The brilliant artificial lights of Optus Stadium and the natural sunlight of the Gold Coast are set to play pivotal roles in the seasons of West Coast and Fremantle after the AFL released its 2019 fixture yesterday.
West Coast will play their first five home games under lights, including the unfurling of their 2018 premiership flag against GWS in round two, a Saturday night derby in round four, Good Friday against Port Adelaide in round five and a blockbuster Friday clash against Melbourne in round nine.
The Eagles will play eight of 11 home games at night. There will also be a Friday night grand final rematch against Collingwood and a Thursday night blockbuster against Essendon.
Fremantle could start a favourite in four of their first six matches with games against North Melbourne, Gold Coast, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs.
The Dockers have earmarked a week-long camp on the Gold Coast in December as a key to getting a re-structured team ready for the start of the season. The camp is also likely to be a pivotal team-bonding exercise after rumours of player unrest in the wake of Lachie Neale’s shock departure.
Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett said the team realised that the tough challenge of double-up games against finalists Collingwood, Melbourne, Hawthorn, expected improvers Adelaide and fierce rivals Fremantle came after success.
“We knew we would get a pretty tough draw. We are comfortable with what we have been given. The night fixtures are terrific. We will be night owls. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to make sure we perform well in the big clashes.”
Fremantle chief executive Steve Rosich said the aim of the Gold Coast camp would be to get the players “on the same page”.
“It is designed around our coaching team really drilling in the game plan,” he said. “On the basis that we have a good November to March, we look forward to the start of the fixture.”
Asked if team bonding would be a focus at the camp Rosich said: “A little bit. The clear focus is game plan and education. We have got a very young squad, notwithstanding that we have added some experience via the trade period recently. We are going to add another four draft picks. Effectively we have only 15 or 16 players on our list now that were on our list in 2016. It is a really new group.”
The Dockers face the Bulldogs, St Kilda, West Coast, Essendon and Port Adelaide twice. But Rosich was pleased to see six of 11 home games on Saturday compared with seven Sunday games in 2018.
“I think the mix of six games on a Saturday with four of those at night and five on Sunday is about right,” he said. “Supporters will have a variety of games to choose from and four games in the number one preferred timeslot of Saturday night.”