On Friday night, as footy finals passion hits fever pitch, one tiny patch of Melbourne will be invaded by more than 140,000 one-eyed football fans of both the AFL and NRL variety.
With only this weekend’s matches to play out ahead of next weekend’s grand final games, Richmond will take on Collingwood at 7.50pm at the MCG for a spot in next Saturday’s AFL grand final.
And Cronulla Sharks will play Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park, with the kick off whistle blowing 10 minutes earlier.
The grounds are just 400 metres apart.
Hours before the bounce at the MCG, fans told The New Daily they were “trembling with nerves”.
Waiting outside the Richmond merchandise store at the ground, Richmond fan Ben Short said he had butterflies travelling from Brisbane.
“My whole family and I are just praying for a good result tonight,” he said.
Equally evangelical was Tigers fan Cal Sharpe, who was “feeling nervous. This week is more of a grand final than next week because it’s two really big clubs.”
Rosie from Edenhope, who was covered in head-to-toe yellow and black including her manicure, travelled seven hours to watch the game live.
“I’m nervous and excited. I think it could be a walkover but who knows, I just hope we win,” she said.
But Marion from Melbourne’s heart was with Collingwood: “I’ve been trembling with nerves all day, I just hope we can do this once again,” she said.
On Monday, all available tickets to the AFL preliminary final were sold out within 40 minutes for Richmond and Collingwood club members. On Tuesday morning, AFL members’ tickets sold out within half an hour.
Fans camped out the front of Ticketek outlets, fearing another online meltdown and by Thursday afternoon, the first Melbourne Cricket Club members were spotted setting up stretchers and Eskies to grab one of 13,000 seats available on a walk-up basis when the gates open at 5pm for Members’ Reserve seats.
"I might have miscalculated."
— Triple M Footy (@triplemfooty) September 20, 2018
By early Friday afternoon, as tens of thousands of excited fans were making their way to the grounds, queues outside the MCG were steadily growing back up through the MCG carpark.
Getting fuller at the MCC Members pic.twitter.com/RQmUWOxGBt
— jamie maloney (@swans2311) September 21, 2018
Meanwhile, nearby AAMI Park was almost deserted.
Former Collingwood Brownlow medallist Dane Swan cut a lonely figure as he caught up with retiring NRL great Billy Slater, 35, who will run out onto the ground for the last time.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) September 21, 2018
On the first night of school holidays, getting to the grounds by train, bus or car will be no mean feat.
The MCG again announced there will be no public parking available in Yarra Park. Brunton Avenue will be closed to all traffic.
According to the official MCG website, the nearby road closures, fan zones and live sites as well as peak hour traffic are all expected to bring major congestion to Melbourne’s clustered sporting precinct.
The free tram zone will be extended to the MCG from 4pm onwards on Friday. The extension includes Routes 48 and 75 (Wellington Parade, MCG stop) and Route 70 to Melbourne Olympic Park.
Victoria Police issued a warning on Thursday that there would be zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour by fans of either code.
Meanwhile, Richmond and Collingwood have named unchanged teams for the preliminary final, with a corked thigh unlikely to stop star Dustin Martin from playing.
Tigers football manager Neil Balme joked earlier this week that “the only way he [Martin] won’t play is if someone kidnaps him and doesn’t let him go to the game”.
Sharks ready for Storm
Cronulla will have to win its way to the NRL grand final without captain Paul Gallen after an injury ruled him out of the preliminary final .
The 37-year-old trained on Thursday and travelled to Melbourne with the team, despite tearing ligaments in his shoulder during last week’s one-point win over Penrith.
The Sharks had planned to give Gallen until midday on Friday to prove his fitness. But after further assessment in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon, they made the early call to end his race against the clock.