AFL Oracle: There’s always one! Which of last year’s bottom five is September-bound in 2024?


We’ve had our appetites whetted by a host of practice games and the Community Series, and now the AFL’s season proper is just days away.

That means only one thing here on The Roar – it’s time for the AFL Oracle to make its return!

Just as I’ve done for the last two years, I’ll be dividing teams up into groups based on where they ended up in 2023, and see who’s on the rise, who’s spiralling downwards, and who should be prepared for more of the same in the new season.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at last year’s bottom five; after that comes the 9-13 bracket (Monday), last year’s finals also-rans from 5-8 (Tuesday), and lastly, the four preliminary finalists (next Thursday).

Think your team is destined for another long season after finishing near the bottom in 2023? Think again.

When the high ball came in, Toby Greene stood the tallest!@cryptocom | #AFLFinals

— AFL (@AFL) September 16, 2023

Since the 18-team competition began in 2012, nine out of 12 seasons have seen a side that finished in the last five claw their way up to make finals – including the last four years, with GWS managing it in 2023 and Collingwood the year before.

And in one of the three others, 2018, both 12th (Hawthorn) AND 13th (the Magpies) from the year prior did it.

Things have got even weirder in the last two years, with both the Giants and Magpies reaching preliminary finals in 2023 and 2022 respectively from the bottom five – the first time that has happened since Adelaide in 2012.

The sky really is the limit from even the lowest rungs of the ladder – so who’s best placed to be this year’s Giants and make a shock September run? Let’s find out.

West Coast

18th, 3-20, 53%

Other teams have gone through seasons with fewer wins, but I’m not sure, GWS and Gold Coast’s formative years aside, I’ve ever seen a side be as bad as West Coast were for much of 2023.

With five losses by more than 100 points and five more by greater than 10 goals, highlights were few and far between for a club which hit absolute rock bottom last year, 12 months after they thought they’d hit rock bottom in 2022.

This time last year, I deeply considered backing the Eagles as the bottom-five team to rise into the eight. I won’t be doing that this season.

Tim Kelly is all class ????#AFLEaglesFreo

— AFL (@AFL) August 12, 2023

Let’s be honest – the Eagles are almost certainly in for another rough year. Harley Reid, for all the hype, will take time to find his feet at AFL level, and given his attributes, a Jason Horne-Francis or Cam Rayner-style debut season with plenty of promise seems more likely than the incredibly prolific first years of Nick Daicos or Harry Sheezel in recent times.

Other than that, Oscar Allen will remain a beacon of hope in attack, and might win the Eagles a game or two off his own boot; but with Tom Barrass facing an uncertain future with a debilitating back injury and Jeremy McGovern a week-to-week prospect at this point, the backline looks seriously shaky.

The Eagles have remained adamant Adam Simpson is the man to steer them through a long and painstaking rebuild; there can be no shortcuts here, though. West Coast suck, and will likely suck for a while – after decades of regular success, there are plenty of hard days still to come.

Prediction: 18th

Harley Reid. (Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

North Melbourne

17th, 3-20, 71.5%

They finished equal on wins and only percentage clear of bottom, but North Melbourne weren’t nearly as bad as West Coast last season, even when they lost 20 games on the bounce and had their coach step away from the game mid-season.

The thrashings were infrequent enough to be acceptable, and with their final five defeats at an average of 16.6 points, they were competitive more often than not. And a Rising Star win for Harry Sheezel and All-Australian nod for Nick Larkey meant plenty of bright spots at a club for whom individual success has been a rarity of late.


His teammates love it ????#AFLNorthSuns

— AFL (@AFL) August 26, 2023

Like the Eagles, the Roos are nowhere near finishing a long and arduous rebuild – but they are a step or two ahead of their cellar dwellers, and should be eyeing a rise up the ladder in 2024.

Sheezel should be even better in his second year, No.2 draft pick Colby McKercher looks a gun in a similar mould, and from defence to attack, from rebounding backman Bailey Scott to spearhead Larkey, there is potential across all lines.

The Roos will shock a team or two this year, and their bold new ‘Northball’ system of blazing attack and fast ball movement is going to be entertaining to watch for fans and neutrals alike.

Even if this year is another long and tough slog, there’s plenty of light on the horizon at Arden Street.

Prediction: 16th

Harry Sheezel. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


16th, 7-16, 80.2%

Of the five teams who finished 14th-18th last season, there’s only one that I can make a reasonable argument to be on the rise.

I’ve made a pretty good fist of predicting each year’s big improvers of late – I nailed Collingwood jumping into the eight in 2022, while last year my pick of Adelaide was literally less than half a goalpost width away from also being accurate.

So, why Hawthorn? Well, for starters, the maths doesn’t lie – someone always rises from the bottom five into the finals, and few of us ever see it coming. I don’t give West Coast or North Melbourne much if any chance of being that team, Gold Coast seem likely to have a few teething issues under Damien Hardwick that makes it impossible to back them to improve with any certainty, and while Fremantle certainly could bounce back this year, it’s hard to see where the spark will come from on a list I’d argue is worse than it was 12 months ago.

Mitch Lewis bends it in #AFLHawksLions

— AFL (@AFL) June 10, 2023

That leaves the Hawks, a team that, if you read any of my columns last year, you’ll know I’m very partial to.

Sure, they’ve had a nightmare injury run in the off-season – but Dylan Moore and Will Day should be back from the former’s bout of glandular fever and the latter’s foot injury before too long, and neither Changkuoth Jiath nor James Blanck leave irreplaceable chasms behind.

Especially in the second half of 2023, the Hawks’ best was terrifying – they beat both eventual grand finalists Brisbane and Collingwood somewhat emphatically, with a rampant midfield and strategic brilliance – from their ruthless exposure of the Lions’ stoppage weaknesses to Finn Maginness’ total blanketing of Nick Daicos – proof this is a team going in the right direction.

The arrival of Mabior Chol and Jack Gunston means less pressure on Mitch Lewis as the focal point in attack, as will Jack Ginnivan crumbing at their feet; while top draft pick Nick Watson strikes me as the sort of player who will take to AFL footy like a duck to water.

Throw in another year’s worth of improvement from Jai Newcombe, Day, Cameron Mackenzie and Joshes Ward and Weddle, and the Hawks will surely lift their ladder position in 2024.

And given my confidence someone will rise into the eight from the bottom five, I’m more than happy to have Mitchell’s Hawks be the team I throw my lot in with for the season to come. I pray they don’t make me look foolish.

Prediction: 8th

Are Hawthorn on their way back into the top eight? (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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Gold Coast

15th, 9-14, 91.7%

I’ve seen a lot of people back Gold Coast as their team to improve in 2024; and to be honest, I don’t really see it.

Yes, the arrival of Damien Hardwick, a proven top-tier coach with an immaculate record at Richmond, is the best thing for the club in the long term. And yes, this is a team chock full of talent, especially in midfield, and one well-stocked for key position players.

The building blocks are there for Hardwick to mould this team into first a finals, and then a premiership, threat; then again, this is the Suns we’re talking about, so God knows if that’s even possible.

Matt Rowell kicks a vital goal for the Suns!#AFLSunsDogs | #AFLDeadly

— AFL (@AFL) May 27, 2023

Even before a seriously clunky practice match loss to GWS, I had some concerns; it takes a while to adapt to a new coach’s game plan, and Hardwick’s style seems quite a contrast to how the Suns played under Stuart Dew – see the linked piece for more analysis on that.

In a team with far more talent (in my opinion) and with a core of senior players all with finals pedigree, it took Adam Kingsley half of 2023 to get his Giants to gel. Hardwick’s job is far tougher, from a much lower base; this seems likely to be a slow burn.

That’s why I’ve got the Suns again finishing closer to the foot of the ladder than the top – I’m still confident the day will come when Dimma leads them through the glass ceiling, but would be shocked if they broke through as early as 2024.

Prediction: 14th

Damien Hardwick. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


14th, 10-13, 96.7%

From semi-finalists down to 14th in just 12 months – 2023 was an annus horribilis for Fremantle, to add to a long and painful list of annus horribili for the men in purple.

The defence-first style that brought success and acclaim in their September return in 2022 was suddenly obsolete, with teams punishing their slow ball movement and ripping a once-miserly defence apart: the game plan changed mid-season to a more fluid, handball-happy one, but it was too little and too late.

Many teams in recent history have had a miserable year or two before climbing back up the ladder: most notably, Melbourne finished 17th in 2019 a year after a preliminary final berth and then missed the eight in 2020 too, before claiming three straight top-four appearances (and a flag) since.

After overseeing an ultra-smooth progression up the ladder since taking over at the start of 2020, Justin Longmuir failed his first major test at the helm, and another lowly season will undoubtedly see pressure rapidly mount.

Alex Pearce questions why they’re not being predicted to make it back to the eight. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

But with Lachie Schultz out the door, few if any of their young guns poised to break out – unless you count Hayden Young’s looming move to the midfield – and not much coming in to replace what’s being left behind, JL has his work cut out for him – and for this year at least, a rapid bounce-back may prove beyong him and the Dockers both.

Prediction: 13th

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