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The Roar


The crucial cogs of AFL's Round 1: Which players need to be the difference makers?

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Roar Guru
13th March, 2024

It’s going to be the first time in the history of the AFL when ten teams haven’t played prior to round 1; only eight teams featured in the round dubbed Opening Round. We’re taking a look at one player from each team who will need to make a difference this weekend.

Carlton v Richmond


Blake Acres had a decent game against Brisbane in Opening Round; he polled one Coaches’ vote and played his role well, the winger had 11 contested possessions to go with seven score involvements and six intercept possessions. In the absence of Docherty, Acres will be motivated to be at his best when Carlton take on Richmond.

Tim Taranto in action during Richmond training.

Tim Taranto at Richmond training. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


Tim Taranto’s performance was below par against Gold Coast in Opening Round as he finished with just 15 disposals. To go with that, he had a disposal efficiency of 53.3 per cent! Put simply, Richmond need the former GWS player to improve if they’re a chance of causing an upset against Carlton.

Collingwood v Sydney



Darcy Cameron should take confidence into Collingwood’s Round 1 clash with Sydney after a solid display against GWS. The 28-year-old kicked two goals, had 30 hit-outs, five tackles, five score involvements and five intercept possessions. He will be up against his former team in Round 1 and Brodie Grundy, his former teammate at Collingwood. Cameron also has the capability to drift forward and hit the scoreboard. Since Mason Cox had a lacklustre game in Opening Round, it puts the onus on Cameron to play out of his skin against Grundy.


Nick Blakey provided plenty of drive off half-back against Melbourne and he was at his best when the team needed him to be. The problem for Collingwood in Round 1 is that they need someone to stop his run and carry and it’s difficult to see anyone negating his influence on the game.

Nick Blakey is tackled by Dan Butler.

Sydney’s Nick Blakey is tackled by St Kilda’s Dan Butler. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Essendon v Hawthorn



Xavier Duursma could play a key role on the wing in what will be his first game for Essendon. The former Port Adelaide player may well be up against ex-teammate Karl Amon. Having Duursma play on the wing will allow Essendon to be less reliant on Nic Martin, who could have a role playing on the half-back flank or drifting forward.


James Sicily averaged the second most intercepts per game in 2023 with 9.42 in the 19 games he featured in. This preseason the Western Bulldogs beat Hawthorn by 57 points, with Sicily having just four intercept possessions and the Western Bulldogs’ two key forwards each kicking four goals. The key defender must play a key role if Hawthorn are to start the season well.

GWS v North Melbourne



Jesse Hogan could expose the lack of quality key defenders for North Melbourne; they lost Ben McKay to Essendon and will be without former Fremantle key defender Griffin Logue due to a knee injury. The experienced key forward won’t get a better opportunity to get rewarded for his hard work with a bag of goals.

North Melbourne

George Wardlaw has plenty of potential and should be a key component of a North Melbourne midfield that will be without their co-captain Jy Simpkin in Round 1. Wardlaw showed his wares, given the potential AFL Rising Star had 12 tackles and should bring that vigour into Round 1 against GWS midfielders Tom Green, Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio.

Tom Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield and Mitch Duncan.

Geelong legends Tom Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield and Mitch Duncan. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Geelong v St Kilda


Mitch Duncan could play a key role if Geelong are to get the four points against St Kilda, especially with Cam Guthrie missing due to a quad injury. In the preseason game against Essendon Duncan had 21 disposals, four tackles and four score involvements in 71 per cent game time. The 32-year-old could play on the wing, in the midfield or on a half-back flank, which makes him a quality utility that’s extremely valuable.


St Kilda

Rowan Marshall should lead by example; he has been added to the St Kilda leadership group. Their number one ruckman is like an extra midfielder and in 2023 the 28-year-old averaged 20.5 disposals per game in 2023. The matchup between Rhys Stanley and Rowan Marshall should favour St Kilda.

Gold Coast v Adelaide

Gold Coast

Jack Lukosius has been a revelation under new Gold Coast coach Damien Hardwick; he kicked four goals in their preseason game against GWS and followed that up with three goals in Opening Round against Richmond. Lukosius could play a key role this week too; he kicked five goals last year against Adelaide in round 12, then another two in Round 21 when the two teams faced off again.



Izak Rankine should come into this game with plenty of motivation to prove that his move to Adelaide was the right one. Given the preseason form Rankine has shown, Gold Coast could struggle to curtail his influence; he kicked four goals against West Coast and was probably the best player on the ground.

Adelaide Crows players.

Izak Rankine and the Crows walk off after a loss. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Melbourne v Western Bulldogs


Jake Lever had little influence on the game in Opening Round; Sydney chose to use Robbie Fox to negate him, which restricted his usual game and he finished with just four intercept possessions. The 28-year-old will need to be improve in Round 1; he’ll be up against Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Aaron Naughton at different times.

Western Bulldogs

Adam Treloar looked in good nick in the preseason against Hawthorn; Treloar had an impressive ten score involvements. He is going to be important against Melbourne in Round 1, to take the pressure off Tom Liberatore and Marcus Bontempelli; It will be intriguing to see Treloar up against Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and Christian Petracca.


Port Adelaide v West Coast

Port Adelaide

Connor Rozee has been named captain of Port Adelaide and will play with a point to prove. He had eight score involvements when his team took on Fremantle in preseason. The 24-year-old should perform well when Port Adelaide take on West Coast in Round 1 and relish the opportunity to play against Tim Kelly and Elliot Yeo.

West Coast

Bailey J. Williams will want to prove that he is the number one ruckman for West Coast when they take on Port Adelaide; new recruit Matt Flynn will be out with a hamstring injury for ten to 12 weeks. Williams will face a tough test, most probably against Richmond recruit Ivan Soldo and maybe Western Bulldogs recruit Jordan Sweet, should Port Adelaide choose to go with two ruckmen.

Jeremy Finlayson and Connor Rozee celebrate a goal.

Port Adelaide’s Jeremy Finlayson and Connor Rozee celebrate a goal. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Fremantle v Brisbane



Luke Jackson will need to be at his best to cover for the absent Sean Darcy against Brisbane. The former Melbourne ruckman/forward was sorely missed by Fremantle in their preseason game against Port Adelaide where they were soundly beaten.


Darcy Wilmot had a good game against Carlton in Opening Round, with the most metres gained of any player on the ground (522). The 20-year-old has become even more important to Brisbane than he was coming into the season after Brisbane lost Kaidean Coleman to a knee injury. It was an impressive display by Wilmot, polling three Coaches’ Votes. He’s a player that Fremantle may look to negate.