Clubs target two dates for mid-June AFL return
A top-four finish will again become a premium with the AFL all but certain to ditch the contentious pre-finals bye this year.
The scramble to play the Grand Final before the end of October means clubs won't have the luxury of a week off before finals.
The Western Bulldogs famously capitalised on the extended break to seize a drought-breaking flag in 2016, including two wins on the road against West Coast and the GWS Giants.
The Giants also made the Grand Final last season from sixth on the ladder.
The AFL is yet to finalise this year's fixture but will almost certainly launch the finals immediately after Round 17.
That move would return the advantage to the four teams which earn the double chance.
Hawthorn master coach Alastair Clarkson was a strong critic of the pre-finals bye, saying it denied the best teams their hard-fought advantage over the lower-placed finals teams.
The bye was introduced in 2016 after Fremantle and North Melbourne infamously rested almost half their teams to freshen their stars before September.
Clubs are hopeful of resuming training on Monday, May 18 in groups of 6-10.
They have nominated Thursday, June, 18 and Thursday June 25 as the most likely season restart dates ahead of a crucial national cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said there was "no doubt" certain restrictions would be eased from next week.
A June 18 resumption would give the AFL 20 weekends to finish the season by its preferred October 31 target date when player contracts expire.
Another week lost, resuming on June 25, would give them just 19 weeks to play 16 Rounds, plus four weeks of finals.
Players have been told to prepare for four-day breaks and tougher interstate trips on which they would play two games in a week.
While the AFL has ditched the original 2020 fixture, premiers Richmond and Nathan Buckley's Collingwood could still reignite the season in a first game back.
The AFL will relaunch the year with a series of marquee match-ups to help regain momentum and supporter interest after a three-month hiatus.
The rival NRL remains on track to resume on May 28, giving it a month-long headstart on the AFL.
The AFL introduced the pre-finals bye, in part, to help maximise the game's stars' availability for the pointy end of the season.
But it was a bone of contention as it also meant teams who won the first final then played only one game in more than three weeks leading into the preliminary finals.
The likely decision to scrap it this year will please Clarkson who believed top-four teams had earned their right to an advantage in the final month of the campaign.
"I think it's an enormous disadvantage finishing top four and winning your first final and playing one game in three weeks leading into a prelim," Clarkson said.
"It's unbelievably challenging for a top-four team, given they have deserved top-four status. That's why anyone in the top eight could win it.
"I don't think it's good for the game. Part of the game is survival of the fittest, and if you've worked hard to deserve top-four status you shouldn't be disadvantaged come the finals."
MARQUEE MATCHES WE WANT TO SEE
Richmond v Collingwood
Makes sense to reignite the season with two of the biggest clubs in the land going head-to-head on a Thursday night. Dustin Martin versus Jordan De Goey in a repeat of the 2018 preliminary final.
West Coast v Sydney
This one will get the whole country watching as superstar Lance Franklin prepares to return from a knee injury. Tim Kelly intrigue.
Hawthorn v Geelong
Traditional rivals missed out on their annual Easter Monday blockbuster. It's a game which draws everyone in.
Training: Clubs are hopeful of being given a green light to resume training in groups of up to 10 players on Monday, May 18.
Season restart: Clubs believe Thursday, June, 18 and Thursday, June 25 are the most likely restart dates for Round 2.
Pre-finals bye: Scrapped.
Hubs: Still an option for all or some non-Victorian clubs depending on the relaxation of border restrictions. West Coast and Fremantle may have to base themselves in Melbourne for the early phase of the season. Will families be able to come with them? Expensive for the league.
Originally published as Clubs target two dates for mid-June AFL return