The AFL released the 2023 men's schedule on Saturday, 10th December. The unexpected announcement (at 6:00PM AEDT, 2:00AM US EST) came after a copy was apparently leaked to The Melbourne Age, which published it online in the afternoon. It was the second straight year that the schedule was launched in December. While the venues had been set, the League has only confirmed the dates and times for the first 15 rounds. The schedule for Round 16 through to 24 will be progressively revealed during 2023 with advance notice.
The main feature of the 2023 schedule is a new full round of regular season games called Gather Round, taking place in Round 5 from 13th-16th April. Inspired by the Magic Round concept from the NRL and the English Super League rugby league competitions, it will see all 18 AFL clubs play in one non-Victorian city over the course of a single weekend. The South Australian Government fended off a strong challenge from NSW to secure the rights to host the inaugural Gather Round, with six games taking place at Adelaide Oval (including a doubleheader on 15th April), two games at Norwood Oval in the inner eastern suburb of Norwood, and an afternoon clash also on 15th April, between the Lions and the Kangaroos at Summit Sports and Recreation Park at Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills. The Gather Round increases the length of the regular season to 24 weeks, with each club playing 23 games, including a revamped four-week bye period from Round 12 to Round 15.
The season kicks off on Thursday, 16th March when Richmond take on Carlton at the MCG, while Geelong begin their Premiership defense against Collingwood at the same venue the following night. The first round will also feature a Sunday game at the MCG between Hawthorn and Essendon to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Hawks' triumph over the Bombers in the 1983 VFL Grand Final, while also marking Brad Scott's first game as Bombers coach. Both West Coast and Fremantle will play in Melbourne in the opening round, as Optus Stadium will host an Ed Sheeran concert on the same weekend (Author's note 3/14/2023: the Ed Sheeran concert was eventually held on Sunday 12th March, in front of a stadium record crowd of over 73,000). Both the Eagles and the Dockers will play at home in Round 2.
There will be Thursday night games through the opening five rounds and again during the bye weeks, from Rounds 13 to 15. There will be at least one Friday doubleheader in 2023, with Richmond against Geelong at the MCG, 80 minutes before West Coast take on Gold Coast at Optus Stadium, both in Round 12. Sunday Night Football also returns with traditional rivals Essendon and Carlton facing off at the MCG on 11th June, the night before the annual encounter between Melbourne and Collingwood on King's Birthday public holiday (renamed from Queen's Birthday following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September this year). There will be eight games in Tasmania while Northern Territory will host three, including games at Darwin's TIO Stadium in Rounds 11 and 12 and in Alice Springs in Round 16.
Carlton and Brisbane are big winners of the 2023 schedule released so far. The Blues will have seven games in the Thursday and Friday night slots through the opening 15 rounds, including the season-opener against the Tigers. The Lions have two Thursday and four Friday night games, while reigning premiers Geelong have five games in those slots. Richmond, Melbourne, Sydney and Port Adelaide have four apiece. Essendon, Hawthorn and GWS are the only clubs without a Thursday or Friday night fixture through the first 15 rounds.
AFL Executive General Manager of Clubs and Broadcasting, Travis Auld, said the League had adjusted the weighted rule to accommodate the Gather Round, which means each club plays double-up games against six teams (instead of five) in 2023. Auld said because Anzac Day falls on a Tuesday next year, Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond and Melbourne would miss out on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday slots “for a good four weeks” to give the teams adequate breaks between each round. He also defended the League's decision to release the dates and times for Round 1 at 6:00 AM AEDT on Sunday, 27th November, at the same time as the kickoff for the FIFA World Cup round of 16 game between Australia and Argentina in Qatar. He said: "The reality is that for as long as I’ve been at the AFL and probably well before that, we’ve always released round one of the fixture to News Limited (Corp) on the Sunday – and that’s been organised a long time out ... I think we’ve got a track record of being pretty respectful and supportive of other codes ... If we’ve released one round of football in the newspaper and that’s got in the way of the game, then it is what it is."
Here are the club-by-club summaries for the 2023 season.
Adelaide will play four-straight games at Adelaide Oval from Round 2 to Round 5. The Crows will make their first trip to Darwin to play the Gold Coast at TIO Stadium in Round 12, among their trips outside South Australia (they will visit every state and territory except the ACT). They will start and finish their regular season away from home: against GWS in Round 1 and against West Coast in Round 24. They will play double up games against this year's top six teams Brisbane and Collingwood.
Play twice: Brisbane, Collingwood, Gold Coast, Greater Western Sydney, Port Adelaide, West Coast
New Lion Josh Dunkley will face his former side Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium in Round 3, before the Lions again host Collingwood to open the Easter Round. Their six games in Victoria are spread throughout the season, with opponents being Bulldogs (Round 3), Carlton (Round 8), Hawthorn (Round 13), St Kilda (Round 15), Melbourne (Round 18) and Collingwood (Round 23).
Play twice: Adelaide, Collingwood, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Melbourne, St Kilda
Carlton have a dream fixture in 2023. In the first 16 Rounds, the Blues only have to travel outside Victoria four times, twice to Sydney, and once to Adelaide and Perth. They play nine games at the MCG and eight games at Marvel Stadium. They finish the regular season with games against three of the bottom six teams (St Kilda, Gold Coast, GWS) plus a top six team Melbourne.
Play twice: Collingwood, Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne, St Kilda, West Coast
This year's semi-finalist has a tough start to the 2023 season, facing Geelong, Port Adelaide, Richmond, Brisbane and St Kilda in the first five rounds. Collingwood will only feature twice on a Friday night and once on a Thursday before their annual Anzac Day clash against Essendon. They then only have a five-day break before flying to Adelaide to face the Crows in Round 7. The Pies' run home is not easy either, with games against Port, Carlton, Hawthorn, Geelong, Brisbane (the club's sole home game at Marvel Stadium in 2023) and Essendon in the final six rounds.
Play twice: Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon, Geelong, Port Adelaide
Essendon has arguably the easiest schedule next season, according to analysis by Fox Sports. The Dons play twice against three teams which finished below them this year: GWS, West Coast and North Melbourne, but also have double-up games against top-four teams Collingwood and Geelong. Essendon have no Thursday or Friday games for the first 15 rounds. Instead, the club will play seven Sunday games and six Saturday matches. After the Anzac Day game against Collingwood, the Dons will have a five-day break before the Round 5 encounter against Geelong, a rare trip down the Princes Highway to GMHBA Stadium.
Play twice: Collingwood, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, West Coast
Fremantle have a relatively tough schedule, facing grand finalists Geelong and Sydney twice, as well as double ups against fellow finalists Brisbane and Western Bulldogs. They will play back to back games in Adelaide, against the Crows in Round 4 and the Suns in Round 5. The Dockers only feature twice on Fridays (against the Suns in Round 5 and the Bulldogs in Round 6) and play ten times on a Saturday in the first 15 rounds.
Play twice: Brisbane, Geelong, Hawthorn, Sydney, West Coast, Western Bulldogs
The defending Premiers plays five of their first nine games at the MCG, including three of the first four against Collingwood, Carlton, and Hawthorn respectively. The clashes against the Pies and the Hawks are the Cats' only home games at the MCG during the regular season. They will unfurl the 2022 Premiership flag before the Grand Final rematch against Sydney in Round 6, their first game for the year at GMHBA Stadium, which is undergoing a redevelopment. The Cats will play five out of the final eight games at GMHBA on the run home. They have a tough schedule, with double up games against four finalists from this year.
Play twice: Collingwood, Essendon, Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Sydney, Western Bulldogs
Gold Coast face a tough start to their 2023 season, with games against Sydney, Essendon, Geelong, St Kilda and Fremantle. In the first 15 rounds, the Suns only have two Friday games, and six games each on Saturdays and Sundays. The Suns are the only club to play at least one game in every state and territory of Australia in 2023, including hosting the Bulldogs and the Crows in consecutive Saturdays in Darwin as part of the Indigenous Round. They also have two blockbuster games against Hawthorn and Collingwood on consecutive weekends during the winter school holidays. They only have to play twice against top-six teams Brisbane and Sydney.
Play twice: Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Sydney
Adam Kingsley's coaching career begins with home games against Adelaide in Round 1 and Carlton in Round 3, before their home ground is occupied by the Royal Easter Show. They will return to Giants Stadium in Round 12. GWS will play three home games in Canberra, against the Lions (Round 6), the Bulldogs (Round 8) and the Suns (Round 19). The games against the Lions and the Bulldogs will both be held on Saturday nights. They face a tough run in the final four rounds, with clashes against Sydney, Port Adelaide, Essendon and Carlton.
Play twice: Adelaide, Carlton, Essendon, Hawthorn, Sydney, Western Bulldogs
Sam Mitchell will face his former mentor Alastair Clarkson in Round 3, one of Hawthorn's four home games in Launceston in 2023. The other three are against Adelaide in Round 6, West Coast in Round 10 and Western Bulldogs in Round 22. The Hawks will play six home games at the MCG and one at Marvel Stadium (against St Kilda in Round 20), and will have to play double up games against top six teams (Melbourne and Fremantle). Apart from having no Thursday or Friday night games in the first 15 rounds, most of their games during the period will be played during daytime.
Play twice: Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Western Bulldogs
For the second year in a row, Melbourne will begin their regular season with a clash against Western Bulldogs, before having to fly interstate three times over the next month including playing Essendon in Adelaide as part of Gather Round. The Demons have tough games against Collingwood and Geelong either side of the bye, but will also enjoy playing five of their final seven games of the season at the MCG. They will play three Friday night games and one on Thursday night in the first 15 rounds.
Play twice: Brisbane, Carlton, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond, Sydney
Alastair Clarkson's coaching career at Arden Street begins with a home game against West Coast, the fourth meeting between the two clubs in the opening round since 2000 and the first since 2017. North Melbourne get a new opponent on Good Friday next year, with Carlton replacing Western Bulldogs. The Kangaroos will play five games in Tasmania, including an away clash against Hawthorn in Round 3 and four home games in Hobart in Round 9 (Port Adelaide), Round 13 (GWS), Round 21 (Melbourne) and Round 24 (Gold Coast). They have a softer schedule with double-up games against three bottom-six sides Essendon, Hawthorn and Gold Coast.
Play twice: Essendon, Gold Coast, Hawthorn, Melbourne, St Kilda, West Coast
Port Adelaide have a tricky 2023 schedule, having to face four of this year's finalists (Brisbane, Collingwood, Sydney and Western Bulldogs) plus a Showdown against the Crows, all in the first five rounds. They then have winnable games against West Coast, St Kilda, Essendon and North Melbourne, all of which finished in the bottom half of the ladder this year. Port will have six six-day breaks in eight rounds, which appears to be the toughest physical run. New signing and former No.1 draft pick Jason Horne-Francis will face his former side North Melbourne in Hobart in Round 9. Port will finish the regular season with four of the last six games at Adelaide Oval.
Play twice: Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, Richmond, Western Bulldogs
Richmond will play 13 home-and-away games at the MCG in 2023, and will travel three times to Adelaide, twice to Perth, and once each to Brisbane and Sydney. The club's two new recruits, Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, will face their old club GWS in Sydney in Round 12, before a long trip to Perth to take on the Dockers in Round 13. After the season opener against Carlton, the Tigers will play three Friday nights and have six six-day breaks in the first 15 rounds. Their only home game at Marvel Stadium is in Round 7 against Gold Coast.
Play twice: Melbourne, Port Adelaide, St Kilda, Sydney, West Coast, Western Bulldogs
Ross Lyon's second stint as St Kilda coach begins with a Sunday game against Fremantle, the team he coached from 2013 to 2019. It could be their only encounter during the season unless they meet again during the finals. The Saints are one of four teams in the AFL that only has to play one top six team twice in 2023 (Brisbane). They only feature once on Thursday and twice on Friday in the first 15 rounds. They have trips to Sydney either side of the Round 12 bye, but also have a streak of five games at Marvel Stadium before the away clash against the Lions.
Play twice: Brisbane, Carlton, Gold Coast, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond
The 2022 grand finalist begins its season with an away game against Gold Coast, one of the Swans' two games in Queensland. They also travel twice to Adelaide, once to Perth, and six times to Victoria (three at the MCG, two at Marvel Stadium and one at GMHBA Stadium). Sydney have one Thursday and three Friday games in the first 15 rounds of the season, including a four-week period from Round 11 when the club plays Friday, has a bye, then plays Thursday and Friday in consecutive weeks. The Swans face three of their fellow top six teams twice - Geelong, Melbourne and Fremantle.
Play twice: Fremantle, Geelong, Gold Coast, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne, Richmond
Finishing second-last on the ladder in 2022 means West Coast only have to play one double-up game against the top-six team, their cross-town rival Fremantle, in 2023. The Eagles have back-to-back trips to Adelaide, against the Cats in Round 5 and the Power in Round 6. They have a unique schedule in the final six rounds of the regular season, with games at Marvel Stadium and Optus Stadium in alternate weeks, starting with the away game to Carlton in Round 17.
Play twice: Adelaide, Carlton, Essendon, Fremantle, North Melbourne, Richmond
The Bulldogs have two winnable games against the Giants, but then a very tricky schedule in the final ten rounds, including encounters with Fremantle, Sydney, Geelong, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and Richmond. The Bulldogs lost both meetings against the Cats and Dockers this year, as well as to the Power and Tigers in their sole meetings. The Bulldogs will host the Crows (Round 10) and the Giants (Round 20) in Ballarat. The club also has a daunting travelling schedule, with trips to every state and territory of Australia, except Queensland.
Play twice: Fremantle, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, Richmond
Sources: Herald Sun, The Age, 7news.com.au, foxsports.com.au
Article last changed on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 - 4:13 AM EDT
The Eagles will travel to Adelaide twice in quick succession, first to take on the Cats in Round 5 and then the Power in Round 6.