The AFL will revert to a Richmond-Carlton season opener next year after deciding against kicking off the 2023 campaign with a grand final re-match.
The league confirmed its round-one fixture on Sunday morning, with the announcement cynically timed to clash with the Socceroos’ blockbuster World Cup knockout match against Argentina.
As expected, the Tigers and Blues will open the season for the eighth time in nine years on Thursday, March 16 at the MCG.
Premiers Geelong will unfurl their 10th AFL/VFL flag before a clash with Collingwood at the same venue the following night.
The league considered scheduling the Cats to play vanquished grand final opponents Sydney on a Wednesday night – as it did with Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs last season – but opted against it for logistical reasons.
“It was determined in consultation with Geelong, the reduced capacity of GMHBA Stadium paired with a potential Wednesday night match in Melbourne, wasn’t the best option for Cats fans to travel up the highway for a midweek night match,” AFL fixtures boss Travis Auld said.
There will be four big MCG matches across four days in round one.
Melbourne and the Bulldogs do battle on Saturday night, while Hawthorn take on Essendon on Sunday in what will be the Bombers’ first match under new coach Brad Scott.
But there will be no games in Perth in the opening round of the season because of a clash with an Ed Sheeran concert at Optus Stadium.
Both West Australian clubs will play away games at Marvel Stadium, with West Coast travelling to take on North Melbourne in a battle of the two bottom teams from 2022.
Fremantle will face off with former coach Ross Lyon in one of the more intriguing match-ups in round one.
Lyon, who was sacked by the Dockers three years ago, has returned to St Kilda as coach following Brett Ratten’s messy exit in October.
There will be matches in every other mainland state in round one, with Port Adelaide hosting Brisbane, Gold Coast taking on Sydney and Greater Western Sydney doing battle with Adelaide.
“The two WA-based teams understand the challenges with Optus Stadium hosting the Ed Sheeran concert, and we appreciate their understanding in both clubs starting their seasons on the road,” Auld said.
“Recent history has shown the competition is closer than ever and we look forward to round one setting the scene for what shapes to be a thrilling and dramatic home and away season.”