Under threat: Carlton and Richmond's round one blockbuster. Photo: Pat Scala
RICHMOND'S hold on the AFL season opener is looking tenuous with Essendon confirming it will push to play Carlton next year in round one at the MCG.
Essendon chief executive Ian Robson last night revealed he had discussed the prospect of grabbing another blockbuster for the Bombers with Carlton CEO Greg Swann. It is understood the AFL has not guaranteed the struggling Tigers the coveted round one spot, concerned at their ability to showcase the first game of the new 18-team competition.
''If there is any opportunity for us to play a part in the repositioning of round one, we will be looking at it,'' Robson told The Age. ''If the opportunity came about, we'd grab it with open arms, as any club would.''
A furious Richmond hit back last night, with club president Brendon Gale taking aim at the Bombers' own blockbuster.
"If Essendon wants to play the season opener, we assume it would involve a swap of blockbuster fixtures and we would be more than happy to explore the idea of playing on Anzac Day," Gale said.
"The last time we played on Anzac Day was against Collingwood in 1977 and that match attracted a crowd in excess of 92,400 people, so it is a game that we are sure our supporters would embrace."
The loss of the round one game would be a massive blow for Richmond, which is working desperately to raise revenue in a bid to lift its total player payments from 92.5 per cent of its possible salary cap. The Tigers and the Blues, also traditional rivals, have contested the past four season openers, all in front of big crowds and although Richmond has been thrashed on two of those occasions, it led Carlton at three-quarter time in the 2011 encounter.
"We have worked hard with Carlton to develop the season opener as a blockbuster game - much the same as Essendon and Collingwood have done with Anzac Day,'' Gale said.
"Over the past five years we have averaged crowds in excess of 70,000 to the season opener, which we think is reflective of a game that the fans have embraced.''
The club has been forced to sell home games to both Cairns and Darwin - both with disappointing results - this year and remains determined to cement its position as an anchored tenant at the MCG.
The move by Essendon could create some animosity between the
two clubs, which currently share the popular annual Dreamtime Game. This year, it attracted a record attendance of more than 83,000.
The AFL has instructed all clubs to put forward their 2012 fixture requests for what is looming as a 22-round home-and-away season to be played over 23 weeks and involving the 18th franchise, Greater Western Sydney. The push has come early due to the complexities of the new nine-game-a-week competition.
Robson also revealed the Bombers had held talks with GWS and coach Kevin Sheedy in a bid to play a major role in the new club's 2012 debut. Robson said he first held a meeting with Sheedy, the four-time Essendon premiership coach, on the eve of round two this season.
''We are very keen to work on a partnership with GWS and play a role in launching them, perhaps for their first game in Melbourne, and potentially in their first game at their new stadium,'' Robson said.
''We wouldn't be fearful of two road trips to Sydney next year; we've always had strong support up there, through our Marn Grook clash with the Swans and, given it's a former master coach working against his apprentice, we'd love to stir up the theatre of it all. We hope the improvement of our performance will position us to get a better line-up of games at the start of the season.
''This year we played five finalists in the first five weeks and it was a difficult fixture for us commercially as well with several 1pm Sunday starts.''