AFL season to begin with fixture for first four rounds to remain

Round one will go ahead as scheduled this weekend, while the match-ups for the first four rounds will be the same, though the times are likely to change, with games brought forward as the AFL wishes to get games completed before the coronavirus halts the competition. Quarters will be reduced from 20 minutes and time-on to 16 minutes plus time-on.

“The first four [rounds] will stay the same,’’ AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said. “It’s going to be day by day. If we can accelerate we will.’’

Teams will play with the same number of interchanges, 90, throughout the reduced season.
The AFL’s decision followed a dramatic and long day when clubs were uncertain, until nearly 8pm, whether the games would go on. The AFL call will be welcomed by the clubs, which were unanimous in wanting the games to be played, as were nearly all players, despite some public criticism of the sport’s position in the face of the coronavirus.

McLachlan said he understood the AFLPA push to continue with a 22-game season, a view supported by numerous AFL players. ‘‘That’s their view, I completely understand it,’’ McLachlan said.

‘‘It’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long journey in what is an unprecedented time. We can’t lock ourselves in our house.’’

He said he was comfortable Marvel Stadium would fit the government protocols for indoor gatherings because of having people in different rooms.

McLachlan acknowledged that the entire season could be played without crowds. “It feels like a possibility,” he said.

Clubs are braced for playing a lengthy part of the season without crowds, a position that is dictated by the government and the chief health officer and which will have a massive financial impact.

McLachlan said the league knew that the season would cease at some point due to the coronavirus and the year ahead would be a long journey. He has said one positive test to a player would stop games, and a number of players have been tested for virus thus far with no positives yet detected.

In a separate announcement, the AFLW competition will move immediately to its finals series for 2020. The AFL hasn’t yet determined the structure of the women’s finals but they will have eight teams – the top four from each conference.

This means North Melbourne, Fremantle, Carlton, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast, Melbourne and Collingwood will play finals.

The AFL’s decision to play on was not made unofficial until right on 24 hours before the Richmond-Carlton game, with clubs in the dark throughout the afternoon and early evening, although some had felt that the games would go on around lunchtime after a phone hook-up between McLachlan and club CEOs.

The Bulldogs will host Collingwood on Friday night at Marvel Stadium in the second game.

The AFL fixture, though, is set to be revised with games compressed and shorter breaks between matches.

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