The Cats will kick off the defense of the premiership in the Friday night blockbuster

The AFL will return to a Richmond-Carlton season opener next year after deciding against kicking off the 2023 campaign with a grand final.

The league confirmed their first round fixture on Sunday morning, with the announcement cynically timed to clash with the Socceroos’ knockout tie against Argentina.

As expected, the Tigers and Blues will open the season for the eighth time in nine years on Thursday March 16 at the MCG.

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The Geelong Premiers will unfurl their 10th AFL/VFL flag ahead of a clash with Collingwood at the same venue the following night.

The league considered scheduling the Cats to face defeated Grand Final opponents in Sydney on a Wednesday night – as it did with Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs last season – but opted against it for reasons logistics.

“It was determined in consultation with Geelong that the reduced capacity of the GMHBA Stadium coupled with a potential Wednesday night game in Melbourne was not the best option for Cats fans to travel on the motorway for a night game in midweek,” said AFL fixtures boss Travis. Auld said.

There will be four big MCG matches over four days in the first round.

Melbourne and the Bulldogs face off on Saturday night, while Hawthorn takes on Essendon on Sunday in what will be the Bombers’ first game under new coach Brad Scott.

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But there will be no matches in Perth in the first round of the season due to a clash with an Ed Sheeran gig at Optus Stadium.

The two Western Australian clubs will play away games at Marvel Stadium, with the West Coast traveling to face North Melbourne in a battle of the last two teams from 2022.

Fremantle will face former manager Ross Lyon in one of the most intriguing matches of the first round.

Lyon, who were sacked by Dockers three years ago, returned to St Kilda as coach following Brett Ratten’s disorderly exit in October.

There will be matches in every other mainland state in the first round, with Port Adelaide hosting Brisbane, Gold Coast taking on Sydney and Greater Western Sydney battling it out with Adelaide.

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“Both WA-based teams understand the challenges with Optus Stadium hosting the Ed Sheeran concert, and we appreciate their understanding at both clubs starting their seasons on the road,” Auld said.

“Recent history has shown that the competition is tighter than ever and we look forward to the first round which sets the stage for an exciting and dramatic home and away season.”