The AFL released the full fixture for the 2018 season this morning, with the league sticking with a floating round 23 fixture and a bye round before the finals series kicks off.
Adelaide won’t have to wait long to have another crack at its Grand Final conquerors Richmond, with the Crows to host the Tigers in a Thursday night rematch in round two at Adelaide Oval.
It will be one of seven marquee Thursday night games played in 2018, with the AFL spruiking the “greater promotional opportunities in key television slots” the timeslot provides.
Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast will have their bye in Round 10 after their long-awaited Shanghai rematch, with the remaining 16 clubs to have their byes across Rounds 12-14.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said the fixture was constructed “with the primary aim to maximise attendances at all matches… ensure that all clubs received as balanced a fixture as possible [and] to continue to build the AFL game as the number one code in this country”.
“The AFL enjoyed its highest-ever attended season in 2017 [but] the AFL’s primary goal is that all clubs can compete equally for top-eight spots and then those clubs playing in September can have the best possible lead-in and preparation for the most important matches of our season,” he said.
McLachlan said a key part of formulating the fixture was the ‘weighted rule’, which breaks the 2017 ladder into six groups – top, middle and bottom six.
Crosstown rivals Greater Western Sydney and Sydney have been handed tough draws, with the Giants and Swans the only teams to play three 2017 top-six sides twice.
Sydney also have the most six-day breaks with eight, while Gold Coast have the least with three.
Richmond will kick the season off and unfurl their premiership flag at the MCG in a now-standard fixture against Carlton, on a Thursday night.
The Tigers roar back into primetime in 2018 with Damien Hardwick’s men playing five Friday night games and three Thursday night matches.
The Crows will play Port Adelaide (in rounds eight and 20), Richmond, Carlton, Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney twice, hosting the Blues in SA for the first time since the Neil Craig era, in 2010.
They will also play four consecutive games at Adelaide Oval between round six and nine, as well as hosting the Giants in the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round 11 game.
Adelaide only travel once to the new Perth Stadium, facing Fremantle in Round 12, and avoid the dreaded road trip to Geelong, where they have not won since 2003.
Crows CEO Andrew Fagan said the fixture was “an outstanding result for members and supporters”, noting the club would play seven of its first 11 games at Adelaide Oval.
It ends the home and away season playing Carlton in Melbourne.
“The league has again rewarded clubs which play attacking and entertaining football and have large passionate supporter bases both at the ground and tuning in to watch via the various broadcast platforms,” Fagan said in a statement.
“From a football perspective, we also get two games at the MCG including the likelihood of a blockbuster crowd when we confront the Tigers in Round 16, which is fantastic.”
He said the number of six-day breaks (six) was “similar to the past couple of seasons”.
“Trying to predict results months in advance is fraught with danger and a pointless exercise, and each year there are teams that defy expectation and either rise or fall,” he noted.
Port will play two Friday night games, both at Adelaide Oval – against Richmond and Melbourne.
Besides the Shanghai adventure, the Power will again jetset the country, revisiting the Bulldogs in Ballarat as well as the Hawks in Tasmania, and travelling twice to the new Perth Stadium.
The Power will also host the Dogs in a Round 13 Thursday night footy fixture.
They end the season against Essendon at home.
Port will play 12 of its 22 minor round games on Saturdays, including six in the late afternoon twilight fixture, with four of them at home.
Both Port and the Crows will play three Sunday twilight games in 2018.
Port Adelaide boss Keith Thomas enthused that the club would be playing “the majority of our 11 home games at night”.
“We host one game in the Thursday night timeslot, two on a Friday night, four as a twilight Saturday fixture and one on a Saturday night,” he said.
“From our member feedback and attendances over the last four seasons at Adelaide Oval, the night and Saturday twilight fixtures are by far the most popular.”
He also highlighted hosting the Cats on the Saturday night of Anzac Round as a highlight, saying: “This is the 15th consecutive time Port Adelaide has hosted an Anzac Round game in Adelaide and we continue to enjoy a great partnership with the RSL and defence community… [it’s] an enormous privilege and one that we will never take for granted.”
Good Friday footy will continue but North Melbourne will take on St Kilda instead of the Western Bulldogs.
“We made it clear that we wouldn’t lock in two teams and we’ve been true to our word there,” AFL fixture boss Travis Auld said.
“In the fixture process we allowed for a number of teams to play in that spot.
“North Melbourne have ended up with the opportunity for the second year in a row… they did a really good job with it.
“The Bulldogs did as well but they’ve got a lot of other things in their fixture, which made it difficult to get them back on Good Friday.
“St Kilda have been keen for some time and now they’ve got their opportunity.”
Fremantle will have a bonus game at Perth Stadium after Gold Coast sold them a home game in round three while Metricon Stadium is used for the Commonwealth Games.
Melbourne will play two home games in the Northern Territory – against Adelaide in Alice Springs in round 10 and Fremantle in Darwin in round 16.
The 2018 grand final will be held on Saturday September 29.
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