The AFL has released the 2021 schedule but with only confirmed dates and times for the first six rounds. After the entire 2020 season was hugely impacted by COVID-19, the League opted to continue flexible scheduling in 2021 in case of another outbreak in Australia, and to ensure the season would be completed. Exact dates and times for the remaining 17 rounds will be released in four-to-six week blocks with four weeks’ notice. The schedule for Round 7 is expected to be announced at the conclusion of Round 2 on March 28th.
Richmond will unfurl its 2019 and 2020 premiership flags in the now-traditional season opener against Carlton on Thursday, March 18th. There will be at least eight Thursday games during the season, split between the first five rounds and the mid-season bye, while 14 of the 18 clubs will feature in the marquee timeslots of Thursday or Friday night across the opening six weeks.
Huge finals rematches will be featured in primetime in the opening rounds. There will be two Grand Final rematches, with Richmond and Geelong to square off at the MCG in both Rounds 8 and 19. The two preliminary finals, Geelong v Brisbane and Port Adelaide v Richmond, will be played on Friday nights in Rounds 2 and 4 respectively, followed by West Coast v Collingwood in Perth in Round 5. Good Friday Football returns in Round 3 with the twilight clash between North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium, followed by Adelaide v Gold Coast at night.
Games involving players against their former clubs include Western Bulldogs’ Adam Treloar against Collingwood in the opening round, Geelong’s Isaac Smith against Hawthorn on Easter Monday, Lions forward Joe Daniher against Essendon in Round 5, Kangaroos signing Jaidyn Stephenson against the Pies in Round 8, while Jeremy Cameron won’t play against his former club until Round 21 in August next year when the Cats host the Giants at GMHBA Stadium.
Other key points of the schedule include:
- Round 5 will see three games on Anzac Day (April 25th), which falls on a Sunday in 2021. The day kicks off with Hawthorn v Adelaide in Tasmania at the special early time of 12.30pm AEST (10.30pm US EDT Saturday), followed by the annual Collingwood-Essendon clash at 3.20pm AEST, and concludes with Port Adelaide hosting St Kilda that evening in Adelaide.
- Two AFL/AFLW doubleheaders in the first two weeks. In Round 1, the Brisbane-Sydney clash at the Gabba on March 20th will follow Lions v Collingwood in the AFLW. In Round 2, it will be a true double-header - Gold Coast v North Melbourne at Metricon Stadium in the men’s and women’s competitions.
- Collingwood (14 games, including five "away") will have the most number of games at the MCG, while Richmond will have 13. All teams will play at least once at the venue.
- The AFL has scheduled the Indigenous Round to be spread across Rounds 11 and 12, and include games in Darwin and Alice Springs, as well as the return of Dreamtime at the G (Essendon v Richmond) and Sydney's Marn Grook contest. Cairns will later play host to a St Kilda home game against the Crows in round 13.
- Games will return to Canberra and Tasmania after those destinations saw no men’s football played there in 2020 due to the pandemic.
- Richmond and Hawthorn will each play a home game at Marvel Stadium while Collingwood will play two home games at the venue.
Here are the schedule summaries for each club.
The 2020 wooden spooners should enjoy an easier start to next season, playing only one top eight side (Geelong) in the first six rounds. The Crows will play at home in three of the final four rounds but face long trips to Cairns and Tasmania. They will play twice against two top-eight sides Port Adelaide and West Coast, as well as Hawthorn, Melbourne, and North Melbourne.
The Lions play three top eight sides (Geelong, Collingwood and Bulldogs) in Rounds 2 and 4, but have three of their last four games at The Gabba. They will play seven times in Victoria including two consecutive weeks at the MCG. Apart that, they only travel once to Perth, Alice Springs and Adelaide. Their double-up opponents are the two Grand Finalists Geelong and Richmond, plus Collingwood, Fremantle and Gold Coast.
Carlton will have a tough start to next season, facing four 2020 top eight sides (Richmond, Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Brisbane) in the first six weeks. However, the Blues will spend a large majority of the season at home, with only one interstate game in the first 10 rounds (a trip to the Gold Coast) and also finish the year with six of seven games in Melbourne. They will play twice against Collingwood, Fremantle, Gold Coast, GWS and Port Adelaide.
One of the big winners of the schedule. Collingwood play 14 games at the MCG, fly interstate five times (once each to Perth and Brisbane), and travel only once in the final ten rounds. Their games on Easter Thursday, Anzac Day and Queen’s Birthday will ensure a lot of attention. The Pies will play twice against top four sides Brisbane Lions and Port Adelaide, plus Carlton, Essendon and West Coast, which won’t be easy.
Essendon, under new coach Ben Rutten, open their season against arch-rival Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium, one of their nine games at the venue (including five in a row from Rounds 17 to 21). They will also play five games at the MCG including three consecutive mid-season games. For the first time since 1993, the Dons will travel down the highway to face the Cats at GMHBA Stadium. Six of the Dons’ last seven games are in Melbourne, but their last game is against Collingwood which could determine if either team will be playing finals.
The Dons will play twice against Collingwood, GWS, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Sydney.
Fremantle start and end their 2021 season in Melbourne, but don’t play a game against a 2020 finalist until the Round 7 Derby, meaning a 4-2 or 5-1 start is well and truly possible. The Dockers have a few nice three-week breaks without travelling, including Rounds 6-8 and then at mid-season leading into the Round 14 bye. They have a tough finish in the last seven rounds: after a tricky trip to Tasmania to face Hawthorn, they play five finalists including the Grand Finalists Richmond and Geelong (both at home), plus a trip to Sydney. The have double-up games against bottom four sides Hawthorn and Sydney, plus Brisbane, Carlton and West Coast.
The 2020 grand finalist is arguably the biggest winner from the schedule. The Cats play wooden spooners Adelaide in Round 1 followed by five straight games in Victoria. They play nine games at GMHBA Stadium, six games at the MCG, and three straight home games to finish the season - against the Giants, St Kilda and Melbourne. Conversely, they have a very tricky set of double-up opponents, including three members of the top six (Brisbane, Richmond and St Kilda), and Melbourne and North Melbourne.
The Suns have a mixed start to the season with a tough trip to Perth to face the Eagles, followed by easier games against North Melbourne, Adelaide and Carlton in the first month. They will play four finalists from Round 7 to Round 10 (Collingwood, St Kilda, Brisbane and Geelong) but two are at home. Otherwise, their schedule shoud be fairly easy, with double-up games against two of the bottom three (Sydney and North Melbourne), avoid playing Richmond at the MCG, and finish the year against Carlton, Essendon and Sydney. The Suns’ other double-up opponents are the Lions, the Blues and the Bulldogs.
The Giants will open their season at home against St Kilda on Sunday, March 21 - the first of three Sunday games to start the season. The Giants will host Melbourne (Round 3), Western Bulldogs (Round 6) and Port Adelaide (Round 20) in Canberra. They avoid playing Port Adelaide and West Coast interstate, but face tricky trips to Adelaide to face the Crows and to Tasmania to play the Kangaroos. Their final month of the season won’t be easy with games against Essendon, Port Adelaide, Geelong, Richmond and Carlton. They will play twice against only one finalist (Richmond) plus Carlton, Essendon, Melbourne and Sydney.
Even though Hawthorn finished in the bottom four this year, they won’t have an easy schedule in 2021. They have a rough start to their season with games against Essendon, grand finalists Geelong and Richmond before a trip west to face Fremantle, and face finalists Collingwood, Bulldogs and Richmond in the last three rounds. In between, they will make their first visit to Darwin in Round 11, playing against Gold Coast as part of the Indigenous Round. The good news is that they avoid playing West Coast, Port Adelaide and Brisbane interstate. They will host Adelaide (Round 6), North Melbourne (Round 9), Fremantle (Round 17) and Western Bulldogs (Round 22) in their second home in Launceston, plus Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium in Round 16. They will play twice against Adelaide, Essendon, Fremantle, Melbourne and Richmond.
The Demons play three finalists St Kilda, Geelong and Richmond (on Anzac Day Eve) in the first six rounds, after which they have a relatively easy stretch of games in Round 7 to 11. They have seven interstate trips during the season, including the Round 12 home game in Alice Springs against the Lions, plus visits to Canberra, Tasmania, Gold Coast, Perth and Adelaide (twice). They have tough games in the final month of the season against the Bulldogs, Adelaide, West Coast and Geelong. They will play twice against Adelaide, Geelong, GWS, Hawthorn and the Bulldogs.
After a tumultuous off-season in which Rhyce Shaw resigned as head coach, 11 players were delisted and David Noble was hired as the new coach, North Melbourne begin their rebuild in 2021 with a home game against their bogey team Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium. They will play 12 games in Melbourne and avoid playing away to Brisbane and Port Adelaide, but face a tough two months to end the season including games against finalists Bulldogs, Geelong and Richmond, and the final round trip to Adelaide to play the Crows. The Kangaroos will play five times in Tasmania, including four home games in their second home in Hobart (Melbourne in Round 7, GWS in Round 13, Gold Coast in Round 15, and Geelong in Round 20), plus an away game against Hawthorn in Round 9. They will play twice against Gold Coast, Bulldogs, Adelaide, Essendon and Geelong.
The 2020 Minor Premiers will start and finish their regular season with games at Marvel Stadium. The Power have a relatively easy schedule, only having to play 2 top six sides (Collingwood and St Kilda) twice. They are also required to play the Bulldogs, the Crows and the Blues twice. They only have just one interstate trip in the six-week block between Rounds 8 and 13 and don’t need to travel to Tasmania to play Hawthorn. And their games against grand finalists Richmond and Geelong are at home.
The two-time defending Premiers only have to face two finalists (Port Adelaide and St Kilda) in the first seven rounds, before the first of two Grand Final rematches against Geelong in Round 8. They have 14 games at the MCG and two at Marvel Stadium, and only have to travel twice before the mid-season bye. After the bye, the Tigers play interstate four times including trips to Perth against West Coast (Round 14) and Fremantle (Round 20). They have to play twice against fellow finalists Brisbane, Geelong and St Kilda, as well as GWS and Hawthorn, but overall they have a decent schedule.
The biggest improver of the 2020 season will start the regular season against a non-Victorian team (GWS) and finish the season against a non-Victorian team (Fremantle). Four of their first five games and nine of their first 12 are at Marvel Stadium which is a bonus. However, they have to play double-up games against four finalists (Richmond, Geelong, Port Adelaide, West Coast) and Sydney, and their schedule after the Round 14 bye won’t be easy, with games against the Tigers and the Pies, three interstate games and a trip to Geelong.
The Swans start and finish the next season against a Queensland team. They have a mixed schedule, having to face three finalists (Brisbane, Richmond, Geelong) and cross-town rivals GWS in the first seven rounds, but only have to play Essendon, St Kilda, North Melbourne and Gold Coast in the final four rounds. They have to travel interstate to face three of the 2020 top four teams, though at least they avoid playing Geelong in Geelong like they did every season from 2015-19. They play six times in Victoria (two at MCG, four at Marvel Stadium) and have return clashes against St Kilda, GWS, Fremantle, Essendon and the Gold Coast.
The Eagles have a brutal start to next season, playing five finalists in a row from Round 2 to Round 6 (Bulldogs, Port Adelaide, St Kilda, Collingwood and Geelong). After that, they don’t have to face another finalist until Round 14. They also avoid double-ups against the top four teams from 2020, instead copping St Kilda, Collingwood and the Bulldogs, plus Fremantle and Adelaide. They finish the season with a trip to The Gabba to face the Lions, which could determine their finals chances.
The Bulldogs have a reasonably nice start to the season with seven of their first eight games in Victoria, however those games include four finalists including Collingwood, West Coast, Brisbane and Richmond. They play six games outside Victoria including two games in Perth within four weeks - Rounds 12 and 15. They will play nine home games at Marvel Stadium and two home games in Ballarat, against the Lions in Round 4 and the Crows in Round 19. They play double-ups against North Melbourne, Melbourne, Gold Coast, West Coast and Port Adelaide.
AFL Executive General Manager of clubs and broadcasting, Travis Auld, said there was "renewed optimism" about the 2021 season going ahead as planned, he could not yet say whether venues would be allowed to be at full capacity, noting the health and wellbeing of the community needed to be taken into account. Auld said the AFL had contingency plans in place should clubs have to leave their home states for a period of time, as was the case with Victorian clubs this season when they relocated to the Queensland hub.
Auld did not rule out the return of footy frenzy, with games played on every night of the week, should there be another COVID-19 outbreak. He said: "Planning for those things is difficult because you don't know the circumstances of each state going into the year, but we did see, I suppose, a silver lining of 2020 was having an acceleration of the fixture in certain states was really beneficial for footy in those states and, more broadly, people actually enjoyed having the football on every night for a period of time.”
Auld said AFL executives had yet to make a call on whether next year’s Grand Final would be played at night, pending the results of a review of this year’s decider between Richmond and Geelong, which was held at night due to fear of a hot Queensland afternoon.
Sources: theage.com.au, sen.com.au, 7news.com.au, Herald Sun
Article last changed on Wednesday, January 06, 2021 - 5:56 PM EST