Opening Round Report Card, highlights, grades, analysis, every club reviewed, best and worst players, video, stats


Opening Round belonged to Harry McKay and the expansion clubs.

But there were a couple of early wake-up calls for big Victorian teams.

Every team’s performance analysed and graded in foxfooty.com.au’s Opening Round Report Card.

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ADELAIDE CROWS

Had the bye

‘Clearly we just had a bad third Quarter | 04:57

BRISBANE LIONS

The Lions did as they pleased against the Blues in the first half, consistently winning at the source and transitioning with ease. It was almost the complete opposite after half-time, as Brisbane was well and truly stopped in its path by the Blues and their devastating work off turnover. It’s concerning just how much Brisbane let its foot off the gas pedal, but the impressive work Chris Fagan’s men did in the first two quarters was more symbolic of the team we’ve come to know.

In the votes

Lachie Neale had 25 disposals, 13 of which were contested, and added five clearances and five inside-50s to easily be one of Brisbane’s best. Josh Dunkley (21 disposals, nine tackles) gave his best effort at quelling Patrick Cripps’ massive influence on the game, while Hugh McCluggage (18 possessions, four inside-50s) was integral to most of Brisbane’s attacking chains and remains a pivotal part of Fagan’s engine room.

Room for improvement

The third quarter was out of character for Brisbane, laying just six tackles as the Blues piled on seven goals to one. Something clearly wasn’t working defensively for Brisbane in the second half, as defender-turned-forward Darcy Gardiner was thrown back into defence in favour of key backman Jack Payne. Carlton’s twin towers — Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay — were unstoppable during the second half of play, giving Fagan much to ponder going into a Round 1 meeting with Fremantle next Sunday.

Grade

B-

‘It shows what momentum can do in footy’ | 06:39

CARLTON

The Blues’ barnstorming fightback victory over the Lions assuaged early concerns after falling behind by as many as 46 points on Friday night. Carlton’s second-half pressure and subsequent turnover game were tremendous, providing the key to a memorable win. The Blues’ twin towers — Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay — were integral to the comeback, taking marks and crashing packs as Brisbane scrambled to try and contain the duo. Their impact forced the Lions to switch Darcy Gardiner back into defence and send Jack Payne forward of the ball.

In the votes

Curnow’s impact was immense, booting four goals from five marks and adding four inside-50s, while match-winner McKay (three goals, seven marks) deserves massive props for delivering the critical major. George Hewett (27 disposals, 13 contested, five clearances and five tackles) and Adam Cerra (25 possessions, 14 contested, seven clearances) were crucial to Michael Voss’ midfield operation, and while he was consigned to a quiet final term, Patrick Cripps’ (23 disposals, three inside-50s) early body of work was tremendous — forcing Fagan to send Dunkley to him at every stoppage. Zac Williams (19 disposals at 79 per cent efficiency) was enormous in just his first game back from injury.

Room for improvement

Carlton’s second-half performance had all the hallmarks of what made it a preliminary final side last season, but we didn’t see enough of it earlier on in Friday’s contest. While they played the second-best team of the 2023 season at its home fortress, Voss will want his brigade locked in from the first bounce instead of needing to stage miraculous comebacks every week. The Blues’ contest work and forward-half pressure were lacking in the first half.

Grade

A-

‘The Giants talls influenced the game’ | 07:13

COLLINGWOOD

The Pies haven’t found themselves on the losing side of an AFL match in a fair while, but they were categorically smashed by GWS on Saturday. Collingwood stop the Giants in transition and it couldn’t capitalise on its own chances, either, despite winning the final inside-50 count by seven and registering three more scoring shots than GWS.

In the votes

There weren’t many to go around on Saturday, but Nick Daicos (34 disposals, 16 contested possessions, 10 clearances, eight inside-50s and a classy goal) was typically impressive and willed his Magpies as often as he could. Brother Josh (28 possessions, five inside-50s) also found a lot of it, while ruck Darcy Cameron (20 disposals, four marks, two goals) was impressive and had the ball in his hands a lot.

Room for improvement

The Magpies fell considerably short in multiple areas of their game on Saturday night, the most pressing of which were at either end of the ground. Collingwood’s key-position issues up forward have been well-documented, particularly following Dan McStay’s ACL injury. Ash Johnson was preferred to Reef McInnes on Saturday, but he did not impact the contest in the slightest — he had a game-low two possessions and is a strong omission candidate ahead of next Friday’s clash with the Swans. Defensively, things didn’t fare much better. Collingwood’s overly aggressive approach failed, as its back six were unable to halt GWS’ dominant key forwards — Callum Brown, Jesse Hogan and Brent Daniels accounted for a combined 13 goals.

Grade

D+

ESSENDON

Had the bye

FREMANTLE

Had the bye

GEELONG CATS

Had the bye

‘We see what the Suns are capable of!’ | 05:47

GOLD COAST SUNS

The start to the Damien Hardwick era at the Suns couldn’t have been more impressive. After Richmond kicked the first goal of the game, it was all Gold Coast, fuelled by devastating transition and pinpoint inside-50 delivery. The Suns led by as much as 67 points late in the second quarter and went into the main break with a 61-point lead – their largest half-time margin in their short history.

In the votes

Matt Rowell was at his brutal best at the coalface, finishing with video game-like numbers: 33 disposals, 26 contested possessions, 20 clearances — the second-most in AFL history — and nine score involvements. Rowell appears ready to take a significant step in his progression after forging a strong start to his fifth AFL campaign. Fresh off a new Suns deal, Ben King fired with five goals, while Jack Lukosius and Malcolm Rosas added three each. Co-captain Jarrod Witts was just as influential at stoppages with 12 contested possessions and eight clearances, with Sam Flanders and Noah Anderson all finding plenty of the ball. Sam Collins was excellent one-on-one in defence, with Wil Powell, Brayden Fiorini and Charlie Ballard racking up the intercepts.

Room for improvement

Hardwick post-game said he was a little concerned by the Suns’ third quarter, which saw them concede three Richmond goals from their defensive 50. The Suns went goalless in the term as Richmond piled on 6.2 as the midfield battle momentarily evened up. Outside of that, a terrific first-up performance from the Suns.

Grade

A

‘Was hard to know what to expect’ | 08:36

GWS GIANTS

The Giants issued an ominous warning to the competition after comfortably downing the reigning premiers. GWS’ forward movement in transition proved too hot for even the hot Pies to handle, as their turnover game under Adam Kingsley picked up right where it left off at the end of last year. They were typically stout defensively, with star key-defending tandem Sam Taylor and Jack Buckley keeping the Pies forwards mostly quiet, while their attack was firing on all cylinders — have the Giants unearthed a star-in-the-making key forward?

In the votes

Callum Brown (five goals, seven marks) was outstanding on Saturday, finding open space, winning marking contests and kicking accurately. He was joined by Jesse Hogan (four goals, seven marks) and Brent Daniels (four goals, five marks, four inside-50s), who also stamped their influence. Meanwhile, Brownlow Medal candidate Tom Green (30 disposals, nine clearances, six tackles) started his season on the right foot and Lachie Whitfield (33 possessions at 79 per cent efficiency) made his presence felt off a half-back flank.

Room for improvement

It’s hard to find improvement points for a side that just clamped the reigning flag-bearers. However, despite winning by 32 points, Collingwood had seven more inside 50s and three more scoring shots than GWS.

Grade

A+

HAWTHORN

Had the bye

‘We lost tonight, but we’ll learn’ | 05:58

MELBOURNE

After a promising first half against Sydney where Melbourne controlled contest and clearance and had momentum throughout, they faded in the latter stages. Max Gawn’s night was in many ways reflective of the team’s – competing hard before tiring as the game went on to get well beaten by ex-teammate Brodie Grundy in the end. In a promising sign, Clayton Oliver looked close enough to the Clayton Oliver of old in his return. As put by Fox Footy’s David King, whatever Melbourne gets from Oliver in the opening rounds is a “bonus” after a tumultuous off-season. However in a potential injury blow to the Dees, Jack Bowey looks set to miss time after appearing to suffer a shoulder injury in a huge collision with Justin McInerney.

In the votes

Jack Viney was utterly dominant in the midfield – racking up 30 touches, 14 contested, with seven clearances, seven tackles, two goals and 625 metres gained. The hard-nosed on-baller looks set for another massive, All-Australian calibre season. Oliver had 30 disposals himself, while Christian Salem (27 possessions, 15 contested) has settled well into a new midfield role and Bayley Fritsch kicked four goals.

Room for improvement

Outside of Fritsch, there wasn’t much to like about Melbourne’s forward half in contrast to what we saw in last week’s practice game against Carlton. That was also a by-product of the higher intensity the game was played – and the tough conditions on a humid night on a dewy SCG – as it was evident the Demons were trying to play a more aggressive brand to get the ball in more dangerous spots inside 50. But they felt Fritsch or bust at times, with the likes of Jacob van Rooyen, Kade Chandler, Charlie Spargo and Josh Schache all goalless. The inefficiency in front of goal reared its ugly head again too in the first half. They’ll be desperate to get Kysaiah Pickett and Harrison Petty back as well as recruit Shane McAdam at some stage, so there’s clear upside. Without Callum Mills, Luke Parker and Taylor Adams, the Swans across the final two quarters won the contested possession (+21) and clearance (+8) counts convincingly, while they also won the inside 50 count across the entire four quarters (+14). King said: “They (the Swans) were just too tough – and that’s something you never say against Melbourne. They just got bullied.”

Grade

C-

NORTH MELBOURNE

Had the bye

PORT ADELAIDE

Had the bye

‘They’re not happy with how it started’ | 04:50

RICHMOND

Many pundits predicted a long season for Richmond — and perhaps Saturday’s loss to the Suns provided the footy world with a glimpse as to why commentators have been thinking like that. Outside of the third quarter — in which Richmond kicked 6.2 to 0.3 — the Tigers were comprehensively outplayed by the Suns, going down by 39 points. New coach Adem Yze said despite the display early, he was proud of how his team responded in the second half. But the reality is the Tigers suffered the biggest loss of Opening Round.

In the votes

Jacob Hopper booted two goals from 23 disposals in a solid hit-out in the midfield. Young defender Josh Gibcus did his best under pressure with eight intercepts, with Nick Vlastuin also clean with his intercepting and disposal from half-back. Shai Bolton’s three goals were crucial, while Seth Campbell showed promise with two goals.

Room for improvement

The Tigers looked shell-shocked in the first half as the Suns piled on 11 unanswered goals to lead by a game high 67 points late in the second quarter. As Yze said post-game, the Tigers were “all over the shop in the first half on all three phases” after conceding 11 goals to two. They finished the game well down in contested possessions (-26), clearances (-13) and inside 50s (-20), while they also had 14 less scoring shots. Samson Ryan didn’t fire a shot, subbed out with two disposals to his name, while recruit Jacob Koschitzke went scoreless from four touches and Thomson Dow finished with only six disposals after a much-hyped summer. Tim Taranto was also well down on his lofty standards, finishing with 15 disposals.

Grade

C-

ST KILDA

Had the bye

‘He was enormous, whole game was huge’ | 08:42

SYDNEY SWANS

Plenty to like about the Swans in a resounding season-opening win over Melbourne. Most notably the impact of a certain 202cm recruit in the ruck. Brodie Grundy looked his old All-Australian self, coming to life in the second half to get hold of old mate Max Gawn and his former side – giving the Swans’ midfield first use to dominate contested possessions and clearances. Sydney recruited Grundy to help in those very areas it needed to improve in from last year, so beating not only the Demons, but one of the best midfield groups in the competition is a big tick first up.

In the votes

As mentioned, Grundy was enormous, particularly in the second half in a big statement from the reborn ruckman. He finished with 23 disposals, 15 contested and 31 hit-outs — 13 to advantage – and had Max Gawn’s measure on the night. Isaac Heeney also lit up it in the undermanned Swans midfield with 26 disposals and career-highs across the board in contested possessions (18), clearances (13) and inside 50s (8) as well as seven tackles and one goal. Chad Warner (26 touches, one goal) provided great zip through the midfield and Nick Blakey (26 disposals) shined with elite run across halfback.

Room for improvement

It was a scrappy and at times dour affair in dewy conditions at the SCG with a slippery ball. It made for a tough night for key forwards, with Hayden McLean bobbing up with 2.2 but Logan McDonald only kicking one goal late in the fourth term and Joel Amartey, who was subbed out in the third quarter, held goalless.

Grade

A

WEST COAST EAGLES

Had the bye

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Had the bye



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