THE AFL will launch the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership Season with a flurry of Thursday night matches, cramming five blockbuster clashes into the opening five rounds of the home and away fixture, which was released in part on Monday.
The AFL has detailed a full 23 rounds of match-ups, but limited dates, times and broadcast details to the opening six rounds (SEE THEM BELOW) in a flexible response to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 interruptions.
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The League has also planned for the return of blockbuster football to the MCG, with feature matches including Anzac Day, Anzac Day Eve and the Grand Final rematch between Richmond and Geelong scheduled at the ground.
The 2021 season will also launch with Richmond unfurling its 2019 and 2020 premiership flags against Carlton in the traditional season-opener at the MCG.
The AFL has scheduled 14 of the 18 clubs to play on Thursday or Friday nights in the opening six rounds.
Fremantle, Hawthorn, Melbourne and North Melbourne miss out on the coveted slots, although the Kangaroos will play a Friday match as part of a Good Friday double-header, taking on the Western Bulldogs in a twilight clash at Marvel Stadium.
Collingwood has the most blockbuster Thursday and Friday night matches, playing two on each night in the opening six rounds, while reigning premier Richmond plays three. Brisbane, Carlton and the Western Bulldogs have two each.
The AFL is planning another four or five Thursday night matches, held primarily around the mid-season bye period.
Hubs – used in the 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – also remain a possibility should they be required.
"In this circumstance, we'll get a couple of weeks in before we might look to announce the next block [of matches]," executive general manager of clubs and broadcasting Travis Auld said.
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"Once again, it'll depend a little bit on how the season is looking and the environment in each state as to whether we need to keep this period a little shorter than you might otherwise.
"We've certainly got options, in the sense that we know we can put clubs into high-performance centres or hubs.
"We know we can compress the season if we need to. At the moment, we've released a fixture based on a standard format of 22 games over 23 weeks.
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"It's our intention to execute that, but it'd be silly not to go in knowing we might need options at points in time."
Auld said the league is hoping to release the next block of matches at around round two.
The first six rounds are heavy on new and traditional rivalries, with Essendon versus Hawthorn (round one), Carlton versus Collingwood (round two), Geelong versus Hawthorn (round three), Greater Western Sydney versus the Western Bulldogs (round six) among the matches featured.
The Swans will host the first Sydney Derby in round five, West Coast will host the first Western Derby in round seven, Port Adelaide will host the first Showdown in round eight, and Gold Coast will host the first QClash in round nine.
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With all teams playing 22 games across 23 rounds, there will be three bye rounds, from round 12-14.
Every team will play at the MCG at least once, with Collingwood and Richmond each scheduled for a competition-high 14 at the venue.
The back-to-back premiers have a strong run home, travelling away from the MCG just three times in the last 13 rounds of the season.
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The Magpies leave Melbourne twice in that period, travelling to Adelaide to tackle Port Adelaide and the Crows, also hosting two matches at Marvel Stadium.
There are two AFL/W double-headers: Gold Coast will host North Melbourne at Metricon Stadium (round two in the AFL and round nine in the AFLW), while Brisbane will play Sydney (AFL, round one) and Collingwood (AFLW, round eight) at the Gabba.
Other 2021 fixture details:
- Essendon will head to GMHBA Stadium for the first time since 1993 in round 16 as Geelong takes on a big Victorian rival at the Cattery.
- Sir Doug Nicholls Round will occur over rounds 11 and 12 and include matches in Darwin and Alice Springs. The Dreamtime game will return to the MCG in round 12, with Sydney's Marn Grook game in round 11.
- There will be AFL/AFLW double headers in the first two rounds of the season at the Gabba and Metricon Stadium.
- North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will play on Good Friday at Marvel Stadium to support to Royal Children's Hospital Appeal. Adelaide will host Gold Coast that night in a Good Friday double-header.
- Channel Seven will broadcast all Saturday night matches into Queensland on their primary channel in the first six rounds.
- The Anzac Appeal Round will complete the first block of six rounds. Three matches will be played on Anzac Day, Sunday, April 25. Hawthorn will host Adelaide at Launceston before Collingwood and Essendon meet at the MCG. Port Adelaide then take on St Kilda at Adelaide Oval.
- Five-day breaks have again been used to allow flexibility with Thursday night matches.
Thursday, Mar 18
Richmond v Carlton MCG (Seven) 7.25pm
Friday, Mar 19
Collingwood v Western Bulldogs MCG (Seven) 7.50pm
Saturday, Mar 20
Melbourne v Fremantle MCG (FOX) 1.45pm
Adelaide Crows v Geelong Cats Adelaide Oval (FOX) 4.05pm
Essendon v Hawthorn Marvel Stadium (Seven) 7.25pm
Brisbane Lions v Sydney Swans The Gabba (FOX) 6.45pm
Sunday, Mar 21
North Melbourne v Port Adelaide Marvel Stadium (FOX) 1.10pm
GWS Giants v St Kilda Giants Stadium (Seven) 3.20pm
West Coast Eagles v Gold Coast Suns Optus Stadium (FOX) 3.10pm
Thursday, Mar 25
Carlton v Collingwood MCG (Seven) 7.20pm
Friday, Mar 26
Geelong Cats v Brisbane Lions GMHBA Stadium (Seven) 7.50pm
Saturday, Mar 27
Sydney Swans v Adelaide Crows SCG (FOX) 1.45pm
Port Adelaide v Essendon Adelaide Oval (FOX) 4.05pm
St Kilda v Melbourne Marvel Stadium (Seven) 7.25pm
Gold Coast Suns v North Melbourne Metricon Stadium (FOX) 7.10pm
Sunday, Mar 28
Hawthorn v Richmond MCG (FOX) 1.10pm
Western Bulldogs v West Coast Eagles Marvel Stadium (Seven) 3.20pm
Fremantle v GWS Giants Optus Stadium (FOX) 3.10pm
Thursday, Apr 1
Brisbane Lions v Collingwood The Gabba (Seven) 6.40pm
Friday, Apr 2
North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs Marvel Stadium (Seven) 4.20pm
Adelaide Crows v Gold Coast Suns Adelaide Oval (FOX) 7.20pm
Saturday, Apr 3
Richmond v Sydney Swans MCG (FOX) 1.45pm
Essendon v St Kilda Marvel Stadium (FOX) 4.35pm
West Coast Eagles v Port Adelaide Optus Stadium (Seven) 5.10pm
Sunday, Apr 4
Carlton v Fremantle Marvel Stadium (FOX) 3.20pm
GWS Giants v Melbourne Manuka Oval (FOX) 6.10pm
Monday, Apr 5
Geelong Cats v Hawthorn MCG (Seven) 3.20pm
Thursday, Apr 8
Sydney Swans v Essendon SCG (Seven) 7.20pm
Friday, Apr 9
Port Adelaide v Richmond Adelaide Oval (Seven) 7.20pm
Saturday, Apr 10
Western Bulldogs v Brisbane Lions Mars Stadium (FOX) 1.45pm
St Kilda v West Coast Eagles Marvel Stadium (FOX) 4.35pm
Gold Coast Suns v Carlton Metricon Stadium (Seven) 7.25pm
Collingwood v GWS Giants MCG (FOX) 7.25pm
Sunday, Apr 11
North Melbourne v Adelaide Crows Marvel Stadium (FOX) 1.10pm
Melbourne v Geelong Cats MCG (Seven) 3.20pm
Fremantle v Hawthorn Optus Stadium (FOX) 2.40pm
Thursday, Apr 15
St Kilda v Richmond Marvel Stadium (Seven) 7.20pm
Friday, Apr 16
West Coast Eagles v Collingwood Optus Stadium (Seven) 6.10pm
Saturday, Apr 17
Western Bulldogs v Gold Coast Suns Marvel Stadium (FOX) 1.45pm
Sydney Swans v GWS Giants SCG (FOX) 4.35pm
Carlton v Port Adelaide MCG (FOX) 7.25pm
Brisbane Lions v Essendon The Gabba (Seven) 7.25pm
Sunday, Apr 18
Adelaide Crows v Fremantle Adelaide Oval (FOX) 12.40pm
Hawthorn v Melbourne MCG (Seven) 3.20pm
Geelong Cats v North Melbourne GMHBA Stadium (FOX) 4.40pm
Friday, Apr 23
GWS Giants v Western Bulldogs Manuka Oval (Seven) 7.50pm
Saturday, Apr 24
Geelong Cats v West Coast Eagles GMHBA Stadium (FOX) 1.45pm
Gold Coast Suns v Sydney Swans Metricon Stadium (FOX) 1.45pm
Carlton v Brisbane Lions Marvel Stadium (FOX) 4.35pm
Melbourne v Richmond MCG (Seven) 7.25pm
Fremantle v North Melbourne Optus Stadium (FOX) 6.10pm
Sunday, Apr 25
Hawthorn v Adelaide Crows University of Tasmania Stadium (FOX) 12.30pm
Collingwood v Essendon MCG (Seven) 3.20pm
Port Adelaide v St Kilda Adelaide Oval (FOX) 6.10pm