Fremantle will finally return to the Friday night stage next season for the first time since 2016 but they’ll have to share the limelight, a fixture quirk that’s excited but also bemused Dockers fans.
West Coast and Fremantle will be part of a Friday double-header experiment in 2022, with the AFL testing the concept three times in the opening eight rounds.
The Eagles will meet Sydney at Optus Stadium at 5.40pm on Good Friday, following a twilight meeting between North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
And in round eight, the Dockers will feature in the second leg of a Friday night double-header when they host the Kangaroos at 6.40pm, a clash that will overlap with the second half of the preliminary final match-up between Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs.
It marks Fremantle’s first Friday night game since 2016, though the match won’t be shown nationally on free-to-air TV, a right Dockers champion Paul Hasleby believes the club must earn with consistent performances.
“They probably haven’t deserved it just yet but they’re tracking the right way towards getting those big blockbuster games,” Hasleby said.
“We have to share games on a Saturday so it’s a different way of looking at it. I think the fans will be happy but from a TV broadcast perspective, I’m not sure it’s ideal.”
Fremantle CEO Simon Garlick said the club would embrace their return to Friday night football irrespective of the overlapping fixtures.
A floating fixture from round ten onwards could see Fremantle demand more prime time football if they can prove their wares in the opening part of the season.
“It’s been a long wait for the Purple Army to see Fremantle return to Friday night football, so we’re thrilled for them as well as the players, who will also be excited to return to the big stage,” he said.
“To have three prime-time night games from our opening four fixtured home games is a great result for the club.”
The Dockers missed out on their request to play their annual Len Hall Game on Anzac Eve but will instead face Carlton and the returning Adam Cerra on Saturday night at 5.40pm.
Fremantle have also been blessed with a big opportunity to establish their top-eight push in the opening ten rounds, facing only three 2021 finalists and the bottom four finishing sides.
The Dockers also face manageable away fixtures against Adelaide, Essendon and Gold Coast.
“If you can get some favourable away games against lower ranked side, it opens up the draw a little bit. It could be the difference in your season,” Hasleby said.
West Coast Chief Executive Trevor Nisbett said the Eagles were ready to test themselves against the best in the competition.
“It will be a great opportunity for our club to test itself against others that should be strong contenders,” Nisbett said.
“Playing so many of those teams at Optus Stadium, including two Friday night games, should hold strong appeal for our members and we look forward to seeing the venue full of blue and gold.”
AFL broadcasting boss Travis Auld was confident the WA border would be accessible for visiting teams on a normal fly-in, fly-out basis.
“There’s a level of confidence that working with the WA government, particularly this season, that we can make that work with the borders,” Auld said.
“But we remain realistic about the challenges that are ahead of us. And we’ll learn a lot earlier than round two. We’ve got AFLW starting in January and we’ve got teams moving in and out of WA, so we’re setting ourselves up for that.”