Right now the rules are weighted against Victorians, since we are living in what West Aussies and Queenslanders view as the state of contagion. This presents only one problem for the NRL, owning only one team in Melbourne, but literally 10 times the trouble for the AFL.
The Queensland government’s ruling that Victorians – and thus Victorian teams – must quarantine for 14 days if they turn up in the sunshine state has forced the AFL to move, overnight, to plans B, C, D, E, F, G and H – a moveable plan for five states and two territories.
Thus, the oft-maligned Australian Capital Territory – where, thankfully, the Giants have a formidable presence – has entered the hub picture. As of Monday, it seemed likely AFL players from Victoria would be sharing the fate of politicians and camping in Canberra.
NSW appears to be a likely solution for the travelling teams from Victoria – the Suns and Lions also expect to be sent to Sydney on their way back from Victoria – and the Northern Territory, too, suddenly looks viable as a temporary hub and AFL venue, as the AFL shifts into a plan whereby Victorian teams go in pairs, Noah’s Ark-style, to different states and territories.
Here’s a short summary of the AFL’s problem: teams cannot leave Victoria without quarantining for 14 days if they visit, not only Perth, but Queensland, while South Australia could waver on its decision to allow Victorian teams in from July 20.
Unfortunately, the options for playing certain teams in certain places has narrowed – or disappeared – due to the fact that West Coast, Fremantle, the Crows and Port Adelaide have been bunkered down in Queensland.
That teams have already played, anywhere, reduces the options further when you need to get an average of nine games per round for another 13 weeks and you cannot cheat by allowing teams to play twice.
Melbourne, for instance, has already played the Eagles, which rules it out for a trip to Western Australia at least for the time being. The Demons were due to play Fremantle on the Gold Coast in round six, a game that doesn’t look as viable now.
Collingwood and Geelong at least have certainty about their 21-day road trip to Perth, where they will play each other on July 17 (a seriously weird occasion), and then alternate between the Dockers and Eagles.
Brisbane also has some definite plans, given that the Lions play Port this week, then their Collingwood game at the MCG can proceed because they travel to Sydney to meet the Swans; logically, their round eight opponent will be played in Sydney.
Non-Victorian teams have long complained about inequities in the fixture, about the lighter travel load that Melbourne teams, in particular, deal with, as well as the advantage conferred on MCG tenants and Melbourne teams if they’re fortune enough to make the grand final.
While we will only know how unfair the season was with the benefit of 2020 hindsight, this season is becoming less friendly to the Victorians, who are about to discover what it’s like to be spending extended periods living out of a suitcase.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.