending Coleman medallist teammate in Charlie Curnow (who’s having a good start to the season in his own right). The midfield looks incredible and the massive amount of close wins in the last 12 months means this team will believe it can slip out of any tight squeeze with a win.

What’s going wrong: The injury list is getting a bit high. Sam Walsh and Jacob Weitering will be gone for a while, Sam Docherty is once again hurt for the long term and eventually this will catch up with them unless they can get a good run of health.


Collingwood (0-3): Thumb down

Oh no. Oh no, no, no.

I did not see this hangover coming. Collingwood haven’t just lost, but looked very bad doing it. Their aging stars actually look like aging. Nick Daicos looks as tough as a wet tissue when he actually has to do something physical. Then in an away game that’s actually at the MCG vs a Marvel Stadium opponent (not blaming the Pies for that, it was St Kilda’s decision. Still), they were just thoroughly outworked in a fashion that they outworked opponents in 2023.

Next up: Brisbane at the Gabba where the Lions will be desperate not to fall into their own 0-3 hole. Yeesh.

What’s working: I’ve criticized Nick, but Josh Daicos looks exceptional to open 2024. Also given they played what looks to be the two best teams so far in Sydney and GWS, played St Kilda who look good and are playing Brisbane this week the fixture will eventually open up a bit.

What’s going wrong: I’ve said it, but I’ll reiterate. This team is not looking at all like the 2023 version. It’s a mixture of age and dare I say softness? The Pies are being bullied, which is the biggest surprise of all.


Essendon (1-1): Thumbs up

Now keep in mind what I said about the thumb being relative. Yes the Bombers are 1-1 after a loss this week but let’s keep some perspective in mind. They won comfortably (albeit after it being a tight contest for three quarters) vs a bottom team in Hawthorn and then the reverse happened vs an elite team in Sydney.

So why the thumbs up and not sideways? Because there’s some good stuff happening that we shouldn’t ignore. Zach Merrett is in blistering form, Jake Stringer and Kyle Langford are also forming quite the tandem in front of goal to open the year. Will Setterfield looks great, especially given he was a bargain bin reclamation project. Essendon aren’t elite, but they look September calibre from the early returns if nothing else.

What’s working: Zach Merrett is leading from the front as I said, but don’t discount guys like Andrew McGrath, Jade Gresham and Archie Perkins having strong starts too. Granted in Perkins’ case, he just needs to use the ball better, but he’s young.

What’s going wrong: Sydney and Hawthorn have scored at ease against them, with the Hawks only sparing Essendon some blushes thanks to their 11.17 goalkicking inaccuracy. It’s their Achilles heel, and good teams are just going to be licking their lips.


Fremantle (2-0): Thumbs up

I had Fremantle as a bottom four outfit in 2024. Early returns are indicating that will be way off the mark. Fremantle have looked light years ahead of their 2023 outfit and deserve praise.

Yes they took way too long to put North Melbourne away, but in the end it was a comfortable win and they’ll give themselves every chance to put away a disappointing Crows outfit at home in a game that few would have made them favourites in a month ago. A 3-0 start to the Dockers would be a dream.

What’s working: The way Caleb Serong is playing, he’s going to be a top 10 player in the AFL by the end of the year. Luke Jackson is also knocking on top tier ruckman status with some enormous games. And that midfield is boasting some excellent talent with guys like Andre Brayshaw, Hayden Young and company.

What’s going wrong: Their forward setup wasn’t working too well vs North so it’ll be interesting down the line to see where that works. Also we haven’t yet seen if the Jackson/Darcy combo can fit together yet given Darcy got hurt. Speaking of hurt, their injury list is getting longer and longer too.


Geelong (2-0): Thumbs up

St Kilda look good, so Geelong sneaking a win against them is starting to look excellent in comparison. Handled the Crows in Adelaide too, which isn’t as easy as it sounds even if Adelaide is looking a step below expectations.

And just to make it scarier for teams, the club has hit on guys such as Oliver Dempsey and Shaun Mannagh while Gryan Miers is taking his game to new heights. Looking like a real dark horse to prove 2023 was a fluke.

What’s worked: The old and young pieces of the Geelong puzzle are lining up seamlessly to open 2024. Along with the players mentioned, guys like Tom Stewart and the Hawkins/Cameron duo are firing hard.

What’s going wrong: The Cats were beaten in the stoppages both weeks at -3 and -9 to start the season. The midfield isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, but they have some games to work it out vs Hawthorn, Bulldogs (Gather Round) and North)


Gold Coast (2-1): Thumbs sideways

It was thumbs up until the Bulldogs game happened, with such a disgraceful performance combined with the fact their win over the Crows might not be as impressive as it first seemed. Maybe we can give the Dogs game a mulligan, but we know what’s happened to them in the past.

I’m reserving judgment and no doubts Hardwick will make sure such a performance isn’t repeated, but damn was this last week a big let down.

What’s worked: The midfield looks so promising with Matt Rowell in Brownlow calibre form, flanked by Touk Miller and Noah Anderson. Sam Flanders also is coming in hot for the most improved in the AFL tag.

What’s going wrong: We saw it against the Bulldogs, where they were unable to shake off being grabbed by the scruff of the neck. We have to see if they can shake it off, but we know that the Suns historically have ebbed when faced with adversity.


GWS (3-0): Thumbs up

GWS have looked one of the best teams in the AFL, alongside their NSW rivals, shaking down all their opponents in dominating fashion and boasting enviable talent on every area of the field. How can this not be a thumbs up?

What’s worked: Letting Richmond grab Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto while grabbing extra picks has been incredible given how their midfield has actually looked better. It all starts from there, with guys like Sam Taylor and Kieran Briggs also looking incredible. Just to add the cherry on top, #1 draft pick Aaron Cadman is starting to blossom and just had his best AFL game with three goals.

What’s going wrong: Honestly? Not a lot. The only thing to say, and this isn’t the Giants fault as much as it’s just a statement of fact, is their three opponents (Collingwood, North, West Coast) are a combined 0-7 to start the year so we don’t have a good idea of what they’ll look like against good opponents. That being said we know Collingwood is much better than their record suggests in terms of talent and they’ve crushed everyone anyway so this isn’t a major concern.


Hawthorn (0-2): Thumbs down

Injuries killed any chance of Hawthorn bounding up the ladder before the season even begun, but even with that in mind they’ve just looked so toothless coming into 2024. They might even be as bad as North and West Coast will be this year once the injury toll is added to the equation. Ouch.

What’s worked: Massimo D’Ambrosio looks well worth the investment so far, Nick Watson hasn’t gotten the goals that his workrate should be producing, but he looks like the right call for their #5 pick.

What’s going wrong: Where do we start? The gameplan is far too conservative and needs retooling, the injury list killed the season before it began and we’ve seen regression from exciting kids in Jai Newcombe and Mitch Lewis while James Sicily’s play has fallen down a cliff so hard that Fox Footy has devoted segments pointing out how lazy he’s been playing. It’s not good enough from your captain.


Melbourne (2-1): Thumbs sideways

There’s been a lot of questions asked of Melbourne after the offseason from hell which was only amplified by a toothless showing against Sydney. That being said, the Demons did rebound well vs the Bulldogs and the Hawks.
Sideways seems about right here. The team failed in their only game vs a contender but throttled two teams inferior to them. The injury list was also a factor.

What’s worked: Clayton Oliver has shaken off a lot of speculation about his attitude and his future at the club and led from the front. The midfield is working well together as usual, while Bayley Fritsch has gotten off to a blinder helped with some good help by Kane Chandler, Jacob Van Rooyen and Kozzie Pickett.

What’s going wrong: The injury list is getting uncomfortably long, but luckily the injuries to Steven May and Jake Lever both aren’t as serious as first feared so at least they won’t be shorthanded down back.


North Melbourne (0-2): Thumb sideways

The thumb of relativity strikes again! Yes the team is 0-2 but we need to apply context to this team. They’re not meant to be good or even that overly competitive, but they’re showing a little. They were never in it vs GWS but at least kept the bleeding down, and they led for a long time vs the Dockers but just couldn’t hold it together.

But for a young rebuilding side that’s got its eyes focused on the future? It’s forgivable.

What’s worked: Those little green shoots are starting to come out of the North Melbourne harvest. Tom Powell is taking advantage of his chance in the middle, Harry Sheezel is excellent as usual, Colby McKercher looks like a stud, and George Wardlaw is dependable as ever. Zac Fisher looks like an excellent acquisition too.

What’s going wrong: My criticism of the North Melbourne rebuild is they’ve too often ignored the key position areas at either end of the ground. Nick Larkey is crying out for a sidekick while the stocks down back aren’t good either.


Port Adelaide (2-0): Thumb sideways

Again, this is where relativity comes into play. Port Adelaide are a comfortable 2-0 but their games were vs bottom four opposition in West Coast and Richmond with the Tigers giving them a hard scare. Their best looks good, but they’re yet to be tested.

On the plus side for Port, their aggressive offseason work is paying dividends. Ivan Soldo has been good, Esava Ratugolea looks at home at Alberton while Brandon Zerk-Thatcher has justified the faith that the Mongrel Punt has shown in him by holding Oscar Allen and Tom Lynch to one goal combined.

What’s worked: They look so good when moving the ball quickly. Zak Butters looks every bit like continuing his 2023 Brownlow-calibre form, while their ball retention has been excellent given how risky their gamestyle is.

What’s going wrong: The first six quarter of their season was abysmally inaccurate in front of goal, and Richmond in particular almost took advantage. Also like the Giants, we just can’t look past the weak schedule to open their year. They look good, but they have to keep going.


Richmond (0-3): Thumb sideways

The Tigers weren’t in it against the Suns, but showed some serious endeavour over two teams that are looking to make top four against Carlton and Port Adelaide. They took the Blues to the wire, while the 30 points deficit against Port Adelaide isn’t reflective of how hard the Tigers played for three quarters against superior opposition.

The Tigers aren’t a good team and we knew they wouldn’t be, but they’re showing such a dogged fight in them that you can’t help but feel they’re going to spring some upsets.

What’s worked: Carlton and Port are two superior teams, but were dragged down to Richmond’s style of play for big spurts in the last fortnight. And keep in mind, the Tigers list is even worse than first thought because of a ton of injuries.

What’s going wrong: Some star players aren’t pulling their weight. Tim Taranto is butchering the ball left and right, Tom Lynch is struggling to shoulder the load after Jack Riewoldt retired and Shai Bolton is showing glimpses but not the big leap we expected him to make in 2024. If these three alone were firing to open the year, it’s hard to think they wouldn’t have at least snatched one of the games vs Carlton or Port.


St Kilda (1-1): Thumbs up

I thought the Saints would slide hard, but they’ve shown some excellent football to open the first fortnight of their season. A tight loss to the Cats in Geelong is nothing to be ashamed about, and they then took care of Collingwood at the G.

It’s hard to call them true contenders yet, but they can tick off the first fortnight as a success.

What’s worked: If any player can lay claim to the most improved player in 2024 so far it’s Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera who has looked absolutely breathtaking across halfback. The team is scoring a bit more freer than I thought they would, while Darcy Wilson looks like a draft steal that late in the first round.

What’s going wrong: Not an awful lot so far. I guess the only criticism is we haven’t seen them take a big leap towards being a contender? It’s genuinely hard to tell where the Saints fit in the early pile of premiership contenders. Maybe a step behind the NSW teams and in step with Port Adelaide and Carlton would be my guess for now.


Sydney (3-0): Thumbs up

The pick of the teams so far for mine, although I’d understand if someone had GWS over them. They have dominated everybody and look much improved from their 2023 campaign. Going to take some stopping.

What’s worked: There’s been conjecture that Buddy Franklin was hindering the development of the Swans younger key forwards, and that look to be confirmed with Logan McDonald looking a million bucks so far. Isaac Heeney, who’s been criticized for not developing like people had hoped, looks like he’s finally taking the next step as well.

What’s going wrong: It’s hard to criticize them for anything at this point. When’s the Battle of the Bridge again?


West Coast (0-2): Thumbs sideways

I’m going to be kind and say thumbs sideways. The Eagles got walloped, but they did face two contenders in Port Adelaide and GWS, plus 2024 is just about development anyway. I can’t be too critical.

What’s worked: Harley Reid hasn’t set the world alight yet, but he’s showing very promising spurts and looks the goods. Elliot Yeo is one of those veterans that actually has something in the tank too.

What’s going wrong: Injuries galore, veterans like Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling aren’t AFL calibre and the problem with the kids is other than Reid there hasn’t been amazingly encouraging signs and Oscar Allen getting hurt just felt like a kick in the ribs at that point.


Western Bulldogs (1-1): Thumbs sideways

Embarrassed against the Demons, but then recovered well by embarrassing the Suns in return (who were looking red-hot at the time too). This feels like the Bulldogs so far that we’ve known from previous years, talented as anything but plagued by inconsistency and questionable coaching.

I want to get on the coaching too. Yes Luke, Beveridge has a flag to his name but he also has an ego. Jack Macrae in the VFL? Caleb Daniel as a sub? Subbing out Ryley Sanders in Round 1 despite being one of their best on ground? Refusing to move Aaron Naughton who’s been quiet to help solve their defensive woes while bringing more balance up forward?

If the Bulldogs miss finals again, he’s going to be looking for a new job.

What’s worked: Ryley Sanders and Harvey Gallagher have been great ambassadors for the list management at the Bulldogs, both having instant impacts as draftees. Cody Weightman also is going from strength to strength, he’s must watch footy.

What’s going wrong: I listed the Beveridge headscratchers, but another headache for Dogs fans will be Tim English who’s lost both his hitouts. Granted one was to Max Gawn, but the other was to backup Suns ruckman Ned Moyle. He’s not been horrendous or anything, but he’s a long way off his 2023 form.