From a new team in a new state, to interstate opening matches, new teams without old faces and the two Sydney teams sitting first and second on the ladder, there’s been many talking points for AFL fans at the start of the new season.


There’s been much change to Australia’s homegrown sport in the opening weeks of competition.


AFL pundit Lachlan McKirdy has closely watched all the action unfold across the code and particularly the AFL’s expansion team Tasmania.


“It’s the perfect market for footy because by going to Tasmania, the AFL has 200,000-300,000 people there that know about footy because they got footy games every year,” the Daily Telegraph sports writer told Central News.


“Tasmania has got a really good chance to have a team that they can get behind, and we saw that with their amazing membership numbers already.”


The AFL announced the Tasmanian Devils last week, and already member numbers have soared to 150,000 in what will be the state’s fourth professional team, after the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL, the Tasmanian Tigers in Sheffield Shield and the Tasmanian Jack Jumpers in the NBL.


The Hawthorn Hawks and North Melbourne Kangaroos have played matches in either Hobart or Launceston over the years due to their sponsorships, which created interest in the state.


But why expand to the odd-numbered 19 teams?


McKirdy is adamant the league will expand to 20 teams after the Devils debut in 2028.


“It would add an extra game a week, which would be great for broadcasters and stakeholders,” he said.


“There’s a lot of different places to go, such as WA, South Australia, and Canberra, which have strong footy backroads and support their teams well.”


Opening round


The opening round format raised the eyebrows of many pundits, not opting for the traditional Richmond vs Carlton interstate.  


But, after crowds piled into the four stadiums across NSW and Queensland, there has been talk about making it a permanent feature.


McKirdy said the move, known as the ‘Round Zero’ interstate, was interesting.


“I’m a little bit biased, but especially when chatting with the Swans and Giants, they absolutely loved having the chance to market themselves and get massive crowds,” he said.


“For example, the Giants have never had that massive crowd in the Giants stadium, and it set the momentum perfectly for the rest of the year.


“There are tweaks that are needed as it is a bit strange how there are only eight teams involved, and that there are byes over the next few weeks.”


Sydney sides


The Sydney Swans and GWS Giants have raced out of the gates this season, with both sides first and second, with an extra game played.


Their opening performances across the first couple of rounds have had McKirdy engrossed.


“There’s no reason both teams won’t make the top four,” he said. “Certainly, I think the Giants will be a top-four side this year.


“I think both teams are playing as good footy as anyone, and whether things like injury and form, building momentum and dominating home games affect them. They should both be playing finals this year.”


The Swans had a massive off-season at the end of last year after being knocked out in the Elimination Final to eventual Preliminary finalists Carlton, 74-68.


Along with Buddy Franklin’s retirement it left a big hole in the side.


But McKirdy said from the Swans performances in the opening rounds, it seems they have already put last season’s setbacks behind them:


“They’ve been preparing for life without a Buddy for a couple of years,” he said.


“Everyone at the Swans says that ‘there is a hole because of Buddy’ and that ‘he was a really nice guy to have on the team’. 


“But, it’s really nice to see young kids step up and fill the void.”


The Swans’ preparation has paid off, with young guns Logan McDonald, Errol Gulden, Will Hayward and Chad Warner making significant contributions to the side’s recent performances.


McKirdy applauded the teams physicality, which is led by the young guns who are stepping up to the AFL plate.


“This year, they’re running more than they ever have, and they’re running teams ragged,” he said. “Their fitness is looking at an incredible level, which is something they haven’t been known for in the past.

I think whether it’s a Brownlow or a premiership, Tom Greene will do whatever he wants to get there.

“It will be a balancing act of young guys who are playing really well when they get their experienced stars [such as Taylor Adams, Luke Parker and Calum Mills] back in the squad.”


On the other side of town, the Giants have started this season flying, beating out the Swans to first place on the ladder, following an aggressive win against Collingwood in front of a record crowd and a victory against North Melbourne.  


Seeing the Giants flex their muscles early is something McKirdy said they don’t historically do, considering last season it took until the final round for them to sneak into seventh spot.


He said the Giants have the potential to race out to “9-1 or 8-2” due to their “soft start-of-the-season draw”, which involves match-ups against teams such as the Gold Coast Suns and West Coast Eagles. 


“Tom Greene, here is my tip for the Brownlow this year,” McKirdy said. “He’s got this ability to talk, talk, and walk, which is really unique.


“He looks to assert himself in the competition, and he doesn’t hide away from that, so I think whether it’s a Brownlow or a premiership, Tom Greene will do whatever he wants to get there.”


Greene has already raced out to 2nd on the individual ladder for disposals per game, 4th in handballs per game and 5th in score involvements.

Main image created using GenCraft AI.