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AFL rolls fixture dice on 'vulnerable' Blues

Fixture's biggest winners and losers Nick Bowen and Nathan Schmook discuss the fallout from the 2018 Fixture release
There's clearly a bit of risk in [the Blues] ... but I think Carlton are building a strong team and they're well coached
Gillon McLachlan

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FIXTURING a 'vulnerable' Carlton with five Thursday and Friday night games next season is a bit risky, the AFL concedes.    

Only 2017 premiers Richmond (eight), runners-up Adelaide and perennial finalist Sydney (both seven) have been awarded more games on Thursday and Friday nights than Carlton next season.    

Despite finishing 16th this year, the Blues sit alongside 2017 finalists Essendon and Geelong, and 2016 premier Western Bulldogs with five games in the competition's marquee timeslots.     


By comparison, 2017 preliminary finalist Greater Western Sydney will play just one such game, as will Melbourne, while competition powerhouse Collingwood and a resurgent Port Adelaide will play in three.    

When Carlton last featured prominently on Thursday and Friday nights in 2015, it was a disaster. Fixtured in seven games in those timeslots, they did not win one match, with their average losing margin a whopping 58 points.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan sitting with journalists at the fixture launch. Picture: AFL Photos
AFL fixturing boss Travis Auld told reporters on Tuesday the League had scheduled Carlton in one or two more Thursday and Friday night games than it had anticipated, but was hopeful the Blues would be competitive.      

"If you actually work through them individually, they kick off the season on a Thursday night slot, they host Collingwood at the MCG, that's a big game, and then they're at Etihad against the Bulldogs, so three of those (games) are done by round 11," Auld said.    

"It's important that they honour that slot and play some competitive football and they'd be well aware of that."    

Asked whether he was worried the Blues would again struggle on the AFL's biggest home and away stage, Auld said inevitably some Thursday and Friday night games next year would fall flat.      

"Certainly what you look for in those Thursday, Friday, Saturday night slots is good competitive, exciting games of football and so that's what you're hoping for. Over a season you'll get one or two that don't pan out as you would like," Auld said.    

"This year we had Sydney lose their first six and you wouldn't have thought that going into the season. So who knows? It's full of surprises.      

"But whether it's Carlton having one or two more (games), or maybe they do really well and one other team might not perform on a night, that's the difficulty in getting a fixture together."    

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan conceded Carlton could be vulnerable playing so many Thursday and Friday night games if it reproduced its 2017 form, but was optimistic the Blues were on the rise.  

"I think there's a vulnerability there," McLachlan said.      

"We've lost a bit of flexibility with the Anzac Day game being on a Wednesday and we're playing the pre-match Anzac Day game on a Tuesday night with Melbourne and Richmond, that knocks on for a number of weeks.      

"So I think Carlton is probably a bit of a standout to have the four Friday nights and the Thursday night, (but) the majority are pretty early (in the season).      

"But I think we've seen in the last few years you don't know where teams are going really, that's the beauty of the fixture and the evenness of our competition in the last three years.      


"There's clearly a bit of risk in them if you took the end of 2017 (as a guide on their form next season) but I think Carlton are building a strong team and they're well coached."

After a stunning 2017, six of Richmond's first seven games will be at the MCG, including the season opener against Carlton on Thursday, when they will unveil their flag. The Grand Final rematch will be in Adelaide in round two, also on a Thursday night.  

The premiers will finish the season with a run of four of five matches at the MCG.

Greater Western Sydney and Sydney have been handed tough draws, with the Giants and Swans the only teams to play three top-six sides twice.

Sydney also has the most six-day breaks with eight, while Gold Coast has the least with three.

Good Friday footy will continue but North Melbourne will take on St Kilda instead of the Western Bulldogs this year. The 2018 Grand Final will be held on Saturday, September 29.


More fixture highlights:  

- Gold Coast will play a first home game at Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns against North Melbourne.

- West Coast will play the first match for premiership points at the new Perth Stadium, against Sydney.

- Adelaide will host Richmond in the Grand Final re-match in round two against Richmond on a Thursday night at the Adelaide Oval.

- North Melbourne will host St Kilda in a twilight match on Good Friday at Etihad Stadium

- Gold Coast will play a home match at Perth Stadium, against Fremantle, as part of the requirements for the Suns to play their early home games away from Metricon Stadium due to the Commonwealth Games. 

- Also in round three, three players have the opportunity to cross paths with their former clubs in Jake Stringer (Essendon from the Western Bulldogs), Tom Rockliff (Port Adelaide from the Brisbane Lions) and Lachie Weller (Gold Coast Suns from Fremantle). 

- Matches in which other star players confront their former club for the first time to be dotted through the season:
   - Port Adelaide’s Steven Motlop against the Geelong Cats in round five
   - Adelaide’s Bryce Gibbs against Carlton in Round Seven
   - Brisbane Lions' Luke Hodge against Hawthorn in round nine
   - Melbourne’s Jake Lever against the Adelaide Crows in round 10
   - Returning Geelong champ Gary Ablett against the club where he won his second Brownlow Medal in round 11
   - The Western Bulldogs’ Jackson Trengove against Port Adelaide in round 13
   - Port Adelaide’s Jack Watts against Melbourne in round 14

- Two matches now to be played at Mars Stadium in Ballarat, both hosted by the Western Bulldogs, against Gold Coast in round seven and then Port Adelaide in Round 19.

- A return to China in round nine when Port Adelaide plays the Gold Coast Suns at Adelaide Arena at Jiangwan Sports Centre.

- Seven Thursday night matches across the season with two to be played in the opening two rounds. The five remaining matches to be played from rounds 13-17 encompassing the period around the round 12-14 bye rounds.

- Mid-season break for all clubs to be spread across rounds 12, 13, 14, except for Gold Coast and Port Adelaide, who will have their break in round 10 after playing in China.

- The continuation of a second bye, after round 23, which was introduced for the 2016 season, to enable those clubs competing in the 2018 Toyota AFL Finals Series to have the best possible preparation.

- Minimum six-day break for all clubs between each match, with the exception only for the four sides coming out of the Anzac Day Round in Richmond, Melbourne, Collingwood and Essendon, who will then cross over and play among themselves off shortened breaks for parity.

- All Victorian-based clubs to travel interstate on a minimum of five occasions. All clubs to play at least one match both at the MCG and Etihad Stadium, as part of a minimum four in Victoria.

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