A FIXTURE reworked to create more marquee matches across a streamlined 21-round, 22-week season is the feature of the 2024 Smithy’s VFL competition schedule released on Tuesday.

Last year each of the seven VFL standalone clubs were fixtured to play each other once, and that has been extended to ensure the two distinct groups on 2023 form will have a return match-up – the first time since 2021 that teams have been scheduled to play twice in the same home-and-away season.

Finalists Werribee and Williamstown are joined by 2022 runners-up Southport in one group to play each other twice, while Port Melbourne, Frankston, Northern Bullants and Coburg will do the same after finishing in the bottom seven last year.

There is a trade-off, with most of the VFL standalones having to travel interstate more, headed by Coburg, Frankston and Werribee (three), while Port Melbourne and Williamstown (two) and Northern Bullants (one) won’t rack up quite as many frequent flyer points.

The Dolphins will also be happy to be night owls, with all five of their home matches up to Round 13 being scheduled under lights – four on Fridays and one on Saturday – among 10 matches starting after 5pm that also includes two Friday night home games for Port Melbourne, both double headers with their reigning premier VFLW team.

Southport has seven interstate trips this year, all to Victoria, with no matches scheduled in Sydney.

All seven VFL standalones have also been granted an extra home match, meaning they will play 10 home games from their 18 matches, although Port Melbourne will hand hosting rights to Casey Demons in their Round 3 clash due to the Borough’s home ground not being available that weekend.

Victorian-based AFL standalone clubs Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Footscray, Geelong, North Melbourne and Richmond will each only play eight matches at home,

The Grand Final rematch between the Gold Coast Suns and Werribee has been set for Round 10 at Heritage Bank Stadium and shapes as one of the highlights of the season, while Suns fans should flock to the same venue in Round 1 when they unfurl their maiden premiership flag against Richmond.

Double-up matches don’t just return for the VFL standalone clubs, with two Sydney Derbies and two QClashes in the fixture, while Carlton will play major rivals Collingwood and Richmond twice each.

The 21 Smithy’s VFL clubs will again play 18 matches and have four byes across 22 weeks, with one of those weeks off being a general bye between Rounds 2-3 when the VFL representative team returns to action against the SANFL in Adelaide to coincide with Gather Round.

The season kicks off with a Friday afternoon/evening double header, with Sandringham hosting Collingwood at RSEA Park in both the VFL and VFLW (Southern Saints), while standalones Frankston and Williamstown will duke it out under lights at Kinetic Stadium.

There are 39 VFL/VFLW double headers scheduled in 2024, included four in the opening round, giving fans more football at the same venue on the same day.

Nine VFL/AFL curtain raisers or closers have been scheduled in the opening 13 rounds, with a further three matches still pending approval to be played at AFL venues.

Good Friday features four VFL games, two of them as double headers with the VFLW, and two being VFL standalone showdowns with Coburg welcoming Williamstown and Port Melbourne entertaining Frankston.

Easter Sunday football is at Swinburne Centre, where Richmond plays Sydney, and Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval, where Sandringham locks horns with Essendon.

Wonthaggi is again in the fixture as Box Hill Hawks take another home game on the road in their drive to strengthen ties with Gippsland, with the Zebras and VFLW Saints joining them in heading down the Princes Highway.

Anzac Day footy is on the agenda with Williamstown welcoming Werribee to DSV Stadium, while Richmond will host Casey Demons at Swinburne Centre in the lead-in to the Anzac Eve AFL clash at the MCG. Meanwhile, the traditional Casey v Collingwood King’s Birthday Eve fixture also continues.

Fixture rating system

The rating system used to analyse each club’s 2024 fixture assessed a trip to reigning premier Gold Coast as the hardest match and a home game against last year’s bottom club Coburg the easiest – with double points for interstate trips.

The rating system awarded one point per 2023 ladder position to teams playing interstate; two to teams playing away or at a neutral venue against teams from their own state; three to clubs playing at home against same state opposition or at a neutral venue against an interstate opponent; and four to teams hosting an interstate opponent on their home ground.

For example, a NSW or Victorian team travelling to premier Gold Coast was the hardest match-up and earned one point, while a NSW or Queensland team hosting wooden spooner Coburg earned 84 points (4x21) as the nominally easiest game.

A “single-figure” fixture, as mentioned several times below, is a match that attracted less than 10 points under this scale.

The club with the lowest points tally was assessed as having the most difficult fixture.

Using this system, Carlton has ended up with the most challenging fixture in 2024. The Blues don’t play any matches against 2023 bottom-six teams Sandringham, Sydney Swans, Frankston or Coburg.

Northern Bullants has been assessed as receiving the friendliest fixture, rated 59 points better than any rival.

Here is a full analysis of the fixture for your club:

Last Season: 3rd (15-6)
Coach: Zane Littlejohn (2nd season)

Fixture: Cas (A), Gee (A), GC (A), NM (H), Syd (H), Foo (A), San (N), bye, BL (H), Ess (A), GWS (H), Ric (A), bye, PM (H), Gee (H), Sou (A), NM (A), Wil (H), GWS (A), bye, Wer (H)
Plays Twice: Geelong, GWS, North Melbourne
Doesn’t Play: Carlton, Coburg, Collingwood, Frankston, Northern Bullants
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 7
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 1 (Rd3 v GC)
Summary: Hawk fans will know very early on where their team sits in the premiership race, with three difficult away games to start the season against Casey, Geelong and premier Gold Coast before they finally grace Box Hill City Oval in Round 4. Once that is out of the way, it opens up with three home games and their Wonthaggi journey in the next five split by a challenging trip to Footscray. Three interstate trips including that Suns sojourn won’t be easy and they don’t face last year’s bottom three in Frankston, Northern Bullants and Coburg. The run into the finals is also the testing material, with three of the last five being away, and the home games against Williamstown and Werribee.
Difficulty Score: 454 (ranked equal 4th in difficulty)

Last Season: 4th (14-6-1)
Coach: Ben Hudson (2nd season)

Fixture: Ess (A), Coll (H), NM (A), Gee (H), Sou (A), GC (H), bye, Cas (A), Box (A), bye, Foo (TBC), San (H), Fra (H), Cob (H), Cas (H), bye, Syd (H), GC (A), Car (A), GWS (H), Col (A)
Plays Twice: Casey Demons, Collingwood, Gold Coast Suns
Doesn’t Play: Northern Bullants, Port Melbourne, Richmond, Werribee, Williamstown
Interstate Trips: Victoria 7
VFLW Double Headers: 2
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: The Lions will be delighted. After leading the ladder for the first half of last season and making the preliminary final, they have been handed nominally the second-easiest fixture, despite double-ups against the last two premiers and Collingwood and no game against Northern Bullants. They avoid Werribee and Williamstown but the section that stands out is between Rounds 12-18, where they don’t leave Queensland, with five straight home games, with three against 2023 bottom-six teams. The trade off is four ‘single-figure’ games in a row before that and three challenging away games in the last four rounds.
Difficulty Score: 551 (ranked 20th)

Last Season: 11th (10-8)
Coach: Luke Power (2nd season)

Fixture: bye, NM (A), Col (H), PM (H), Gee (H), Wer (A), Cas (H), Wil (A), GC (H), NB (A), Ess (A), bye, Sou (H), Ric (A), GWS (A), Foo (A), Col (A), bye, BL (H), Gee (A), Ric (H)
Plays Twice: Collingwood, Geelong, Richmond
Doesn’t Play: Box Hill Hawks, Coburg, Frankston, Sandringham, Sydney
Interstate Trips: NSW 1
VFLW Double Headers: 4
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: The Blues have nominally the hardest fixture in the competition, despite no clash against Box Hill Hawks for the second year in a row, however the standout is no games against four of last year’s bottom six. Only one interstate trip (GWS) is a bonus, but they do have three of the hardest Victorian road trips. 10 matches rated at 21 points or less means they will need to be on their mettle from the get go in their bid to make up for that Round 22 collapse last season. They will finally face Southport again in Round 13 – the first time they will meet since the Sharks won their VFL debut against the Blues in 2021.
Difficulty Score: 424 (ranked 1st)

Last Season: 7th (12-8)
Coach: Taylor Whitford (2nd season)

Fixture: Box (H), Foo (H), PM (A*), bye, Ric (A), Wil (H), Car (A), BL (H), San (H), Cob (A), Col (H), bye, NM (H), NB (A), BL (A), Ess (H), Fra (A), GWS (H), Foo (A), bye, GC (A)
Plays Twice: Brisbane Lions, Footscray
Doesn’t Play: Geelong, Southport, Sydney, Werribee
Interstate Trips: Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 7
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: The Demons start the quest to regain their title with three matches at Casey Fields, although they are tough fixtures. They take on Box Hill followed by the team that blasted them out of the finals in Footscray and  then taking on expected big improver Port Melbourne in an away game at their home venue. Two flights to Queensland are the only interstate journeys, while there is no clash with Grand Finalist Werribee. They won’t want to leave their jockeying for ladder positions to the last minute, with away games against the Bulldogs and reigning premier Gold Coast to finish either side of a bye. Given they will be short favourites in the three games before that, they’ll have every chance. No away game with the Hawks means no Wonthaggi visit, and they also don’t go to Williamstown or Geelong.
Difficulty Score: 481 (ranked equal 13th)

Last Season: 21st (0-18)
Coach: Jamie Cassidy-McNamara (2nd season)

Fixture: Syd (A), Wil (H), bye, Col (H), Fra (A), Ric (H), PM (A), Gee (H), bye, Cas (H), NM (A), Sou (H), NB (H), BL (A), bye, Wer (A), PM (H), Fra (H), GC (A), NB (A), Ess (H)
Plays Twice: Frankston, Northern Bullants, Port Melbourne
Doesn’t Play: Box Hill, Carlton, Footscray, GWS, Sandringham
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 1
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: An interstate trip first up, followed by Williamstown and a double bye is something the Lions wouldn’t have wanted to see as they look to break a 20-match losing run. It gets a little more helpful after that, with the next nine games rated 20 points or easier on the sliding scale, giving them the third friendliest fixture by the numbers. However, there are still two nasty-looking flights to Gold Coast and Brisbane Lions and a visit to Werribee looming large. There are two Battles of Bell Street to get excited about as well as lucrative return games against Frankston and Port Melbourne and a home game against neighbour Essendon to finish.
Difficulty Score: 550 (ranked 19th)

Last Season: 8th (12-8)
Coach: Josh Fraser (2nd season)

Fixture: San (A), BL (A), Car (A), Cob (A), Ess (H), Sou (A), NB (A), Wer (H), bye, Foo (TBC), Cas (A), NM (H), bye, Ess (A), Fra (A), Gee (H), Car (H), Ric (H), bye, Syd (A), BL (H)
Plays Twice: Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Essendon
Doesn’t Play: Box Hill Hawks, Gold Coast, GWS, Port Melbourne, Williamstown
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 5
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: Rivalry matches feature heavily on the Magpies’ fixture, with return games against both Carlton and Essendon, as well as preliminary finalist Brisbane Lions. Four away games and six of the first seven on the road to start the year means they must protect against a slow start that would have them chasing their tails. Three interstate trips (Brisbane, Southport, Sydney) loom as tests, but no games against premier Gold Coast (two years in a row), third-placed Box Hill Hawks and fifth-placed Williamstown, as well as likely big improver Port Melbourne, plus a game at Swinburne Centre – where they haven’t lost in the modern era – push the difficulty factor into the middle rungs. Still tougher than last year, however.
Difficulty Score: 478 (ranked 12th)

Last Season: 17th (5-13)
Coach: Blake Caracella (1st season, replacing Leigh Tudor)

Fixture: BL (H), San (A), Foo (TBC), Sou (H), Col (A), bye, Wil (A), NM (H), Ric (N), Box (H), Car (H), bye, GC (A), Col (H), PM (A), Cas (A), bye, San (H), NB (A), GC (H), Cob (A)
Plays Twice: Collingwood, Gold Coast, Sandringham
Doesn’t Play: Frankston, Geelong, GWS, Sydney, Werribee
Interstate Trips: Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 6
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 1 (R9 v Ric)
Summary: Another tough fixture for the Bombers … in fact this one is nominally the equal second hardest. Only one interstate trip –to reigning premier Gold Coast which will see the Suns wary after losing to the Bombers last year (and they play them twice). They don’t go to Southport, where they have played some great footy, and they don’t play Frankston for the second year in a row, while also not meeting either Sydney team. However, they also avoid Grand Finalist Werribee. So what makes it so difficult on paper? Nine games rated under 20 points, with the Suns trip joined by visits to every team from fifth to ninth on the ladder, with home games against first, third and fourth also looming as challenges.
Difficulty Score: 435 (ranked equal 2nd)

Last Season: 6th (13-7)
Coach: Stewart Edge (4th season)

Fixture: GWS (H), Cas (A), Ess (TBC), Wil (A), bye, Box (H), Ric (A), GWS (A), PM (H), Col (TBC), BL (TBC), Syd (H), bye, NM (A), Wer (A), Car (H), Gee (A), bye, Cas (H), Fra (A), Syd (A)
Plays Twice: Casey Demons, GWS, Sydney
Doesn’t Play: Coburg, Gold Coast, Northern Bullants, Sandringham, Southport
Interstate Trips: NSW 2
VFLW Double Headers: 4
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: No trips to Queensland for the Bulldogs, who will be desperate to hit the ground running after struggling early last year. The two hardest away games in Victoria loom in that first month. They play both Sydney teams twice, with the Swans away in the last round, and avoid Gold Coast, although there is no Coburg or Northern Bullants and Sandringham is missing for the second year in a row. Only two “single-figure” games, one a home fixture against Box Hill, and they hadn’t lost at Werribee before last year. There are trips to Casey, Williamstown and Geelong, while being able to reacquaint themselves with their hallowed Teddy turf is the biggest win of all.
Difficulty Score: 450 (ranked equal 4th)

Last Season: 4-14 (19th)
Coach: Jackson Kornberg (1st season, replacing Danny Ryan)

Fixture: Wil (H), PM (A), bye, NB (H), Cob (H), Gee (A), GWS (A), Syd (H), Sou (A), San (H), Wer (A), bye, BL (A), GC (H), Col (H), NB (A), Cas (H), Cob (A), PM (H), Foo (H), bye
Plays Twice: Coburg, Northern Bullants, Port Melbourne
Doesn’t Play: Box Hill Hawks, Carlton, Essendon, North Melbourne, Richmond
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 1
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: Both teams the Dolphins didn’t play in 2023 in Essendon or Richmond are again off the menu. They also avoid top-three team Box Hill and are grouped for return matches against fellow bottom-four standalones Port Melbourne, Northern Bullants and Coburg. All five of their home games in the first 13 rounds are under lights as they create a wonderful niche. Three interstate trips is the equal most among standalones and there is a nightmare run from Rounds 11-14 with both Grand Finalists and a trip to Brisbane Lions. Three home games in the first four weeks against standalones should have the Hill rocking and give them a chance to start well. Amazingly, they will host Sandringham for the first time since 2015.
Difficulty Score: 542 (ranked 18th)

Last Season: 13th (8-9-1)
Coach: Mark Corrigan (2nd season)

Fixture: Wer (H), Box (H), NB (A), BL (A), Car (A), Fra (H), bye, Cob (A), GWS (H), Ric (H), Syd (A), bye, PM (A), San (H), Box (A), Col (A), Foo (H), NM (A), bye, Car (H), San (A)
Plays Twice: Box Hill Hawks, Carlton, Sandringham
Doesn’t Play: Casey Demons, Essendon, Gold Coast, Southport, Williamstown
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 3
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 3 (R9 v GWS, R10 v Ric, R11 v Syd)
Summary: Very much a mixed bag for the Cats, with two home games to start, although they are against two of last year’s top three. That precedes three trips including a flight to Queensland to face the Lions, giving them three “single-figure” matches in the first four weeks. They will have the chance to build momentum with six winnable games in a row from Rounds 5-11, culminating in a visit to Sydney, where they have won twice already. Two of their three double-ups didn’t make the finals last year, while the five teams they avoid include reigning premier Gold Coast, 2022 champion Casey Demons and Williamstown for the second year in a row. Most of last year’s strugglers are away games, which they will be confident of dealing with.
Difficulty Score: 476 (ranked 11th)

Last Season: Premiers (19-2)
Coach: Tate Kaeslar (returning for 2nd season after coaching in 2021, replacing Josh Drummond)

Fixture: Ric (H), bye, Box (H), Syd (A), PM (A), BL (A), Sou (H), bye, Car (A), Wer (H), San (A), bye, Ess (H), Fra (A), Wil (H), Ric (A), GWS (A), BL (H), Cob (H), Ess (A), Cas (H)
Plays Twice: Brisbane Lions, Essendon, Richmond
Doesn’t Play: Collingwood, Footscray, Geelong, North Melbourne, Northern Bullants
Interstate Trips: NSW 2, Victoria 6
VFLW Double Headers: 2
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 2 (R3 v Box, R10 v Wer)
Summary: The Suns took almost all before them last year but will need to step up a gear to defend their historic premiership, with the equal second-hardest fixture by the numbers. Two home games to start gives their fans an early chance to remember last year’s success before three trips in a row that include an away QClash, the return of which removes one road trip from the schedule. There is no Collingwood for the second year in a row, with three of the five teams they miss being from last year’s top 10. Northern Bullants are also not on the schedule. The Grand Final rematch is a home game, meaning one of the two venues they lost at last year is missing, while they play their other 2023 conqueror Essendon twice.
Difficulty Score: 435 (ranked equal 2nd)

Last Season: 12th (9-9)
Coach: Wayne Cripps (2nd season)

Fixture: Foo (A), bye, San (H), Wer (A), NM (H), Syd (A), Fra (H), Foo (H), Gee (A), bye, Box (A), PM (H), Syd (H), Sou (A), Car (H), bye, GC (H), Cas (A), Box (H), BL (A), Will (A)
Plays Twice: Box Hill Hawks, Footscray, Sydney
Doesn’t Play: Coburg, Collingwood, Essendon, Northern Bullants, Richmond
Interstate Trips: Queensland 2, Victoria 6
VFLW Double Headers: 1
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 4 (R3 v San, R6 v Syd, R9 v Gee, R13 v Syd)
Summary: While last year saw the Giants receive nominally the hardest fixture and this one is tenth, it is still less than ideal reading for the Big Big Sound. The first two away games are tests against Footscray and Werribee, while Sandringham will visit Canberra instead of Sydney, where the Zebras have played well in the past. Seven “single-figure” games, including double-ups against the Bulldogs and Box Hill, while they travel to every team seeded two to seven. The return of two Sydney Derbies cuts one flight out of the schedule, but they are also likely to rue the fact they don’t play last year’s bottom two in Coburg and Northern Bullants. The “easiest” game they have in the last five is a home fixture against the Hawks, which says it all.
Difficulty Score: 468 (ranked 8th)

Last Season: 10th (10-9)
Coach: Tom Lynch (2nd season)

Fixture: NB (H), Car (H), BL (H), Box (A), GWS (A), San (A), Syd (H), Ess (A), Wer (A), bye, Cob (H), Col (A), Cas (A), Foo (H), bye, Syd (A), Box (H), Gee (H), Wil (A), bye, Sou (A)
Plays Twice: Box Hill Hawks, Sydney
Doesn’t Play: Frankston, Gold Coast, Port Melbourne, Richmond
Interstate Trips: NSW 2, Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 4
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: Along with the Casey Demons, the Roos are only one of two sides outside the Southport-Werribee-Williamstown group to only have two double-up opponents – one a preliminary finalist, the other a bottom four team. They showed they can get on a roll and have the perfect opportunity to do so with three home games to kick off the season, and they will need to make that work because seven of the next nine are away. The Kangaroos don’t face reigning premier Gold Coast and don’t get the chance for revenge against the team that almost ended their finals dream last year in Richmond. Three interstate trips are the testing material, including a final-round visit to Southport that they wouldn’t want to rely on to retain their finals ticket.
Difficulty Score: 470 (ranked equal 9th)

Last Season: 20th (2-16)
Coach: Rohan Welsh (1st season, replacing Brodie Holland)

Fixture: NM (A), bye, Gee (H), Fra (A), San (A), PM (H), Col (H), Sou (H), Syd (A), Car (H), bye, Wil (A), Cob (A), Cas (H), Ric (H), Fra (H), Wer (A), bye, Ess (H), Cob (H), PM (A)
Plays Twice: Coburg, Frankston, Port Melbourne
Doesn’t Play: Box Hill Hawks, Brisbane Lions, Footscray, Gold Coast, GWS
Interstate Trips: NSW 1
VFLW Double Headers: 3
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: The Bullants had a horror fixture last year, but this one is much friendlier – in fact, comfortably the easiest by the numbers to give them a little leg up in their rebuilding efforts. Two Battles of Bell Street, two games against Frankston and only one interstate trip – to Sydney, the team they have beaten the past two years in a row. They don’t play four of last year’s top six, only facing the two top standalones, Werribee and Williamstown. The drive to Avalon Airport Oval is their only “single-figure” fixture. Three of the first four games are on the road, including a double bye after their season opener, which stops them building momentum early, but they get five out of six at home from Rounds 14-20.
Difficulty Score: 610 (ranked 21st)

Last Season: 15th (6-12)
Coach: Adam Skrobalak (3rd season)

Fixture: Sou (A), Fra (H), Cas (H*), Car (A), GC (H), NB (A), Cob (H), bye, Foo (A), Wil (H), Ric (H), GWS (A), Gee (H), Box (A), Ess (H), bye, Cob (A), Wer (H), Fra (A), bye, NB (H)
Plays Twice: Coburg, Frankston, Northern Bullants
Doesn’t Play: Brisbane Lions, Collingwood, North Melbourne, Sandringham, Sydney
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 9
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: The Borough will be extremely confident of locking in six of the 10 wins they need to play finals for the first time in five years with their double-ups against last year’s bottom three. After a trip to Southport in Round 1, they will only journey once more for the year (GWS) and avoid preliminary finalist Brisbane Lions among three top-10 teams missed. They climbed five spots with the easiest fixture in 2023, and while this one is a little tougher, their games against the Grand Finalists are at home and should bring bumper crowds from the Port faithful. Two Friday night double headers will take centre stage. No game against former neighbour Sydney is either disappointing or a relief for fans of both clubs, depending on who you ask.
Difficulty Score: 529 (ranked 14th)

Last Season: 9th (10-8-1)
Coach: Steven Morris (3rd season)

Fixture: GC (A), Syd (H), Wer (A), bye, Cas (H), Cob (A), Foo (H), San (A), Ess (N), Gee (A), PM (A), Box (H), bye, Car (H), NB (A), GC (H), Wil (A), Col (A), bye, San (H), Car (A)
Plays Twice: Carlton, Gold Coast, Sandringham
Doesn’t Play: Brisbane Lions, Frankston, GWS, North Melbourne, Southport
Interstate Trips: Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 2
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 2 (R9 v Ess, R10 v Gee)
Summary: A nightmare start with their first two away matches being against both Grand Finalists from 2023, while the game splitting those – Sydney at home – being a match-up they dropped last year that eventually cost them a chance to push for the top six. Tiger fans in Melbourne will be happy, however, with that Round 1 flight to the Suns being their only interstate trip. No game against Frankston for the second year in a row and they play Gold Coast twice, while avoiding Brisbane Lions and a likely resurgent Southport won’t be disappointing. Three of the last four games being away mean they won’t want to leave securing their finals spot until the last minute as they did last year.
Difficulty Score: 462 (ranked 6th)

Last Season: 16th (5-12-1)
Coach: Jake Batchelor (3rd season)

Fixture: Col (H), Ess (H), GWS (A), bye, NB (H), NM (H), Box (N), Ric (H), Cas (A), Fra (A), GC (H), BL (A), bye, Gee (A), Syd (H), Wil (A), Sou (H), Ess (A), bye, Ric (A), Gee (H)
Plays Twice: Essendon, Geelong, Richmond
Doesn’t Play: Carlton, Coburg, Footscray, Port Melbourne, Werribee
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 1
VFLW Double Headers: 6
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 1 (R3 v GWS)
Summary: A little friendlier than last year, beginning with two home games against well-supported opponents and four home games in the first five (including a Round 1 blockbuster at RSEA Park) having the bean counters smiling. Only two interstate trips and three “single-figure” outings, with no trip to Gold Coast and no game against Werribee. Coburg has been a danger game in recent years so missing them isn’t the worst. The trade off from the early home games is seven journeys in their last 11, so they must make hay early on. They miss Footscray for the second year in a row among five absent match-ups and only play one top-10 team twice, with the three double-ups putting their fate in their own hands against clubs pushing for the same spots.
Difficulty Score: 525 (ranked 15th)

Last Season: 14th (8-10)
Coach: Steve Daniel (4th VFL season, 7th overall)

Fixture: PM (H), Wer (H), Wil (A), Ess (A), BL (H), Col (H), GC (A), NB (A), Fra (H), bye, Wil (H), Cob (A), Car (A), GWS (H), bye, Box (H), San (A), Syd (H), Wer (A), bye, NM (H)
Plays Twice: Werribee, Williamstown
Doesn’t Play: Casey, Footscray, Geelong, Richmond
Interstate Trips: Victoria 7
VFLW Double Headers: 1
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: A testing start to the season for the Sharks as they aim to make up for an injury-ruined 2023, with home games against likely big improver Port Melbourne, Grand Finalist Werribee and a trip to Williamstown to kick things off. However, they need to re-establish that Fankhauser Fortress after losing four times there last year and those first two games couldn’t offer a better chance to send a message to the rest of the competition. Away games against the top two will show where they stand, but it is interesting to see all four teams they miss are likely contenders for the same positions on the ladder. No action for Shark fans in Sydney after the pre-season but a home game against the Lions shapes as a blockbuster.
Difficulty Score: 474 (ranked 10th)

Last Season: 18th (4-14)
Coach: Damian Truslove (2nd season)

Fixture: Cob (H), Ric (A), bye, GC (H), Box (A), GWS (H), NM (A), Fra (A), NB (H), bye, Gee (H), Foo (A), GWS (A), Wer (H), San (A), NM (H), BL (A), Sou (A), bye, Col (H), Foo (H)
Plays Twice: Footscray, GWS, North Melbourne
Doesn’t Play: Carlton, Casey Demons, Essendon, Port Melbourne, Williamstown
Interstate Trips: Queensland 2, Victoria 6
VFLW Double Headers: 2
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 3 (R6 v GWS, R11 v Gee, R13 v GWS)
Summary: The Swans slid horribly last year as injuries played havoc on their depth, and their bid to climb back up the ladder faces a lot of roadblocks with one of the hardest fixtures. After a game they will start strong favourites in to kick off the year, they have three big tests in a row as part of a difficult run between a double bye for Gather Round and their second week off in Round 10. If they are still in the hunt, having two home games to finish the season against 2023 finalists will give them a chance to either earn their spot or prove them unworthy. Three of the five teams they miss are from the bottom 11 but they will be happy to avoid trips to both Grand Finalists. Two Sydney Derbies is a bonus as it means one less trip to the airport.
Difficulty Score: 465 (ranked 7th)

Last Season: 2nd (18-3)
Coach: Jimmy Allan (1st season, replacing Michael Barlow)

Fixture: Gee (A), Sou (A), Ric (H), GWS (H), Wil (A), Car (H), bye, Col (A), NM (H), GC (A), Fra (H), bye, Wil (H), Syd (A), Foo (H), Cob (H), NB (H), PM (A), Sou (H), bye, Box (A)
Plays Twice: Southport, Williamstown
Doesn’t Play: Brisbane Lions, Casey Demons, Essendon, Sandringham
Interstate Trips: NSW 1, Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 0 (same club – underlined), 2 (different clubs – italics)
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 1 (R10 v GC)
Summary: The Tigers could not possibly be upset by what they have been handed as they aim to go one better, with only five clubs given a nominally friendlier fixture than the runners-up. They only have two “single-figure” games, one of which is the rematch with the Suns in Queensland, while they have an even spread of top-10/bottom-10 double-ups and the same for missed opponents. A testing road double to start (although not as tough as last year) and three interstate trips provide the biggest challenges, but they should be able to build some momentum in the run to the finals. No game against their preliminary final victim Brisbane Lions or the Casey Demons. Look for them to make their move early.
Difficulty Score: 528 (ranked 16th)

Last Season: 5th (14-6)
Coach: Justin Plapp (4th season)

Fixture: Fra (A), Cob (A), Sou (H), Foo (H), Wer (H), Cas (A), Ess (H), Car (H), bye, PM (A), Sou (A), NB (H), Wer (A), bye, GC (A), San (H), Ric (H), Box (A), NM (H), bye, GWS (H)
Plays Twice: Southport, Werribee
Doesn’t Play: Brisbane Lions, Collingwood, Geelong, Sydney
Interstate Trips: Queensland 2
VFLW Double Headers: 5
AFL curtain raisers/closers: 0
Summary: After charging up the ladder despite having nominally the second hardest fixture last season, the Seagulls should be much happier with this year’s offering. Two trips to Queensland and they play only one fellow top-10 team twice, although that is next-door neighbour and Grand Finalist Werribee, while the four teams they miss include their semi-final conqueror Brisbane Lions, and they don’t play Geelong for the second year in a row. They start with back-to-back away games but will be favourites in both before a run of three home fixtures that could give their year the perfect start. Only have four games that the difficulty chart rates in single figures, although that includes trips to last year’s top three.
Difficulty Score: 526 (ranked 16th)