Glorifying the AFL's ball-winners and goalkickers is commonplace across the footballing landscape, but as the age-old adage goes: 'defence wins premierships'.

The club that holds the silverware aloft at the end of a season typically boasts a backline consisting of immovable key defenders, eagle-eyed interceptors and attack-minded flankers.

Last year's grand finalists, for example, each possessed stingy, impregnable defensive units, comprising stars such as Darcy Moore, Harris Andrews, Brayden Maynard, Brandon Starcevich, Isaac Quaynor and Keidean Coleman, among others.

So, taking into account last year's performance, current personnel and injuries, where does each club's defence rank as we prepare to embark on the 2024 season?

We've ranked every AFL club's backline from worst to first. Here's 18 through 13.

*Asterisk denotes a current injury to the player.


1. (18th) North Melbourne

Core personnel: Aidan Corr, Griffin Logue*, Charlie Comben, Toby Pink, Luke McDonald, Harry Sheezel, Zac Fisher*, Miller Bergman, Josh Goater

North Melbourne's defence enters the new campaign after something of a refresh, following premier key backman Ben McKay's departure to Essendon.

Logue's prolonged absence will hurt the Roos early, while former Carlton speedster Fisher will also start on the back foot after suffering a hamstring strain in the pre-season. 

There is, however, longer-term optimism surrounding the club's backline personnel, particularly after key-position stoppers Pink and Bigoa Nyuon were added via last year's exchange window. Comben's defensive transition is another season-long storyline worth monitoring. 

The Roos' apparent plan to deploy Sheezel and draftee Colby McKercher as a dynamic half-back-flanking duo figures to pay handsome dividends, but the unit as a whole is likely to struggle again after ranking bottom-two last year in average goals allowed (14.7), shots at goal conceded (29.4) and scoring shots allowed per inside-50 rate (46.8 per cent), along with a host of other disappointing performance metrics. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 13: Toby Pinnk of the Kangaroos in action during the North Melbourne Kangaroos training session at Arden Street on November 13, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)