Questions to ponder ahead of Round 4: Will the Lions roar to life, Will Freo’s form stand up and Can Ginni upstage former club?


Ahead of the much anticipated Gather Round, we ponder and dissect the big storylines as the AFL world descends upon South Australia.

Adelaide v Melbourne

How will Adelaide plan to bypass the Dees’ defence?
An early observation of Adelaide’s 0-3 start has been their inability to negate opposition defences.

Whether it was Gold Coast pair Charlie Ballard and Wil Powell in Round 1, the experienced Freo pair of Luke Ryan and Alex Pearce in Round 3 or Tom Stewart who had a record 10 intercept marks in Round 2, Adelaide needs to do something about curbing the influence of the opposition’s defensive rebounders.

The Crows have only been able to score 55 points on average so far in 2023 as they are simply unable to counteract the best rebounders of the opposition despite numerous different plans.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Crows who are up against the defensive powerhouse of Melbourne and ex-Crow Jake Lever and potentially Steven May depending on his recovery from broken ribs.

Unless they can rediscover their attacking potency and effectively figure out how to curb Melbourne’s defence expect similar forward struggles for the Crows on Thursday night.

Brisbane v North Melbourne

Can Brisbane rediscover their forward connection?
It was supposedly the club with the most potent forward line but three rounds in, the efficiency and dynamism of the Lions’ offence is severely lacking.

Their inefficiency was seen last Thursday night against Collingwood, the Lions lost by 20 points despite having 13 more inside 50s than Pies, and in the first three rounds, their efficiency inside 50 has been below 40% compared to almost 50% in 2023.

In particular, the tall forwards of Brisbane Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher have started poorly with only nine goals in the first three rounds and only recording one goal and a solitary contested mark between them against Collingwood.

Against a North Melbourne side that is defensively vulnerable, Friday’s match at Norwood Oval provides a much-needed opportunity for the Lions, especially their key forwards to rediscover their forward connection and spark which took them within a goal of winning a premiership in 2023.

Brisbane Lions. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images )

Port Adelaide v Essendon

Which team has the better young midfield?
If Port Adelaide is to achieve success in 2024, it will be reliant on its young star-studded midfield.

The midfield, led by first-year captain Connor Rozee and Zak Butters and complemented by the experienced Ollie Wines and Travis Boak were able to beat Melbourne’s star midfield in both clearances and contested possessions in a game which they would ordinarily win if it weren’t for crucial defensive errors.

However, they will be challenged by another impressive young midfield in the Bombers.

With inspirational captain Zach Merrett, Essendon leads the competition in terms of average clearances per match and the next generation of talent in Archie Perkins, Will Setterfield and Ben Hobbs seem to be showing great signs for the future.

Starting with Friday night, we could see these midfielders spar for many years, and it’ll be interesting to see how good the Bombers’ men fare against a proven All-Australian level midfield which is still young.

West Coast Eagles v Sydney Swans

What is the Eagles’ game plan?
Already in 2024, Eagles fans are faced with another horror season with an 0-3 start and a percentage of just 42.8.

Last Sunday’s loss to the Bulldogs, was particularly disappointing as Adam Simpson’s men were only able to kick one goal after quarter-time.

The astounding part of the Eagle’s 76-point loss was that they had the same number of inside 50s as the Bulldogs and even beat the Dogs star midfield in clearances but forward of centre, the side seemed to have no connection or clarity as to how they would score.

Whilst fellow cellar dweller North Melbourne has also had a 0-3 start, Roos fans can at least see an identifiable attacking game plan in the so-called ‘Norfball’, averaging 80 points a game.

On the contrary, the Eagles look like they have no plan to generate scores and Adam Simpson is going to have to figure out a method that his otherwise young team can implement if he is to prevent 2024 from spiralling out of control.

Fremantle v Carlton

How far can Treacy and Amiss lead Freo?
Fremantle has started the season in impressive fashion and one aspect of their play that has excited fans is the emergence of the young key forward duo of Josh Treacy and Jye Amiss.

The pair started the season with a combined 7 goals in Round 1 and have kicked 12 goals and 36 score involvements in the first three rounds.

A criticism of the Dockers under Justin Longmuir has been their inability to generate scores and demonstrate an attacking flair however Amiss and Treacy look like a duo that will only get better the more they play and could potentially lead the Dockers’ finals hopes in 2024.

However, they will have their most difficult test this week against fellow top-four aspirants in Carlton with the duo to come up against a solid defence led by the likes of Jacob Weitering, Mitch McGovern and Nic Newman.

Saturday afternoon’s match provides the perfect opportunity for this young forward duo to enhance their credentials and showcase how far they can lead this team in 2024.

Jye Amiss of the Dockers celebrates a goal with teammates. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Western Bulldogs v Geelong

Where are the Bulldogs actually at?
After a hugely disappointing Round 1 loss to Melbourne, the Bulldogs have responded in great style with convincing wins against Gold Coast and West Coast.

However, the quality that the Bulldogs beat is questionable at best and therefore we do not really know where Luke Beveridge’s side is actually at.

Saturday night’s game against Geelong at a neutral Adelaide Oval presents the perfect opportunity for the Dogs to show that they have put Round 1 behind them and enhance their credentials.

One aspect of the Dogs’ play that will be challenged in particular is their defence as they have been ranked as the second-best backline this season.

The newer players in the backline such as Buku Khamis and Lachie Bramble alongside the experienced Liam Jones will have a whole new challenge when they face power forwards Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.

If this unheralded defence can quell the Geelong offence and contribute to a Bulldogs win, we will be more definitive as to how far the Bulldogs can go in 2023.

Gold Coast Suns v GWS Giants

How stable is the Suns’ defence?
Even though they started the season in fine style, the Suns’ 48-point loss to the Bulldogs in Ballarat highlighted that there is still much room for improvement under Damien Hardwick.

One aspect of this Suns side that needs to tighten up if they are serious about playing finals Is their defensive stability, particularly in conceding large run-on of goals.

Against the Dogs, the Suns conceded nine goals within the first quarter and in Round 1 against Adelaide, they let the Crows kick five goals in a row in the last quarter and only just held on for a six-point win after leading by 36 points.

The core of this side has nicely developed its experience and skill so far in 2024 and can no longer use the excuse of their youth if they are serious about finals contention.

For them to make the next step up, Hardwick needs to figure out a way to maintain defensive stability even when momentum is against them.

GWS Giant Josh Kelly celebrates a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Richmond v St Kilda

How far can Jack Higgins go in 2024?
In the first three games of the season, Jack Higgins has showcased blistering form, kicking seven goals, and averaging eight score involvements over the first three games.

Higgins has typified the more aggressive style of play that the Saints have shown under Ross Lyon and has led an exciting forward line featuring young guns in Mitch Owens and Darcy Wilson.

Whilst we’ve seen glimpses of Higgins’ best in his St Kilda career, kicking at least 25 goals in every season since moving across from Richmond, this year may be the year where we truly see him become one of the game’s elite small forwards and potentially challenge for an All-Australian berth.

Against his old side this week, Higgins could have a field day considering the Tigers’ deficiencies and inexperience down back and further build his credentials as one of the most important players for the Saints to build on their elimination final loss in 2023.

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Collingwood v Hawthorn

Are Moore and Ginnivan the natural successors to Breust and Gunston?
It’s not surprising at all that the two remaining premiership players from Hawthorn’s dynasty between 2013-15 are the ever-reliable Luke Breust and Jack Gunston who have a major role to play in guiding this young Hawks forward line in their rebuild.

However it seems coach Sam Mitchell will not have to look much further to find their natural successors.

Although they are slightly different players, Dylan Moore and Jack Ginnivan seem like the perfect players to lead Hawthorn’s forwards for the next 10 years.

Whilst it might not be evident in their goal returns, the two young guns inject some much-needed spirit and excitement into the Hawks forward line.

We’ve already seen what Ginnivan is capable of at Collingwood with his ability to grasp big moments and Moore has showcased that he does more than hit the scoreboard, averaging more than 20 disposals in his last two seasons.

Whilst they may be 0-3, with these two forwards leading the exciting youth at the club, Hawks fans may not have to wait long to go back to the highs of the 2010s.

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