Jye Caldwell and Archie Perkins celebrate a goal for Essendon against Hawthorn in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Things We Learned, we discover Essendon has midfield depth, Jesse Hogan is in career-best form plus much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round one of the 2024 season.


1) Murphy's absence is hurting the Pies

The loss of Nathan Murphy has been far more significant for Collingwood than first thought. Across the first fortnight of 2024, Collingwood's backline has lacked the ruthlessness and aerial intent that propelled Craig McRae's side all the way last year. Turnovers between the arcs have been costly – the Magpies conceded 78 points from turnovers against Sydney – but Darcy Moore, Isaac Quaynor and Brayden Maynard haven't been near their dog-hungry best so far. The Swans took 18 marks inside 50 in round one after Greater Western Sydney hauled in 13 in Opening Round. Murphy's selflessness and desire to support others provided coverage last year that is lacking right now. The 24-year-old doesn't have a clear return date due to an ongoing concussion battle, so the Pies need to improve without him for now. - Josh Gabelich

2) No Parish, no worries for Bombers midfield

Ball magnet Darcy Parish, an All-Australian in 2021, missed the Bombers' round one clash against Hawthorn due to a hamstring injury. But his absence led to a different and exciting look for Essendon through the midfield in its 24-point victory. Alongside captain Zach Merrett, the quintet of Archie Perkins, Will Setterfield, Sam Durhum and Jye Caldwell spent extended minutes rotating through the middle to great effect. Perkins played a career-best game, Setterfield offered an important defensive mindset, while Durham and Caldwell's power at the contest was impressive. As a result, the Bombers won the centre clearance count 18-9, a metric that Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell acknowledged afterwards hurt his side. For the Bombers, it's a great problem to have going forward, with Parish likely to become available in the coming weeks. – Gemma Bastiani


3) Write Max Gawn off at your own peril

After being towelled up by former teammate Brodie Grundy last week, Max Gawn was up to his damaging best against the Western Bulldogs. Facing off against the 2023 All-Australian ruck in Tim English is a daunting prospect, let alone after a down week, but Gawn stepped up to the plate. The veteran dominated, racking up 35 hitouts and winning eight clearances, and contributed all over the ground with 494m gained and 26 disposals. With pressure building on the Dees after a loss in Opening Round, Gawn played a true captain's game and set the tone for his side, showing why yet again he'll be key to Melbourne's fortunes in 2024. – Sophie Welsh

Max Gawn and Tim English in the ruck during Melbourne's game against the Western Bulldogs in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

4) Freo's ball magnet is set to go to a new level

Fremantle star Caleb Serong was a deserving All-Australian in an outstanding 2023, but his performance against Brisbane's big bodies on Sunday evening showed he is ready to produce at an even higher level this year. Fremantle coaches were blown away by Serong's pre-season and the fruits of his work were on show as the vice-captain set a new club record with 46 disposals, breaking the previous mark of 44 set by Freo champions Peter Bell and David Mundy. Serong had 25 disposals and six clearances in the first half before Dev Robertson was sent to tag the Doig medallist, keeping him to seven touches though the third quarter. It didn't help the Lions, however, with Serong pivoting to help Hayden Young (eight disposals), Nat Fyfe (six), and Andrew Brayshaw (seven) do more damage in the third term. Finishing with 10 clearances and 21 contested possessions, he was central throughout to a thoroughly impressive win. – Nathan Schmook


5) Carlton needs to sharpen its entries into attack

Four points is four points and Carlton will be thrilled to go into its very early bye undefeated. But the Blues came up against a side that lost two key defenders by half-time, and have two Coleman medallists in attack, yet scraped home by just five points despite 11 more inside 50s. We know Carlton can produce scintillating footy – the second half against Brisbane in Opening Round was sublime – but tightening up entries and having fewer ambitious pings at goal from a distance ("long shots are long behinds", in the words of coach Michael Voss) will go some way to maintaining the Blues' spot in the top echelon of the competition. – Sarah Black


6) St Patrick's Day comes early for Cats

When you've achieved as much in a career as Patrick Dangerfield has, there's not much room left for surprises. But there were still many - including his teammates - who didn't think the veteran's 33-year-old legs had the required journey for the match-winning goal against St Kilda on Saturday night. The Cats skipper marked a haphazard Saints' clearing kick on the 50-metre arc and with his side just one point ahead and a minute on the clock, it seemed his best tactic was to milk as much time as possible and take a shot for goal. But Dangerfield doesn't do the minimum required. With 520 metres already gained from his first 24 disposals of the night, another 55 was never going to faze the Geelong great. As coach Chris Scott said after the game, "he backed himself to kick it and that's why the great players are the great players". Simple. – Howard Kimber


7) Jesse Hogan is in career-best form

More than a decade after being drafted to much fanfare, Jesse Hogan has opened up an early lead in the race for the Coleman Medal with 10 goals in two matches after booting a career-high 49 majors last year. The GWS spearhead added a six-goal haul in the 39-point victory over North Melbourne on Saturday to his four majors against reigning premier Collingwood last week, with both defences struggling to deal with his agility and contested marking ability. It's been a long road, but Hogan looks to be at the peak of his powers in a fourth season with his third club, and looms as a key weapon at the pointy end of the Giants' swift ball movement that could help the 29-year-old land a first Coleman Medal. - Martin Pegan


8) King Charlie is still vital for the Power

Charlie Dixon didn't need long to show just how important he will be to Port Adelaide's fortunes again in 2024. The forward, who suffered a foot fracture late last season, set the tone against West Coast on Sunday, with eight disposals and 2.2 in the opening term. Dixon has been limited to 26 games across the past two years, but played 24 in 2021 when Port reached a preliminary final as he booted 48 goals. Port has emerging key forwards in Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades on their books, but Dixon's ability and presence make his contribution crucial if the Power are to make a deep run this year. – Dejan Kalinic

Charlie Dixon celebrates a goal during Port Adelaide's clash against West Coast in round one, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

9) Damien Hardwick has found his role players

At Richmond, Damien Hardwick had Jason Castagna, Kamdyn McIntosh and Kane Lambert – unheralded workers that played specific roles for their team - and it hasn't taken Dimma long to find some players of the same ilk at Gold Coast. Tom Berry had a career night against Adelaide with 17 disposals and a goal, Nick Holman somehow returned after a badly split lip to influence with his manic pressure and Bodhi Uwland continued to look at home in defence. Then there's Brayden Fiorini running up and back on a wing and Alex Sexton distributing the ball from half-back. They might not always rack up big numbers, but these players are already proving as valuable as Miller, Rowell, Anderson and co. – Michael Whiting

Brayden Fiorini during Gold Coast's match against Adelaide in R1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos