For the first time in the fixture’s history, the annual Dreamtime at the ‘G will be played in Darwin, with the match being moved away from its traditional home, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria.
All ten state-based AFL clubs have evacuated Victoria in an attempt to continue the season unimpeded.
When announcing the fixture block for Rounds 9-12, Gillon McLachlan confirmed that there would be no more home-and-away matches played in Melbourne, and Sydney to that extent, due to the second wave of coronavirus cases in both cities.
It was for that reason that the Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydeny Giants left New South Wales, just hours after Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared the whole state, as well as Victoria and the ACT, as COVID hotspots.
The two Sydney clubs are currently in Perth, with the Swans to play Fremantle and the Giants to play West Coast, before the former club sets up camp in Cairns, while the Giants will stay west for another week to play the Dockers.
The Dockers-Giants match in Round 14 will be the final match played in Western Australia for the regular season, with both clubs to then hub in Cairns and the Gold Coast for the remaining four rounds.
Less affected by coronavirus, as early as May Northern Territory offered to stage games with crowds.
In announcing the fixture, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the game was “coming home”.
The territory has produced many of Australia’s greatest footballers over a century and a half, including:
• Michael Long, who played in Essendon’s 1993 and 2000 premiership teams and whose son Jake also represented the Bombers. • Dean Rioli, who played 100 games for the Bombers between 1999 and 2006 inclusive, but didn’t play in the 2000 premiership team. • Andrew McLeod, who played over 300 AFL games for the Adelaide Crows and won back-to-back Norm Smith Medals in 1997 and 1998. • Mathew Stokes, who played in Geelong’s 2007 and 2011 premiership sides, and was recruited by Essendon as a top-up player in 2016. • Abbey Holmes, who played in the Adelaide Crows’ 2017 AFLW premiership side. • Stevie-Lee Thompson, who played in both of the Crows’ 2017 and 2019 AFLW premiership sides and was the AFLW leading goalkicker in the latter year. • Darryl White, who played in the Brisbane Lions’ triple-premiership winning sides of 2001-03. • Cyril Rioli, who played in each of the Hawks’ four premiership sides this century and won the Norm Smith Medal in 2015. • Daniel Rioli, who played in both of Richmond’s 2017 and 2019 premiership sides. • Willie Rioli, who played in the West Coast Eagles’ 2018 premiership side. • Maurice Rioli, who won the Norm Smith Medal in 1982 despite his Tigers side losing to Carlton in the grand final.
It will be the third of four games to be played in the state for the year, following the Gold Coast Suns vs Carlton match, which will be played the previous evening, as well as Melbourne vs St Kilda in Alice Springs in Round 14.
There was also an AFLW match played between Melbourne and Carlton earlier this year, but it was shut off to the public just 24 hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a six-month ban on non-essential gatherings of more than 500.
The Tigers go into Saturday night’s match just half a win outside the top four, having come from behind to beat the Gold Coast Suns by 21 points at the Gabba and preserving their strong record at the ground, where they hadn’t lost since July 2004.
That came after they lost to ladder leaders Port Adelaide by 21 points at the Oval, in which they were kept scoreless in the final quarter.
Still, Richmond are well in contention to finish in the top four for a fourth straight year as they continue their quest for back-to-back flags, which coach Damien Hardwick proclaimed “could be the greatest flag ever won” given the circumstances that have plagued this season.
On the other hand, the Bombers are reeling following a disappointing loss to St Kilda, which came four days after they forced a draw against the Suns at Metricon Stadium.
A crippling injury toll has not helped John Worsfold’s side, which has lost vice-captain David Zaharakis for the rest of the season due to a quad issue, coming on top of losing captain Dyson Heppell after Round 2.
In a huge positive for the club, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti will play his first AFL game in the Top End, having been raised in the Tiwi Islands before becoming rookie-listed by the Bombers at the end of 2015.
The 27-year-old has not missed a game since his debut in 2016 and this match will henceforth be his 101st in succession, having raised the bat in last week’s loss to the Saints.
It will also be the first time the Dons play a premiership match in the NT, while it will be Richmond’s first appearance in the Territory since mid-2011.
History is against the Bombers, who have not won this fixture since 2014, when they won by 50 points – that also marking their most recent win over the Tigers.
The corresponding match in Round 10 last year saw the Tigers win by 23 points, with Bachar Houli – who played for Essendon between 2007-10 before moving to Richmond in 2011 – claiming the Yiooken Award and Sydney Stack participating in the pre-match war cry.
Sports opinion delivered daily
A Richmond win will make it ten straight wins over the Bombers, marking their longest winning streak against them in a century.
And while the Tigers will start hot favourites as they push for a double chance, the Bombers should not be discounted, as they look to keep their finals hopes alive.