by Johnson Leung reporting for AFANA from Melbourne with contributions by the AFANA staff
Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, the AFL's newest team, will kick off the 2012 season with a local derby against cross-town rival Sydney, according to the schedule revealed recently in Melbourne. The Giants will play the Swans at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, March 24 in the only match of the week, to celebrate the new club's entry into the national competition. Richmond and Carlton have kept their season-opening marquee fixture on the following Thursday night (March 29), with Hawthorn hosting Collingwood on Friday, March 30, in Nathan Buckley's first game as Magpies' coach. High-profile Melbourne recruit Mitch Clark will face his old club, the Brisbane Lions, in his first game for the Demons, on Saturday afternoon (March 31) at the MCG, while reigning Premiers Geelong will kick off its title defense with a trip to Patersons Stadium to play Fremantle that night. The schedule changes adversely affect fans in North America as there are fewer games that start prior to 1:00 AM US EDT. Even if ESPN and TSN wanted to show a match at 12:00 MN US EDT every week, that will no longer be possible as the schedule caters (predictably) to the needs of the Australian television networks.
AFL Chief Operating Officer Gillon McLachlan defended the huge gamble to give the Giants a stand-alone season opener, stating it put the city of Sydney center stage for the start of the season. "With a start-up club in a new market, it's about awareness and growing a club from a standing start," he said. The Swans will be the only Top Eight team from last season to play GWS twice, a scheduling decision designed to smooth the new team's entry into the competition and to avoid the competition's best teams getting an unfair advantage from two percentage-boosting wins against the newcomers. The Giants will play their first game at their new home ground (Skoda Stadium, formerly known as the Sydney Showground), in the Homebush area of Sydney's west, in Round 9 against Essendon. The match will pit Giants' coach Kevin Sheedy against the club he mentored for 27 years and against his former star player James Hird, now coach of the Bombers. The Giants will also play a game at the 10,000 person capacity Blacktown International Sports Park and two at Canberra's Manuka Oval. GWS Acting Chief Executive David Matthews said the Giants were thrilled, rather than daunted, by the stand-alone season start and pleased with the draw overall. "As the AFL's 18th and newest club we don't underestimate how tough a competition it is particularly for a young emerging team" he said.
The home-and-away season will be played over 23 rounds, consisting of 198 games. Every club will have a bye, scheduled over one of Rounds 11, 12 and 13 (six games each round and six teams with a bye for each of the three rounds). The AFL will once again decide timeslots for matches in Round 23 closer to the time to allow maximum flexibility for those going into Finals, and has not ruled out scheduling two Friday night games.
Collingwood and Geelong will meet twice in 2012, with the 2011 Grand Finalists facing off in Rounds 8 and 16. The Pies will face five of 2011's Top Eight clubs twice in 2012 and will be the only team to do so. Their season will include return match-ups with the Hawks, Cats, West Coast Eagles and Carlton plus traditional rival Essendon. Geelong will have to wait until Round 4 to reveal their Premiership Flag at their first home match in Simonds Stadium (formerly Kardinia Park) against Richmond.
Other features of the 2012 schedule include:
• All 18 clubs will play each other at least once with five "make-up" games, where teams play each other twice.
• Nine regular timeslots across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a new Saturday twilight fixture starting at 4.40 PM AEST, allowing Foxtel to broadcast three games back-to-back on its new 24-hour AFL channel. The Brisbane Lions (six) and Gold Coast (four) will play the most matches in the new Saturday twilight timeslot.
• Only 13 games will start at 2.10 PM AEST next year and only five of those games are in Melbourne. The era of early afternoon football on Saturday has all but disappeared.
• Friday night matches will begin 10 minutes later than last season at 7.50 PM AEST.
• Saturday night games have been pushed back from 7.10 PM AEST to 7.40 PM AEST.
• One Sunday afternoon game will start at 3.10 PM AEST allowing the Seven network to show the game live immediately before its 6PM news bulletin.
• Five clubs - North Melbourne, Melbourne, Gold Coast Suns, Adelaide and the Sydney Swans - will have the bonus of playing GWS twice in 2012.
• Skoda Stadium, Blacktown International Sports Park and Blundstone Arena (formerly Bellerive Oval) in Tasmania's state capital Hobart will all host AFL matches for the first time.
• Victorian clubs face a minimum of five trips interstate in 2012, compared to three or four times in previous years. For Collingwood its five interstate trips will mark the first time the Magpies have travelled so much since 2008. They will play games at the Gabba, AAMI Stadium, Skoda Stadium, ANZ Stadium and Patersons Stadium with three of those trips (against GWS, Sydney Swans and West Coast) coming in the final six rounds of the season.
• All Top Eight teams from 2011 play at least two other Top Eight teams twice, and all bottom 10 teams (with new club the Giants included in that group) play at least two other bottom 10 teams twice.
• The Anzac Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon will be played on a Wednesday, meaning both clubs have only four days to prepare for the game after playing on the previous Saturday.
• Adelaide will have only one Friday night game (against St Kilda) while Port Adelaide will have none, alongside Brisbane, GWS and Gold Coast.
• Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney and GWS will play Sunday twilight games for the first time.
• Carlton will enjoy huge exposure on free-to-air TV, including two Thursday nights, seven Friday nights and one Monday night game.
• GWS will play Richmond, Essendon and Collingwood at Skoda Stadium. Overall, the Giants will play matches at 12 venues in its debut season.
• Melbourne will play 13 games at the MCG including nine of the first 12 games. They also play eight games on Saturday afternoons but only four on Sunday afternoons.
• St Kilda's first three games are against the Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs. The Saints host Fremantle (and former coach Ross Lyon) in Round 4. The Saints also have the highest number of six-day breaks (nine).
• Richmond faces Geelong, Collingwood, Carlton and West Coast in the first five weeks of the season.
• Hawthorn faces its fellow Top Four sides of 2011 within the first four rounds of the 2012 season: Collingwood in Round 1, Geelong in Round 2 and West Coast in Round 4. The Hawks will also host five MCG games against interstate teams, four of which are on Sundays. They will have seven six-day breaks, three of them back-to-back (the most of any club).
• North Melbourne will play two games in Hobart against GWS in Round 2 and West Coast in Round 15. The Kangaroos have the least number of games shown on free-to-air TV in Victoria (eight). They again have only one Friday night clash, against Carlton in Round 16.
• None of last season's top five clubs will play the GWS Giants or Gold Coast twice.
• Of Port Adelaide's 11 home games, six are in the timeslots that are least popular with Power fans - four on Saturday afternoons and two on Sunday twilights. Only two (against Carlton and Adelaide) are scheduled in the most popular Saturday night timeslot.
• Adelaide also has four Saturday afternoon games and two Sunday twilight matches. The Crows have just two Saturday night games at home.
• Port Adelaide will only play one game in Darwin mid-season, against Melbourne.
McLachlan said the most challenging aspect about doing the schedule - and those for the next few years - was establishing the GWS Giants as a draw card side and balancing their opposition as they stepped to the higher level of competition. "We've been open and realistic about the size of that challenge, the balance of the teams we're putting up there," McLachlan said. "You could put Collingwood, Carlton, all the big teams up there but at the moment they're the toughest teams to play against in a football sense. So trying to have big ticket teams up there, but not having (GWS) play the best teams twice is obviously a challenge." McLachlan said the schedule also rewarded better performing teams by allocating them more Friday night games. "Those four clubs with no Friday Night Football (Power, Giants, Lions, Suns) don't like it but they understand it," he said.
Sources: afl.com.au, Melbourne Age, Herald Sun, The Advertiser, AAP
Article last changed on Monday, October 31, 2011 - 12:42 PM EDT