The plan to permit contact training on May 25 would bring all clubs into line with WA, where the state government said on Thursday that it would allow contact training on that date.
The AFL wants a flexible fixture, bearing in mind that the rules around borders and restrictions may change once the season starts and that there is even a possibility of crowds later in the season in some states, depending on the progress of the fight against the coronavirus.
The four clubs from South Australia and Western Australia are expected to be in temporary hubs in Queensland, due to the restrictions on training and borders in those states, with Adelaide and Port Adelaide expected to leave their states soon.
Placing those clubs in Queensland opens up the possibility – which the AFL would not be drawn on – of those six teams in south-east Queensland playing the early games against one another, and the Victorian and Sydney teams playing in a separate pool. But the fixture will not be finalised for some days.
Like West Coast and Fremantle, Port Adelaide had the expressed a preference to the AFL for being based in south-east Queensland rather than Victoria.
The immediate need to temporarily relocate South Australian players and the relevant football staff is largely about training restrictions, since the SA government has put contact training out of bounds until June 8, and those clubs would not be able to train like the other 16 clubs up until that time, unless the SA government changed its position.
Port Adelaide was braced for the prospect of not only training in Queensland, but playing some games there, with uncertainty around when the SA government will relax quarantine restrictions or provide a fly-in, fly-out exemption for the AFL.
The Crows are in the same position as the Power.
The WA government has said it will allow the Eagles and Dockers to contact train from May 25, which means those clubs could make the move to Queensland and a hub later than the Crows and Port Adelaide, whose need to prepare with full contact training would require them to be in another state earlier.
But the Perth teams would still have the closed border problem, which – unless the WA premier changes his tough stance, without an exemption for football – would see them play games in Queensland.
It is unclear whether the teams in the prospective Queensland hubs would travel for away games to Melbourne and Sydney.
The expectation is that there would be multiple hubs, rather than just one, in Queensland
The Gold Coast was West Coast’s preferred option and where at least one hub is likely to be based. The RACV has a hotel with a golf course right next to the Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium and shapes as a potential accomodation venue.
Making arrangements for the SA and WA teams and dealing with their different rules is the major step the AFL needs before announcing a return date, with either Thursday June 11 or June 18 remaining the favoured days.
Clubs are said to need three weeks of full-bore training before resuming games.
The fixture for the early rounds will not be released until the WA and SA clubs’ situations have been resolved.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.