Rivalry with a sting: Essendon and Hawthorn hope to lock in round one clash

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Essendon and Hawthorn expect to face off against each other at the MCG in round one for the second consecutive season in what could become a permanent fixture for the two historic rivals.

The Bombers thrashed Hawthorn in the opening round last season, but the battles between the two clubs have been relatively close since the clubs met in round one for the first time in 46 years in 2017.

Alwyn Davey kicked a goal on debut at the Bombers in round one this year.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images

It would be the fourth time the two clubs have met in the opening round since that encounter with the clash expected to be Essendon’s home game at the MCG due to Marvel Stadium being unavailable because of the PINK concert earlier that week.

Club and industry sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the fixturing process said the Hawks clash was the expectation ahead of the full draft release on Thursday with round one to be officially released on Wednesday. The clubs became great rivals in the ’80s when they played against each other in three consecutive grand finals and also played in the infamous ‘line in the sand’ game in 2004.

The infamous all-in melee involving Essendon and Hawthorn players at the MCG in 2004.Credit: Getty Images

Clubs have been told to be tight-lipped ahead of the fixture’s release and, in a new development, officials will be required to sign non-disclosure agreements before being provided with the fixture in a new development.

The draft fixture has changed regularly in the past month as clubs and the AFL have discussed draft models with Josh Bowler now the league’s head of broadcast operations and scheduling. Officials said such non-disclosure agreements have become commonplace in other international sports.

However, the likely round one fixture will see Carlton play Richmond on Thursday night, Collingwood play Sydney on Friday night with Melbourne to play the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night meaning Essendon would play Hawthorn on Sunday the MCG.

Geelong are expected to host St Kilda at GMHBA Stadium and the Giants were expected to host North Melbourne. It was unclear how the remaining match ups between the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Fremantle, West Coast, the Brisbane Lions and Port Adelaide would work.

That round would be played after the opening round which sees two matches in Sydney and two in Queensland with the Giants hosting Collingwood, Sydney hosting Melbourne, Gold Coast hosting Richmond and the Brisbane Lions hosting Carlton with two of the four games repeats of last year’s preliminary final.

Essendon are also expected to again play Carlton on King’s Birthday Eve ahead of Collingwood’s traditional clash against Melbourne. The Bombers were one of the unlucky clubs drawn to play an Adelaide-based team during next year’s Gather Round.

The Western Bulldogs expect to land a couple of home games at Marvel Stadium against big drawing Victorian clubs Collingwood, Carlton or Essendon, with Carlton now playing in the Good Friday clash against North Melbourne.

AFL CEO Andrew Dillon said on Sunday when announcing Gather Round that only two or three extra Thursday night games would be played in 2024 after 11 home and away games were played on Thursdays in 2023. This is despite the players agreeing to play after five-day breaks more often in the latest collective bargaining agreement.

The $4.5 billion broadcast deal signed in 2022 begins in 2025 with more Thursday night fixtures expected to coincide with the beginning of that deal.

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