THE AFL has made two major fixturing calls: Carlton and Richmond have retained their hold on the Thursday night season opener at the MCG next year, while Hawthorn and West Coast will meet on the Friday night of the final round this year.
Essendon is likely to meet Collingwood on Saturday afternoon in round 23, with Carlton earmarked to play St Kilda in a Saturday twilight match of what shapes as a momentous final round. All three of those games can determine ladder positions in the eight, which requires them to be played earlier than Sunday for finals fixturing flexibility.
While the Hawthorn-West Coast match is assured of being on Friday night, the Essendon-Collingwood and Carlton-St Kilda games still have to be confirmed.
The AFL is planning to open the 2013 season with the Tigers and Blues on Thursday evening, March 28, on the eve of Good Friday, and will schedule the match - which has become one of the season's biggest - at the MCG, not Etihad Stadium.
The league had considered scheduling the game at a later date and also starting a week earlier in order to accommodate an additional bye. But it has chosen to stick with what has become a traditional round one. Next year, round one will stretch from Thursday, March 28, until Easter Monday, on April 1.
This year's Richmond-Carlton game, on a Thursday night, was the second rather than the first game of the season, due to the scheduling of Greater Western Sydney's historic debut against Sydney as a stand-alone fixture the previous Saturday night.
Richmond and Carlton started playing on the Thursday before the remainder of round one in 2008, when Chris Judd suited up for the Blues for the first time; the match was a sellout the following year when Ben Cousins made his debut as a Tiger. The fixture has averaged more than 70,000 fans and generates huge television ratings.
The AFL's fixturing call for the start of 2013 means the MCG will have just 48 hours to get ready for football if Victoria's cricketers host the Sheffield Shield final.
Cricket Australia will unveil its domestic fixture next week, with the shield final to start on March 22 and run for five days.
Because Cricket Victoria does not have an alternative venue for first-class games, the MCG is its only option, meaning ground staff have to remove its drop-in pitches and prepare the stadium for football in rapid time. Victoria will play its first match of the domestic cricket season in Perth - the day before the AFL grand final.
Carlton's fixture next year is likely to include two matches each against Richmond and long-time foes Collingwood and Essendon.
Of the other final-round matches this season, Richmond and Port Adelaide (at the MCG), and Brisbane Lions v Western Bulldogs are all but certain to be played on the Sunday, since three of those teams - and in all likelihood Richmond - have no hope of playing finals.
Geelong will host Sydney at Simonds Stadium in round 23 - another in the final round's remarkable set of matches which have, potentially, huge ramifications for the final eight.
While the league is already working on the fixture for next year, some clubs have yet to finalise their requests.
With CHLOE SALTAU