Rob Forsaith, Oliver Caffrey and Anna Harrington
(Australian Associated Press)
Perth is all but certain to host the AFL grand final for the first time after Optus Stadium was officially named the standby venue for the season decider.
The final game of the season is poised to be moved from the MCG for the second consecutive season amid Melbourne’s latest coronavirus outbreak.
The showpiece game hasn’t been officially taken away from Melbourne yet, with the league waiting on the Victorian government inevitably relinquishing the MCG’s hosting rights.
Standing in the way is the AFL’s contract with the state government for the MCG to be the home of the grand final until at least 2058.
Last year the AFL and the Victorian government were able to work out a one-year extension of that landmark deal before the grand final was shifted to the Gabba in Brisbane.
Metropolitan Melbourne will remain in a hard lockdown until at least September 2, with a high chance it could be extended further, ruling out a large crowd at a sporting event in Victoria for the immediate future.
“Today I had a conversation with the West Australian premier (Mark) McGowan … where we let them know that Optus Stadium would be the home of the AFL grand final in the event that it is not able to happen at the MCG,” AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said on Wednesday.
The AFL has made it clear it wants the remainder of the season to be played in front of crowds with the 60,000-capacity Optus Stadium expected to host other finals in coming weeks.
“It is not in my contemplation to play a grand final without a crowd,” McLachlan added.
McLachlan also confirmed Brisbane and Port Adelaide would host preliminary finals at their home grounds should they earn the right.
Melbourne and Geelong will travel to Perth after their respective qualifying finals against the Lions and the Power at the Adelaide Oval this weekend, regardless of the results.
McGowan admitted the AFL’s announcement was exciting for WA but acknowledged he would like to see Victoria, and all other states battling coronavirus outbreaks, “crush the Delta variant”.
“As a footy state, the scale of an AFL grand final is not lost on us,” he said.
“If it comes here, we will do it justice.”
Geelong will travel with their full squad and, like Melbourne, only return home once their season is over.
This week’s qualifying finals are being played at Adelaide Oval while Launceston is hosting Sydney-GWS and the Western Bulldogs-Essendon elimination finals.
Bombers coach Ben Rutten expects to fly to Tasmania on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Bulldogs and remain on the road if they win through to the second week of finals.
Rutten expected to take a large travelling party to Tasmania in preparation for a potentially extensive stint interstate.