Sport AFL AFL blockbusters locked in for restart next month

AFL blockbusters locked in for restart next month

The AFL only completed Round 1 of the 2020 season before all games were officially suspended on March 21. Photo: Getty
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The AFL has announced a series of heavyweight Thursday and Friday night fixtures as it aims to restart the 2020 season with a bang next month.

Victorian heavyweights Richmond and Collingwood will kick off the stalled season on June 11 and will each play three times in featured time slots over the opening four weeks of the restart.

The first week of the rebooted campaign will include Geelong hosting bitter rivals Hawthorn under lights on Friday, and a showdown in Adelaide on Saturday evening.

Queensland hub-bound West Coast and Fremantle will take on Gold Coast and Brisbane respectively, while Round 1 losers Carlton and Melbourne lock horns.

Sunday will feature Greater Western Sydney playing North Melbourne, Sydney against Essendon and St Kilda against the Western Bulldogs.

Read the fixture here for the next four rounds

AFL fixtures boss Travis Auld on Monday released a schedule for Rounds 2 to 5.

“To relaunch the season we have focused on scheduling blockbuster match-ups across these four weeks, particularly in the Thursday and Friday night prime-time slots,” Auld said.

“As we navigate through the remaining 108 games plus finals, we will continue to be adaptable with our scheduling, ensuring our fixtures align with the relevant state government restrictions in place at the time.”

Auld unveiled a new Sunday evening time slot that will likely remain in play all season as the AFL prioritises television broadcasts and viewership, after taking a huge financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be more Thursday night matches in the foreseeable future, with the league not having to factor in whether fans can attend mid-week fixtures.

Auld was hopeful government restrictions would be eased to allow crowds to return later in the season, with reports claiming crowds could gradually be ramped up towards the October 24 grand final.

The league has yet to settle on a preferred time for the grand final, amid raging debate in football circles over shifting it to be played under lights.

Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium will host double-headers in Round 3 and 4, and each of the four teams temporarily based in the Queensland hub will host one ‘home’ game there.

West Coast will host Richmond on the Gold Coast on Thursday night in Round 5.

As it stands, Adelaide and Port Adelaide will relocate after their showdown in Round 2, unless South Australia’s quarantine protocols are updated in the meantime.

Auld hopes the Eagles, Fremantle, the Crows and Port will be able to return to their regular home bases after the first block of matches.

“deally we get through this four-week block and things progress, and we have the ability at some point for these clubs to go back and play games out of their home states,’’ he said.

“It’s just unknown.

“My sense is over the 16 weeks that teams – not just those four teams but other teams – are going to have to make sacrifices and everyone’s committed to that.”

The next block of fixtures will be released after Round 3 has been played, with clubs requesting at least two weeks’ notice in the schedule to prepare for their future opponents.