Collingwood players look dejected after a loss during Opening Round on March 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

THE LONG wait is nearly over for the 10 clubs that are yet to kick off their 2024 campaign.

Four teams have already launched into the season with victories in Opening Round, while just as many are out to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.

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Round one begins with a blockbuster between Carlton and Richmond at the MCG on Thursday, March 14 and is followed by reigning premier Collingwood looking to bounce back against Sydney.

We look at how every team will tackle round one and tip the winners of each match. 


Carlton v Richmond, MCG

Thursday, March 14, 7.30pm AEDT

Last time: Richmond 8.10 (58) drew with Carlton 8.10 (58), R1 2023

What it means
Carlton is flying high after turning around a 46-point deficit against Brisbane to snatch a thriller by the barest of margins at the hosts’ Gabba fortress. The Blues will ride that momentum into their match against the Tigers as they look to claim just a second win in the past 12 traditional round one clashes between the old rivals.

Richmond made a less promising start to its season in coach Adem Yze’s first game in charge. The new-look Tigers were better in the second half against Gold Coast, but will need more from their midfield if they are to match it with the Blues.


Game shapers
All eyes were on Harry McKay after he took a powerful mark and lined up for goal with Carlton trailing Brisbane by five points and less than 90 seconds left on the clock. The key forward has suffered from the goalkicking yips in the past but brushed aside any concerns with his set shot routine to nail the kick and clinch a memorable Blues triumph. The test for McKay now will be to back it up with improved consistency around goal.

Richmond needed more from Shai Bolton as Gold Coast charged away early, especially with Dustin Martin missing due to a calf injury. Bolton finished with three goals but only gathered eight disposals as the Tigers were burned by the Suns’ midfield, and will hope to make more of an impact across the ground against the Blues.

Early tip: Carlton by 22 points


Collingwood v Sydney, MCG

Friday, March 15, 7.40pm AEDT

Last time: Collingwood 11.11 (77) d Sydney 6.12 (48), R8 2023

What it means
Collingwood started its title defence with a defeat to Greater Western Sydney as concerns were exposed in all parts of the ground. The Magpies will want to quickly silence any talk of a premiership hangover before it truly takes hold, and hope to recall Jeremy Howe to plug a backline that leaked 18 goals.

Sydney were unable to put away Melbourne until a last-term surge that suggested it will be one of the pacesetters this season. A tough test against the wounded reigning premier comes next but another win would set up the Swans nicely with a kinder run of fixtures to follow until their round five bye.

Will Hayward and Nick Blakey celebrate a win during Opening Round on March 7, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

Game shapers
Collingwood forward-ruck Mason Cox left his mark on the clash with the Giants before the first bounce but failed to have an impact once the action started. Cox only gathered five disposals and went goalless as the Giants raced away, so will need to find a way into the game against Sydney to be sure of holding his spot especially with Darcy Cameron impressing in the ruck.

Isaac Heeney earned an All-Australian blazer while booting 49 goals in 2022, but has shown glimpses of his talents around the midfield throughout his career. Heeney made the most of his opportunity to play more midfield minutes against Melbourne, with 26 disposals and a career-high 13 clearances, and is likely to return to that onball role with Callum Mills, Luke Parker and Taylor Adams still sidelined.

Early tip: Collingwood by seven points


Essendon v Hawthorn, MCG

Saturday, March 16, 1.45pm AEDT

Last time: Essendon 19.10 (124) d Hawthorn 9.11 (65), R1 2023

What it means
Essendon will start its season against arch-rivals Hawthorn for the third time in four seasons and yet again with uncertainty around what each team can hope to achieve. The Bombers bolstered their best 23 with the recruitment of Ben McKay, Todd Goldstein, Jade Gresham and Xavier Duursma but will also hope their host of recent high-end draft picks help team improve.

Hawthorn has suffered a horror run with injury over the pre-season with last year’s club champion Will Day among those set to miss the start of the season. The Hawks have at least addressed concerns in their forward half with the recruitment of Nick Watson, Jack Ginnivan and Mabior Chol, and return of Jack Gunston, but at this stage have holes to fill in other parts of the ground.

Ben McKay in his new Essendon colours. Picture: Supplied

Game shapers
Ben McKay mostly blew hot and cold at the under siege North Melbourne but will need to quickly find greater consistency as a high-priced recruit with a club looking to soar higher. The towering full-back might have started at his new club with a purely defensive role alongside Jordan Ridley until the important Bombers interceptor was struck down by a quad injury, leaving McKay with more to do.

Livewire forward Jack Ginnivan tasted the ultimate success with Collingwood last year but will now need to ensure his career stays on track after moving a few weeks later to a second club. Ginnivan showed all his potential when booting 40 goals in a breakout 2022 but only managed 12 majors in 14 matches last season, and will remain under the microscope as a focal point in a young Hawks side.

Early tip: Essendon by 17 points


Greater Western Sydney v North Melbourne, Engie Stadium

Saturday, March 16, 4.35pm AEDT

Last time: Greater Western Sydney 15.13 (103) d North Melbourne 11.9 (75), R13 2023

What it means
Greater Western Sydney more than lived up to the pre-season hype with a devastating display against reigning premier Collingwood and can now double down against the less-fancied North Melbourne. The Giants’ had too much firepower for the Magpies with Callum Brown (five goals), Jesse Hogan (four) and Aaron Cadman (two) among the talls leading the way, and can eye an even bigger feast of majors against the Kangaroos’ injury-riddled defence.

North Melbourne faces what already looms as one of the toughest challenges of its season when it opens up against the impressive GWS with a side that has only got younger since a 17th-placed finish last year. But the budding talent throughout the group brings plenty of excitement with it, and more focus on the brisk ball movement of ‘NorthBall’ is sure to make the most of the Roos’ promising crop.

Dylan Stephens in action during a practice match against St Kilda on March 3, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers
GWS key forward Jesse Hogan looks in peak condition after booting a career-high 49 goals last year. Hogan started this season with four goals against Collingwood as the Giants ran rampant and will now be licking his lips at the prospect of lining up against North Melbourne’s inexperienced and under-sized defence.

George Wardlaw gave more than a glimpse off his talents in eight matches for North Melbourne last year even while the midfielder took time to get his body right for the rigours of AFL. The Kangaroos will look to Luke Davies-Uniacke to burst from stoppages and the likes of Harry Sheezel to add polish on the outside, but Wardlaw can start the engine with his ferocious attack on the ball and GWS onballers.

Early tip: Greater Western Sydney by 25 points


Geelong v St Kilda, GMHBA Stadium

Saturday, March 16, 7.30pm AEDT

Last time: St Kilda 12.16 (88) d Geelong 8.7 (55), R23 2023

What it means
Geelong is looking to bounce back after becoming the third reigning premier in seven years to miss the finals the next year. Key retirements, a wretched run with injury and moves to replenish the midfield made 2023 tough for the Cats, but there is hope of an immediate response under master coach Chris Scott. An early statement against St Kilda would be one way to quieten, if not silence, the doubters.  

Coach Ross Lyon made an immediate impact as St Kilda returned to finals in his first season back in charge but questions remain over whether his side has the top-end talent to challenge deeper. The Saints have set themselves up to continue their rapid rise with a best 23 set to be bolstered by clever recruitment with a focus on speed as Liam Henry, Darcy Wilson and Riley Bonner are among those to come in.

Game shapers
Max Holmes looks set to take the next step and becoming a key weapon for Geelong with his blistering speed off half-back in a well-balanced partnership with the composed Mitch Duncan. The out-of-contract young gun can also play through the midfield and looms as critical to the Cats’ plans to rebuild on the run.

St Kilda spearhead Max King seemed ready to explode in 2023 after booting a career-high 52 goals the year before, but only managed 28 majors in 11 matches as injury struck. King returned to slot 14 goals in the Saints’ last four matches – including three in the elimination final loss to GWS – and will be eyeing an early bag against the Cats.

Early tip: Geelong by 11 points


Gold Coast v Adelaide, People First Stadium

Saturday, March 16, 7.10pm AEST

Last time: Adelaide 13.11 (89) d Gold Coast 9.7 (61), R21 2023

What it means
Gold Coast burst out of the blocks with a blazing first half against Richmond but missed an opportunity to make an early statement as it then all but cruised to the line. A clash with a likely top-eight contender will give us a better read on the Suns outfit that will be buoyed by the first-up performance of their ominous midfield group.

Much is expected of Adelaide after its steady improvement over recent years that still left it soul-crushingly short of a first finals berth since 2017. Even without the injured Riley Thilthorpe, the Crows’ best 23 looks better balanced as improvement comes from within but a stirring win on the road would be a welcome boost to begin a season where a top-eight finish must be the goal.

Sam Collins and Taylor Walker compete for the ball during the match between Gold Coast and Adelaide at Metricon Stadium in round 14, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers
Former No.1 draft pick Matt Rowell made clear that he is ready to take his game to a new level this year with 33 disposals and an incredible 20 clearances that is now the second-most on record. Rowell regularly gave the Suns first use of the ball as they built a lead that stretched to as much as 67 points before the main break, and seems on the brink of making the sort of impact that has been expected since he broke onto the scene.

It has been a slower burn than broadly expected for Darcy Fogarty as the former No.12 draft pick took time to claim a regular place in the Adelaide forward group. But after 67 goals in the past two seasons and at the age of 24, the time is now for Fogarty to take the mantle from the evergreen Taylor Walker as the Crows key target inside 50 especially while Riley Thilthorpe is sidelined.

Early tip: Gold Coast by four points


Melbourne v Western Bulldogs, MCG

Sunday, March 17, 1.00pm AEDT

Last time: Melbourne 17.13 (115) d Western Bulldogs 9.11 (65), R1 2023

What it means
Melbourne will be out to avoid a worrying 0-2 start following a lacklustre finish to its Opening Round clash with Sydney. The Demons are yet to silence the doubters after an off-season full of turmoil but will be more concerned with the lack of connection in their forward half that only managed to find five goalkickers and relied on Bayley Fritsch for four of their nine majors.

Western Bulldogs gets its campaign under way with a near-full strength list – with Bailey Smith the headline absence – that has been bolstered by exciting draftee Ryley Sanders and former Melbourne midfielder James Harmes. The Bulldogs disappointed last year in missing the finals for the first time since 2018, so have added motivation to make a positive start against a side already on the ropes.

Max Gawn and his Melbourne teammates look dejected after a loss during Opening Round on March 7, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

Game shapers
Former Melbourne skipper Jack Viney was inspirational with 30 disposals, seven clearances and two goals to help his side keep pace with Sydney until falling apart in the final term. Viney and fellow midfielders Christian Petracca and Christian Salem will need step up again if the Demons are to match the Western Bulldogs’ onballers, especially while Clayton Oliver continues to build fitness and form.

Former No.1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan started to live up to that lofty status with 35 goals including two bags of five last year. The athletic tall forward showed that he can add a spark to the Bulldogs forward half, and will need to be a threat from the start to occupy the Demons key backs that often launch their attacks from defence.

Early tip: Western Bulldogs by nine points


Port Adelaide v West Coast, Adelaide Oval

Sunday, March 17, 3.30pm ACDT

Last time: Port Adelaide 16.13 (109) d West Coast 10.9 (69), R6 2023

What it means
Port Adelaide has addressed its biggest concerns after rising to a third-place finish before being bundled out of the finals in straight sets. The addition of Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Esava Ratugolea in defence, and Ivan Soldo or Jordon Sweet as first-choice ruck, should ensure the Power remain a top-four contender with a point to prove in round one.

The West Coast rebuild has stepped up a gear as more club stalwarts make way and with the much-hyped addition of No.1 draft pick Harley Reid. The Eagles have enough experience and talent in their best 23 to be more competitive this season but will likely have to avoid another horror run with injury with depth a growing concern after stripping back their list.

Esava Ratugolea poses for a photo during Port Adelaide's photo day on February 12, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Game shapers
Ollies Wines had a season to forget last year as Port Adelaide’s younger brigade stepped into the midfield and often pushed the 2021 Browlow medallist to a wing. Wines averaged only 21.72 disposals, down from 32.38 two years earlier, but is said to be fit and ready to fire again as he looks to reclaim his role playing more around the ball.

An 18-year-old surely cannot be expected to turnaround a club’s fortunes in a debut campaign but Harley Reid is blessed with the talent to at least give West Coast fans hope for the near-future. A season of development will likely see Reid spend time in all parts of the ground but expect the versatile No.1 draft pick to make his mark around the ball early on against the Power.

Early tip: Port Adelaide by 36 points


Fremantle v Brisbane, Optus Stadium

Sunday, March 17, 3.50pm AWST

Last time: Brisbane 11.11 (77) d Fremantle 11.8 (74), R21 2023

What it means
The pressure is on Fremantle even before its season begins after backing up a promising first finals campaign in seven years with a 14th-place finish last year. Swifter ball movement should make the Dockers more exciting to watch, and give their forwards more opportunities to score, but their usual advantage around stoppages looks less certain with Sean Darcy sidelined.

Brisbane has plenty to prove after letting a 46-point lead slip against Carlton to be beaten by the narrowest of margins. The Lions were on the back foot early last year as well, with two losses in the opening three rounds, but will want to bounce back quickly to avoid an 0-2 start with Grand Final foes Collingwood to come after a bye.

Nat Fyfe is tackled by Willie Rioli during the AAMI Community Series match between Port Adelaide and Fremantle at Alberton Oval on March 1, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Game shapers
Luke Jackson was arguably most influential last season – his first with Fremantle – when covering for Sean Darcy, and will have an opportunity to make a similar impact with the bullocking ruck injured again. Jackson will be missed in the front half where his athleticism is hard to contain but can at least play like an extra onballer as the Dockers put greater trust in Josh Treacy and Jye Amiss.

Brisbane co-captain Lachie Neale has called out teammates for being “selfish” in the wake of their defeat to Carlton. The reigning Brownlow medallist did not quite have his usual spark in the loss to the Blues despite gathering 25 disposals, but in a warning to the Dockers has shown in the past that he can back up strong words.

Early tip: Brisbane by 17 points