Well, here we are. Just over five months since season 2019 began, we’re staring at the very end of another gripping home-and-away campaign.
There may only be two rounds remaining in the current season, but already I have a few ideas as to how Round 1 next year should unfold.
As usual, proceedings will kick off with Richmond and Carlton contesting the annual season opener at the MCG, which would be the sixth consecutive time that the two sides have played in the opening match of a new season.
It stands to be the first match back for Tigers talisman Alex Rance, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening match of this season and has all but ruled himself out of returning to the field for the club’s run to September.
For Carlton, it is likely to be their first match under a new full-time coach, whether it’d be current caretaker David Teague, who has restored some competitiveness to the side, or Michael Voss, who is firming in favouritism for the gig.
It is also likely to be their only match on either a Thursday or Friday night in 2020, with the AFL fixturing department again expected to keep them off Broadway as a result of their continued poor on-field performances.
On Friday night, to indirectly mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of Marvel Stadium, Essendon will host Port Adelaide in what is a repeat of the first-ever premiership match to be played at the ground, which the Bombers won by 94 points.
Expectations will again be high for both the Bombers and Power in 2020, and there is the possibility that both sides may have new coaches should their respective bosses, John Worsfold and Ken Hinkley, be moved on at the end of the current season.
For the trivia buffs, Michael Long was the first player to kick a goal at the ground, moments after Matthew Lloyd missed his chance when he pushed a set shot wide. It was also James Hird’s first match back from a foot injury which sidelined him after Round 2, 1999.
The Bombers’ massive victory on that Thursday evening in March 2000 set the tone for an unprecedented season of dominance in which they would lose only one match all year as they marched to a record-equalling 16th, and to date their most recent, premiership.
Additionally, the same two teams will also meet in a JLT Community Series match at the same venue on 9 March to mark the stadium’s 20th birthday.
Saturday would see Melbourne attempt to begin a season of redemption when they host North Melbourne at the MCG, while there will be a QClash in the twilight at the Gabba, meaning neither the Brisbane Lions nor the Gold Coast Suns will have to travel in the opening round.
This would leave the Suns free to play their milestone 200th AFL match at Metricon Stadium in Round 2, which I have slated to be against Carlton, who were their first-ever opponents in the competition and also their opponents when they played their 100th match in mid-2015.
This, however, means the Blues would start their season with two away matches for the first time since 2012, their first home match not coming until Round 3.
Later in the evening – and assuming he won’t return this season from a hamstring injury – Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin will be slated to finally bring up his long-awaited 300th AFL match when the Sydney Swans play host to Hawthorn in what shapes as a massive SCG blockbuster.
It would see his career go full circle, given he debuted for the Hawks against his current club at the Moore Park venue in 2005.
It will also mark the dawn of a new era for both clubs, with both sides undergoing a refresh of their playing lists as they seek to return to the upper echelons of the ladder in 2020.
The other Saturday night match would see St Kilda host Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in the latest chapter of one of the AFL’s most bizarre rivalries this decade.
As is the case with Carlton, it will be the first match in charge of the Saints for whoever wins their full-time coaching gig, with current caretaker Brett Ratten firming to be the permanent successor to Alan Richardson, who left the club last month.
With the Giants’ home ground, Giants Stadium, expected to be unavailable due to its required use by the Sydney Royal Easter Show, Leon Cameron’s side will have to travel in the first few rounds of the season, though they will play two home games in Canberra and a Sydney Derby at the SCG in this period.
Their first match will see them make the trip to Melbourne to face Collingwood at Marvel Stadium, where they suffered a heartbreaking loss to Essendon in Round 15 of the current season.
The Pies will be out to make a statement after suffering a shock 47-point loss when the two sides met in Sydney last month, where they conceded eight first-quarter goals.
As Port Adelaide will be the visiting side in Marvel Stadium’s anniversary match mentioned above, this means the Adelaide Crows will open the season at the Adelaide Oval for the second consecutive year.
I’ve given them a blockbuster home game against the Geelong Cats, who are likely to be the reigning premiers should their impressive form hold until the end of September.
If the Cats do indeed mount the premiership dais on 28 September this year, it would be the first time since 2008 that any reigning premier begins their flag defence in the City of Churches, when the Cats themselves defeated Port Adelaide in the opening round.
The final match in Round 1 would see the West Coast Eagles host the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium.
Another challenge the AFL will face will be how to schedule the first match in Round 18, which is the same weekend as the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.
It has not yet been announced what time the opening ceremony will formally start, though it is likely to be sometime between 7:00pm and 8:00pm Tokyo time – 8:00pm or 9:00pm AEST.
To avoid the risk of a clash, the AFL should schedule the would-be Friday night match for Thursday night instead, still with a bounce-down time of 7:50pm (AEST) or thereabouts, and it would be played outside of Melbourne.
This would leave Friday night free for the Channel Seven to televise the opening ceremony uninterrupted on its main channel around the nation.
Elsewhere, Melbourne, Collingwood and Essendon are expected to retain their hosting rights for the respective marquee matches against Richmond (Anzac Eve), Essendon (Anzac Day) and Richmond (Dreamtime at the G).
And assuming Stephen Coniglio does leave GWS at the end of this season, his first match against them, whenever and wherever it may be, will stand to be a blockbuster.
Anyway, here is what Round 1, 2020, should look like. All times are local.
Thursday, 26 March
Richmond vs Carlton at the MCG, 7:25pm (Seven)
Friday, 27 March
Essendon vs Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium, 7:50pm (Seven)
Saturday, 28 March
Melbourne vs North Melbourne at the MCG, 1:45pm
Brisbane Lions vs Gold Coast Suns at the Gabba, 3:35pm
Sydney Swans vs Hawthorn at the SCG, 7:25pm (Seven)
St Kilda vs Fremantle at Marvel Stadium, 7:25pm
Sunday, 29 March
Collingwood vs GWS Giants at Marvel Stadium, 1:10pm
Adelaide Crows vs Geelong Cats at Adelaide Oval, 2:50pm (Seven)
West Coast Eagles vs Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium, 4:10pm