We learned a bit from Round 1, but there’s still plenty we don’t know – and are about to find out.
Here’s a look at our burning fixture questions.
Get your footy fix on KAYO ahead of live matches returning soon. Watch classic battles from the 60s to today, docos, news and more. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
SEE THE FIXTURE: Full details on every game in Rounds 2 to 5
CLUB-BY-CLUB ANALYSIS: Winners and losers from AFL’s return games
LISTEN TO THE FOX FOOTY PODCAST FIXTURE SPECIAL – TOM MORRIS AND MAX LAUGHTON ANALYSE WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOUR AFL CLUB
If you’re on a mobile, tap here to listen
WHO ARE THE BIGGEST WINNERS FROM THE FIRST PHASE?
It’s hard to go past the two teams who finished on top of the ladder last season – Geelong and Brisbane.
The Cats are set to play all of their home games at GMHBA Stadium this year, unlike previously when they’ve hosted big teams at the MCG and Marvel Stadium.
In Round 2, they’ll receive their first visit from Hawthorn since 2006, and Carlton and Gold Coast will also make their way down the highway in the first month back.
The Lions meanwhile are the big beneficiaries of the hubs. The Suns still have to travel once in this opening match – to Geelong, as mentioned – but Chris Fagan’s side gets four straight matches at the Gabba.
While they’ll obviously have to make quite a few interstate trips later in the year to make up for it, it gives Brisbane a great opportunity to rebound from its 0-1 start and, in a shortened season, set up beautifully for another finals charge.
Richmond is a mini-winner too, because while they have to travel to face West Coast, it’s a trip to the Gold Coast rather than Perth. That is surely preferable.
St Kilda, which doesn’t travel out of Melbourne between Rounds 2 and 5, should also be happy – though we’ll explain later why it’s not all good for them – while Sydney has one interstate trip but it’s to face North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium, a fixture they haven’t lost since 2007.
WHO ARE THE BIGGEST LOSERS FROM THE FIRST PHASE?
Quite clearly the four hub teams – Adelaide, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and West Coast – will have it tougher than most in this opening patch of games.
All four of them have to play one home game in Queensland. It remains to be seen whether the AFL will give them an extra home game in their home cities later in the year.
In particular the Eagles ‘get to’ host Richmond, but it’s on the Gold Coast rather than Perth, which they’d surely prefer.
In terms of pure difficulty, Hawthorn will be challenged by road trips to face Geelong and GWS, plus an MCG encounter with the Tigers.
WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO GO UNBEATEN THROUGH THIS PHASE?
Round 1 winners: Richmond, Collingwood, Essendon, Sydney, Port Adelaide, GWS, North Melbourne, Hawthorn, West Coast
Some of them can’t, of course. The Tigers and Magpies face off in Round 2, as do the Bombers and Swans. The Eagles and Power play in Round 4, the Hawks face the Giants in Round 5… you get the point.
But Sydney’s run looks particularly kind, and that’s important because not much is expected of them in 2020. A 4-1 or 5-0 start is entirely possible with games against Essendon, North Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Richmond sitting 4-0 heading into its Thursday night showdown with the Eagles at Metricon. They get three games in Melbourne to restart the year, including facing the Pies and Hawks at the MCG, where they’ve been so dominant.
Meanwhile Geelong can’t go unbeaten after losing in Round 1, but if they can get past Hawthorn at GMHBA Stadium in Round 2, there’s clear air for them to get to 4-1 – thanks to games against Melbourne (MCG), Carlton and Gold Coast (both at GMHBA).
WILL ANYONE BE OUT OF THE FINALS RACE BY THE END OF THIS PHASE?
Round 1 losers: Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Fremantle, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Geelong, St Kilda, Brisbane, Melbourne
The problem with a shortened season is there’s very little margin for error.
On average, teams will need to win at least nine games – and probably 10 – out of their 17 matches to make the top eight. That means you can only afford seven or eight losses.
So for the teams that sit 0-1 heading into the relaunch, another bad month will be extremely costly.
St Kilda received plenty of hype this pre-season after a bumper trade period, but allowed North Melbourne to come back and win in Round 1. They’ve had plenty of time to stew on that loss, but it won’t be easy to make amends.
The Saints start things off against a Bulldogs side similarly keen to make up for a bad opening loss. If they drop that, it gets even worse, with Collingwood and Richmond next on the docket. At least they play the Tigers at Marvel, not the MCG.
In fact whichever side loses that Saints-Bulldogs game will be in strife, because the Dogs have a tricky Round 3 encounter with GWS. They wouldn’t want to fall in an 0-3 hole.
There are two other games pitting two Round 1 losers together – Brisbane v Fremantle and Carlton v Melbourne – with similar stakes.
We could also see pressure being heaped on Melbourne if it drops its first two restart games against Carlton and Essendon.
Brisbane should be OK, with four games all at the Gabba in its opening month – but that just means they have plenty of away games coming in the back half of the season, so they’d want to take advantage of this opportunity.
WHO IS SET UP FOR A BIG SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR?
The ideal scenario for the four hub teams is that they’ll be given a bunch of home games once they return from Queensland.
For example if West Coast can get through its tricky Round 3 to 5 stretch that includes Brisbane (Gabba), Port Adelaide and Richmond (both Metricon), it’ll return to Perth with up to seven more home games left to play.
Similarly Fremantle will have played four away games by the end of Round 5 – though we expect it’ll be more a matter of avoiding a 1-4 or 0-5 start for them.
Geelong always has a high floor because of its incredible win rate in GMHBA Stadium games, and with more of those coming later in the year, we’re expecting a strong Cats season.