Pre-finals bye to stay as AFL delays grand final announcement

The AFL will not announce the venue for the grand final until next week, but is set to stick with the recent tradition of a pre-finals bye, paving the way for the game’s finale to be held on October 24.

The decision to stick with the bye means the AFL decider is likely to be held on Cox Plate day – or potentially at night, after the famous weight-for age horse race – as the league will be reluctant to go head-to-head with the NRL grand final on the Sunday.

The AFL will not make an announcement on the grand final until next week.

While Queensland remains favourite to host the grand final at the Gabba, an October 24 decider also keeps Perth in the frame, as Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has signalled his state won’t relax COVID-19 restrictions until at least that date, meaning crowds for Optus Stadium will be capped at half capacity until then.

From October 24, Optus Stadium could have a packed house.

Two states are still to present their case for hosting the grand final.

The AFL has already received presentations from Queensland and Western Australia, with the Queensland government bid telling the AFL that the goal was for the Gabba to host a crowd with 75 per cent capacity at the Gabba, or slightly more than 30,000.

Sources familiar with discussions said South Australia and NSW would make their official bids on Thursday, but that the AFL could not finalise its decision until next Tuesday, when the AFL commission meets.

Queensland was also bidding to host the Brownlow Medal, which the AFL still plans to hold in grand final week, rather than in the bye week before finals, although the Brownlow timing – and the question of whether it is a virtual or attended event – is yet to be confirmed. The Queensland bid would see the Brownlow Medal count held on the Gold Coast, probably at the Gold Coast Convention Centre.

The Victorian government will also want some compensation for losing the grand final, given that it holds a contract, with the MCC, to have the grand final at the MCG until 2057.

But the Victorian government is awaiting the AFL’s decision on preferred bidders before it formally relinquishes the grand final to another state. The AFL will not hand the game to another state without input from the Daniel Andrews government, due to the contract and the long-term close relationship.

It is likely the WA government will be able to offer the AFL a better financial return than Queensland given the larger capacity of Optus Stadium in Perth (60,000), subject to the percentage of the stadium that WA says it would allow in. But the logistics of playing it in Queensland – where all but three clubs are based now – are viewed as easier.

AFL chairman Richard Goyder joined league chief executive Gillon McLachlan and a number of Queensland government officials, including the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Kate Jones, and Gold Coast Suns chairman Tony Cochrane and his counterpart at Brisbane Andrew Wellington, when the Queensland government made its pitch for the grand final and Brownlow on Tuesday.

“I think we’ve been pretty consistent, we’re aiming for the end of August [for a decision],” McLachlan told 3AW radio.

“We continue to work with the Victorian government; wherever we land will be in concert with them.

“We’ve got a contract, but we’re having very fair conversations with the Victorian government and it’s increasingly looking challenging in Victoria.”

The AFL has made it clear it is willing to work with racing authorities to avoid a significant clash, and the Moonee Valley Racing Club’s preference is for the Cox Plate to remain in its usual timeslot, but a day game cannot be ruled out.

While clubs are yet to be told the format for the finals series, league sources have indicated clubs should have every opportunity to get their best players fit for the most important games of the year.

The home and away season will conclude on Sunday September 20, with finals to kick off on the first weekend in October. Games are set to be played from Thursday to Sunday during the finals series.