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The Roar



What would the AFL ladder look like if each team played each other only once?

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Roar Guru
14th July, 2021

Round 18 gets underway tonight, with eight of the nine games being rematches from earlier games this season. Only tonight’s match-up at Optus between Fremantle and Geelong avoids that nomenclature.

So this feels like a good week to bring out my yearly feature, the once-around fixture.

For 60-plus years, the 12-team VFL had a 22-game schedule because it meant each club played the other eleven clubs twice each. That’s a lengthy but not unmanageable season. When expansion started in the 1980’s, there was no appetite (and rightly so) for expanding the season to 24, 26, 28 games, so pure fairness was sacrificed for practicality. So, for the last 35 years or so, each team in the AFL has played some teams once and some teams twice.

The league has used a slough of balancing acts in the schedules in its attempts to keep the playing field as level as it can be but, by the very nature of this design, there’s going to be some imbalance.

In our present 18-team league, each team plays 22 games, which means of your 17 opponents, you would face five twice and the rest just once. There’s a guide to balancing the teams you face twice, and the ten teams with regional rivals always have their derby game duplicated, but fans often wonder how fair the final product is.

Thus, four years ago, I started tracing what the ladder would look like if we only counted games played against an opponent the first time the teams met. Rematches were excluded from the final ladder, so the result is as close to a true once-around fixture as we can make out of the current 22-game schedule.


In the previous four iterations, there haven’t been any severe differences in the result, which justifies the AFL’s approach as far as the final product goes. The most drastic change came in 2016, when North crashed in the last ten games, so eliminating five duplicates kept the Kangas higher up the finals ladder in sixth, rather than eighth.

Let’s take a look at the current standings for the AFL ladder, the current once-around ladder, and what remains for each team to face in the latter.

In parentheses, you’ll see how many of the games already played by the club are rematches (and thus don’t count in their once around standings), and how many games they have left against new opponents they’ve yet to play against this season.

1. Melbourne (13-3) 13-2 (one rematch so far; two games remaining)
2. Geelong (12-4) 12-3, (one rematch; two games remaining)
3. Western Bulldogs (12-4) 10-4, (two rematches; three games remaining)
4. Port Adelaide (11-5) 11-5, (no rematches; one game remaining)
5. Brisbane (11-5) 10-5, (one rematch; two games remaining)
6. Sydney (10-6) 10-6, (no rematches; one game remaining)
7. West Coast (8-8) 8-7, (one rematch; two games remaining)
8. Fremantle (8-8) 7-7, (two rematches; three games remaining)
9. Richmond (7-9) 7-8, 99% (one rematch; two games remaining)
10. St Kilda (8-8) 7-8, 86% (one rematch; two games remaining)
11. GWS Giants (7-8-1) 6-8-1 (one rematch; two games remaining)
12. Essendon (7-9) 6-9, 103% (one rematch; two games remaining)
13. Gold Coast (6-10) 6-9, 89% (one rematch; two games remaining)
14. Carlton (6-10) 5-10, (one rematch; two games remaining)
15. Collingwood (5-11) 5-11, 91% (no rematches; one game remaining)
16. Adelaide (5-11) 5-11, 81% (no rematches; one game remaining)
17. Hawthorn (4-12) 4-10 (two rematches; three games remaining)
18. North Melbourne (3-12-1) 2-11-1 (two rematches; three games remaining)

The key to watching this race to the end is knowing which games are duplicates and which games will count towards the final once-around ladder. So, here are the answers.

Melbourne (13-2) – has yet to play at Gold Coast (Round 19) and at West Coast (Round 21). The Demons are favoured in the first and a very narrow favourite for the second. Even if they lost both games, however, only Geelong and the Bulldogs could theoretically overtake them. Rematches still to come versus Hawthorn (Round 18), the Western Bulldogs (Round 20), Adelaide (Round 22), and at Geelong (Round 23).

Geelong (12-3) – has yet to play versus the GWS Giants (Round 21) and at Fremantle (Round 18). They are favoured in both games. Rematches still to come versus Richmond (Round 19), at North Melbourne (Round 20), versus St Kilda (Round 22) and Melbourne (Round 23).

Western Bulldogs (10-4) – has yet to play versus Adelaide (Round 19), Essendon (Round 21), and at Hawthorn (Round 22). They will be prohibitive favourites in all three games, so they still have a chance. Rematches still to come at Gold Coast (Round 18), at Melbourne (Round 20), and versus Port Adelaide (Round 23).


Port Adelaide (11-5) – has yet to play at GWS (Round 20). Port is a narrow favourite in this game as of right now. Rematches still to come at St Kilda (Round 18), versus Collingwood (Round 19), “at” Adelaide (Round 21), versus Carlton (Round 22) and at the Western Bulldogs (Round 23).

Brisbane (10-5) – has yet to play at Hawthorn (Round 19) and versus West Coast (Round 23). They should start both games as strong favourites. Rematches still to come at Richmond (Round 18), versus Gold Coast (Round 20), at Fremantle (Round 21), and versus Collingwood (Round 22).

Sydney (10-6) – has yet to play at North Melbourne (Round 22), whom they should defeat easily. Rematches still to come at the Giants (Round 18), versus Fremantle (Round 19), at Essendon (Round 20), at St Kilda (Round 21), and versus the Gold Cast Suns (Round 23).

West Coast (8-7) – has yet to play Melbourne (Round 21) and at Brisbane (Round 23). They would be very slight underdogs against Melbourne as of now, but the Lions start hard favourites in Round 23. Rematches still to come at the Crows (Round 18), versus the Saints (Round 19), at the Magpies Round 20, and the Western Darby (Round 22).

Fremantle (7-7) – has yet to play Richmond (Round 20) and at St Kilda (Round 23). They would be mild favourites at home and mild underdogs on the road. Rematches still to come versus Geelong (Round 18), at the Swans (Round 19), at the Lions (Round 21), and versus West Coast (Round 22).

Richmond (7-8) – has yet to play at Fremantle (Round 20) and versus North Melbourne (Round 21), where they are going to go off underdogs in Perth and heavy favourites at the MCG. Rematches still to come versus Brisbane (Round 18), Geelong (Round 19), at GWS (Round 22), and versus Hawthorn (Round 23).

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St Kilda (7-8) – has yet to play Carlton (Round 20) and Fremantle (Round 23), with the Saints favoured at Marvel in both matches. Rematches still to come versus the Power (Round 18), at the Eagles (Round 19), versus the Swans (Round 21), and at the Cats (Round 23).

GWS Giants (6-8-1) – has yet to play Port Adelaide in Canberra (Round 20) and at Geelong (Round 21); the Giants will be underdogs in both games. Rematches still to come include the touring Sydney Darby (Round 18), at Essendon (Round 19), versus Richmond (Round 22), and at Carlton (Round 23).

Essendon (6-9) – has yet to play at the Western Bulldogs (Round 21) and at Gold Coast (Round 22). The first seems a certain loss; the second not so much. Rematches still to come versus the Kangaroos (Round 18), Giants (Round 19), and Swans (Round 20), all at Marvel; and the Magpies (Round 21(=) at the MCG.

Gold Coast (6-9) – has yet to play Melbourne (Round 19) and Essendon (Round 22), both at home, in theory, so both have a fighting chance to go Gold Coast’s way – especially the second one. Rematches still to come versus the Bulldogs (Round 18), at the Lions (Round 20), at Blues (Round 21), and at the SCG against the Swans (Round 23).

Carlton (5-10) – has yet to play North Melbourne (Round 19) and St Kilda (Round 20). Most likely to go 1-1. Rematches still to come versus the Magpies (Round 18), the Suns (Round 21), at the Power (Round 22), and versus the Giants at Marvel (Round 23).


Collingwood (5-11) – has yet to play Hawthorn at the MCG (Round 21), where they’ll prob be the favourite. Rematches still to come versus Carlton (Round 18), at the Power (Round 19), versus the Eagles (Round 20), at the Lions (Round 22), and hosting the Bombers (Round 23).

Adelaide (5-11) – has yet to play the Western Bulldogs (but will, in Round 19 at Ballarat as the underdog). Rematches still to come versus the Eagles (Round 18), Hawks (Round 20), Power (Round 21), at the Demons (Round 22), and versus the Kangaroos (Round 23).

Hawthorn (4-10) – has yet to play versus Brisbane (Round 19), Collingwood (Round 21), and the Western Bulldogs (Round 22) at UTAS. They’d be thrilled to win one of those, most probably the middle one. Rematches still to come versus the Demons in Round 18, at the Crows (Round 20), and the Tigers (Round 23).

North Melbourne (2-11-1) – has yet to play Carlton (Round 19), Richmond (Round 21), and Sydney (Round 22). None are impossible missions, but it seems unlikely they’ll be favoured in any of those three games. Rematches still to come versus the Bombers (Round 18), the Cats (Round 20), and the Crows (Round 23) at the Adelaide Oval.

Projecting forward, a reasonable once-around finals bracket might well look like this.

Qualifying final: 1st, Melbourne 15-2 vs 4th, Brisbane or Port Adelaide 12-5
Qualifying final: 2nd, Geelong 14-3 vs 3rd, Western Bulldogs 13-4
Elimination final: 5th, Port Adelaide or Brisbane 12-5 vs 8th, Fremantle or West Coast 9-8
Elimination final: 6th, Sydney 11-6 vs Fremantle or West Coast 9-8

I’ll use whatever duplicate games I can (including finals games they play this September) to play out the finals as best I can, just for kicks.