It was a concept widely criticised after its announcement, but the AFL’s Opening Round gave us plenty to talk about as the 2024 season got underway.

From players and coaches starting with their new teams, to results that could tell us a lot more about how the season is going to unfold, there was a heap to unpack from the first four games of the year.

These are the five quick hits from the first round of the season.

1. Red and white suits new Swan Grundy

It’s been so long since we’ve seen Brodie Grundy at his absolute best, it’s become easy to forget just how good he can be.

On Thursday night, against rival-turned-sparring-partner-turned-rival-again Max Gawn, Grundy played his best game since his All Australian years with Collingwood. He was back to being the combative, physical and skilful force he always used to be.

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Gawn made a strong start in the ruck but Grundy wore him down over the course of the night. By the time it got to the critical final quarter, Grundy was the leader of a Swans midfield that stormed away from their opponents.

Nobody is expecting Grundy to maintain such spectacular form week in and week out, but glimpses like this prove the Swans have pulled off a serious trade steal. He could be the difference between Sydney being finals fancies and serious flag contenders.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Nick Blakey (Swans)

2. Brodie Grundy (Swans)

1. Jack Viney (Demons)

2. Carlton’s hopes hinge on the boot of McKay

Carlton fans held their collective breath as Harry McKay lined up from about 40m out with 78 seconds left on the clock in their clash with Brisbane.

Having been a key cog in the stunning comeback from 46 points down in the second quarter, fans could only imagine what was going through that big head of his.

McKay’s kicking yips have been yipping on and off for years now. In his Coleman Medal year of 2021, he converted at an acceptable rate of 63 per cent. A year later it was 59 per cent. Last season, it was a 50-50 flip of the coin as to whether he was putting it between the big sticks or either side of them.

But with the game on the line and the walls of the Gabba fortress looking perilously close to tumbling, the big Blue calmly hoofed it through for a major and secured Carlton a win for the ages.

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On paper, the Blues are primed to end a premiership drought that’s ticking a minute from midnight into three decades long — but McKay has to keep his accuracy on track to stop that clock dead in its tracks.

It was a win that told us a lot about Carlton’s resilience and explosiveness. Against a Brisbane team that’s mature enough and talented to use its loss as a learning experience, this victory was arguably Carlton’s greatest is recent history.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Adam Cerra (Blues)

2. Hugh McCluggage (Lions)

1. Harry McKay (Blues)

3. Suns are primed but need greater spread

Let’s not beat around the bush: this might have been the worst 22 that Richmond has put on the park for the better part of a decade.

With more experience under the belt they will improve, but expectations of victory at Carrara in a team without Jack Riewoldt, Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Toby Nankervis and Tom Lynch would have been misguided at best.

The Suns, without doubt, should have won that game, and had Gold Coast fans been offered the 39 point margin pre-match they would have pocketed it with enthusiasm.

The issue is that they led by 67 points just before half-time, and had Richmond debutant Seth Campbell converted a mid-range shot one minute into the final quarter, that lead would have been wrangled back to 20 points on the back of eight unanswered Tigers goals.

Bodhi Uwland

Bodhi Uwland provided an inspired bit of defending in the last quarter to help repel a Tigers attack.(Getty Images: Russell Freeman/AFL Photos)

It was a concerning capitulation after an explosive start.

The Suns are primed to make a raid on a finals spot for the first time in their history. Their blue riband midfield feeding a dangerous forward line won’t be the thing that holds them back — what they get out of their lower tier players will.

In a promising sign, fourth gamer Bodhi Uwland showed what’s needed from that group in the last quarter, when his defensive desperation and repeat efforts to single-handedly repel a Tigers attack had Suns fans on their feet. It was the sort of stuff Damien Hardwick will be desperate to see more of as the season plays out.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Matt Rowell (Suns)

2. Ben King (Suns)

1. Will Powell (Suns)

4. Cox pokes the Giant and pays the price

The great American tradition of being a little bit obnoxious had the Giants spitting fire at Mason Cox.

A polarising figure at times, Cox had got under the skin of GWS fans after tweeting in November that it was insulting Collingwood was being sent to the home of the Giants for the opening round after winning the flag in 2023.

“Round 1 NRL goes to Las Vegas. AFL premiers go to … a showground for livestock,” he wrote.

In response, the Giants set up a petting zoo outside the ground with a cardboard cut out of the premiership Pie.

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Not content to let the flickering flame of tomfoolery extinguish there, Cox decided to insert himself into the Giants’ pre-match ball-up drills, pushing ruck coach and man mountain Shane Mumford out of the way in the process.

Or did he? According to some reports from the grassy knoll of the outer, the first shot was actually fired by the Giants midfield group and Mumford encroaching on Cox’s space as he contested one final practice bounce.

Whatever the truth was, it had Brent Daniels fired up on Sunday accusing Cox of ‘carrying on’, while the AFL went on to issue an official ‘please explain’.

Understanding the irony of writing these very words in a section focusing on Cox, it was almost a shame that his antics dominated the headlines, because GWS played some beautiful footy on their way to a 32-point win.

From what we saw on Saturday night, pre-season predictions that the Giants are primed to claim their first flag looked pretty spot on.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Tom Green (Giants)

2. Jesse Hogan (Giants)

1. Lachie Whitfield (Giants)

5. Opening Round gives us something different

It rightfully had its detractors, and while the jury will still be out on the merits of not playing any footy in the traditional Aussie Rules states to start the season, the AFL would be buzzing with what they got out of Opening Round.

Anyone who headed along to the match at Carrara would have seen a big chunk of seats unoccupied in the north-east section of the grandstand, but on paper, all four matches were listed as sell-outs.

Overall it was a clever bit of scheduling. On a night with no NRL being played in Sydney, the Swans and Demons clash with the added intrigue of Grundy’s debut was always going to be a drawcard. 

With the Broncos taking a seat after their Las Vegas jaunt last weekend, the Lions owned the Brisbane stage and hosted the traditionally high away-crowd-drawing Blues.

On the Gold Coast, Richmond fans flocked to Carrara to see what Damien Hardwick had been up to in the off-season, promptly booing him every time he appeared on the big screen.

And at the ‘showground for livestock’, the burgeoning rivalry between the Pies and the Giants was a sure bet for success, due in no small part to Collingwood’s reputation for boosting away game numbers.

In one of the great cop out phrases in history, time will tell whether Opening Round has a long-term future. But on the small sample size of 2024, the AFL’s decision makers will be thrilled with what they’ve seen.

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