St Kilda fans during the AFL match between Hawthorn and St Kilda in Round 4, 2022 (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Zero Digital Media)

The start of the 2023 AFL season has seen some unexpected results, with what many would have considered an unpredictable top eight heading into Round 3.

Sydney occupy the top spot, not completely unexpected after their 2022 campaign, but sitting right below them is St Kilda, Essendon and then in fifth spot, North Melbourne.

A month ago, North Melbourne were considered one of the surest options for the wooden spoon. But now, under new coach Alastair Clarkson, the Kangaroos have shown drastic improvement in their opening two rounds.

The Roos have had wins over West Coast (5 points) and Fremantle (1 point) to start the season, and their new era under Clarkson, already levelling the amount of wins they had last season.

Essendon meanwhile, have given their fans something to smile about in Brad Scott's first season at the helm, coming into Round 3 undefeated after convincing wins over Hawthorn and Gold Coast.

After a dismal 2022 season, where the Bombers were judged on their effort, fitness, leadership, and basically everything else in between, the change is a welcome sight. Similar of that to St Kilda.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Newly appointed Essendon Bombers AFL coach Brad Scott poses for the media during a press conference at The Hangar on September 30, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The Saints ended 2022 not by embarking on a finals campaign, but sacking a coach months after he had signed a new contract extension after a disappointing year. Heading into 2022, the hope for finals was tangible at Moorabbin. Prior to the 2023, it seemed that hope had dwindled slightly as the club welcomed back Ross Lyon, unsure if their old leader would take them back to the top, or continue to the bottom.

So far, it has been the top. St Kilda sit just behind Sydney on the ladder, earning wins over Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs, both of whom were expected finals contenders pre-season.

Now, these two meet each other as the second and third teams on the ladder, in a 150th celebration match many were expecting to be more of a fizzle than a Saturday night delight.

Yet a pesky question still remains, how good are these teams really?

After a few rough seasons, it's natural for fans to get excited over the prospect of genuine and tangible improvement, but two weeks of football isn't enough time to get a solid read on how good a team really is.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 21: Ross Lyon the coach of the Saints talks to Josh Battle and Geoff Walsh during a St Kilda Saints AFL training session at RSEA Park on November 21, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Take Sydney for example, last season's runners-up appear to be on track to replicate, or do better, than their 2022 efforts, currently sitting first on the ladder with an extremely healthy percentage of 232.7%.

However, the Swans' first two games have come against Gold Coast and Hawthorn. Come the end of the first month of the season, once Sydney have faced Melbourne and Port Adelaide, we should know a little more about John Longmire's side.

Essendon, while they have performed exceptionally well, are yet to face a real test. The Bombers have played Hawthorn and Gold Coast, both teams expected to occupy the bottom rungs of the ladder. Come April though, Essendon will face Melbourne, Collingwood and Geelong in a row. That's when we will learn what this team is about.

Gazing back to 2022, at this point in the season heading into Round 3, Hawthorn sat atop the table. The Hawks ended the season in 13th position.

Despite that, the rest of the top eight remained remarkably consistent, though both Carlton and Gold Coast dropped out.

North Melbourne Kangaroos player Harry Sheezel Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images via AFL Photos

The opening weeks of the season can tell us a lot, but very rarely gives us the full picture of how the season is going to unfold.

Will St Kilda, Essendon and North Melbourne all be in the top eight come Round 23? It's unlikely, but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been incredible improvement thus far.

The Saints have improved their tackling, are winning more clearances and have conceded the fewest amount of points in the competition across the opening two rounds. They are playing a new style under Ross Lyon, the defence is standing tall and the make-shift forward line is relishing in having more forward 50 entries than last year.

It's a similar tale at the Kangaroos, who are witnessing the incredible rookie campaign of Harry Sheezel and standout season so far of Luke Davies-Uniacke. The Roos, who claimed two consecutive wooden spoons in 2021 and 2022, have improved their pressure around the ground, are hitting the scoreboard more often than 2022, and are conceding less points.

This weekend is full of fascinating match ups, with the Saints taking on the Bombers in their milestone match, while Alastair Clarkson will face his old side down in Launceston.

St Kilda and Essendon both have the opportunity to prove themselves on the prime time stage, with one of the two set to go 3-0. The Kangaroos meanwhile can beat their win tally from the 2022 season just 3 rounds into this year if they get the job done against the Hawks.

It's hard to predict which way these games will swing, and that's the beauty of the opening month of the season.