The AFL has limped into Round 1, again

The AFL keeps missing the point.  After another long, meaningless pre-season, round one was limp and unimaginative.  That the round was split isn’t the problem.  The problem is the choice of games.

Sydney should’ve played Hawthorn at the weekend.  As last year’s grand finalists, surely they have earned the right to open the season with a stand-alone game.

A grand final rematch might’ve drawn 60,000 fans to Homebush.  It wouldn’t have needed hype, marketing or imagination.

Anticipation would drive the fans crazy.  The outcome would’ve been proof of continued domination or belated atonement.  Such a game would expose the combatants and provide insight into their game-plan, injuries, mental fatigue and improvement.

The season would’ve been ripped right open after the opening game.  It is amazing the AFL can ignore the obvious.

Instead of a grand final rematch, we got Adelaide against Essendon and a western derby.

Millions of fans tuned in, simply because it was great to have footy back.  The games were good, with the underdogs winning.

But unless you had an emotional stake in either team, it was an underwhelming opening.  The fans weren’t robbed of footy, but we were denied the best available game, a big opportunity for a real grudge match.

Last year’s grand final was a classic.  It would’ve been fascinating to watch Sydney and Hawthorn go at it again.  Unfortunately, the rematch won’t occur until round seven.

Since 1970, only nine of the previous year’s grand finalists have played each other in round one.  The AFL hasn’t shunned the rematch as a possible season opener, but they haven’t embraced it either.

The list below shows the clubs, year and result:






North Melbourne

60   pts




38   pts




60   pts




45   pts




15   pts




115   pts



West Coast

1   pt



Port Adelaide

9   pts




8   pts


By folly or design, grand final rematches were played in round one from 2007 to 2009.  The margins in those three games should’ve been enough to convince the AFL to persist with the concept.

It was their chance at starting a bona fide traditional matchup, and they blew it.

Last year, it must be remembered, Sydney and Greater Western Sydney played in the stand-alone game to open the season.  The game was a blowout and an insult to millions of fans who waited so long for football.

From 2008 Carlton and Richmond opened the season without either club doing anything to earn the honour.

The opening game to any season must be a grand final rematch.  There would be no need for hype, and that’s always a good thing in sport.  Whoever won the grand final would host the game, which would provide myriad marketing opportunities.

Clubs should be rewarded for excellence.  Opening the season should be an honour, not a quirk of the draw.

The opening game of the season needs to be dramatic, not an anticlimax.  A grand final rematch, regardless of the result, would provide the drama.



About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. PeterSchumacher says

    I have to agree with the point you make, the rationale as to how the games are scheduled is beyond me.

  2. Kamootchi says

    Good article, I too agree with you. I don’t really think you needed to include pre 2007 round 1 Grand Final rematches in your evidence though. That didn’t help the justification haha.

  3. kath presdee says

    Personally, I don’t understand the logic of the split round to start the season. If it was to prevent another clear weekend of NRL TV broadcast then why have games in states with no NRL teams?

    Starting with a Grand Final rematch is great theatre. Might not be a great draw for Friday night if there isn’t a Victorian team though, but it’s still a fine way to start the season.

    That said, I think the AFL are planning to have the Sydney Derby in Round 1 for some years as part of a big marketing push in the greater Sydney market. They need to grow the game here still. But that also suggests kicking off with traditional rivalries – which could also start the season with a bang.

    Not sure that you’d get 60,000 to Homebush in Round 1 though, particularly when the Easter Show is on. Unless you had 30,000 Hawthorn fans fly up. You’d pack the SCG though… Swans fans prefer the SCG.

  4. Barkly St End says

    That’s a fair argument, and it’s hard to argue with the main point that we have limped into an opening round of an AFL season.

    I offer a few additional comments:

    1. I think the split round has a lot to do with the feeling that the season hasn’t quite started yet.

    2. It could be argued that it’s a Victorian-centric perspective to belittle the two opening games. Both games, the WA derby in particular, had plenty of interest in their own right.

    3. I can’t help thinking the AFL has orchestrated a situation wherever everyone is frustrated with the manner in which we have opened the season, because their end game is to convince the MCG Trust to have the MCG a week earlier – and it’s at that point that you will get some blockbusters happening on Australia’s biggest stage. At the moment, the AFL is being denied the possibility of an 85,000 opening game attendance all for the possibility that Victoria might host a Sheffield Shield final in front of 2,000 people.

  5. Great start to the season but not much of interest this weekend… luckily I’m heading to Hanging Rock.

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