'Such a weird sight': Footy forges on in 'eerie' scenes

Chris Young
Sports Reporter

After a week of intense speculation, the AFL kicked off their 2020 season behind closed doors on Thursday night, on a near-silent MCG.

Richmond held off Carlton for a 24-point victory, but it was the sight of the usually jam-packed MCG stands completely empty as the season opener went on that most captured the attention of fans and experts alike.

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Both the AFL and NRL have taken the unprecedented measure of playing games with no crowds in a bid to salvage their respective seasons amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Fans were focused on the bizarre spectacle of the nation’s largest sporting league beginning their season with no fans in sight, leaving many feeling ‘weird’ about the whole thing.

With the MCG practically deserted, Dustin Martin and the Tigers defeated Carlton in the first AFL fixture for 2020. Pictures: Getty Images

The remaining eight AFL games this weekend will be played behind closed doors as well, while round two of the NRL is also off-limits to fans.

The AFL limited access to the ground to essential personnel only - which, funnily enough, ruled out AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, as well as Richmond bosses Brendon Gale and Peggy O’Neal.

The strange scenes didn’t end with the crowd.

Channel 7 implemented a noticeable social distancing policy for hosts interviewing players on the ground, with Cameron Ling keeping his distance from Carlton’s Patrick Cripps.

Plenty of players, past and present, commented on the unprecedented sight.

Speaking on commentary for Fox Footy, Hawthorn legend Dermott Brereton said the players wouldn’t be distracted by the lack of fans once the ball was bounced.

“It’s weird. It definitely has a weird feeling to it,” Brereton said.

“But having said, I believe in the coaches when they say, ‘when the ball bounces, you forget everything, the moment is right there, the ball is everything’.”

Brisbane Lions midfielder Mitch Robinson took to Twitter, labelling the game ‘the most bizarre sh*t I’ve ever seen’.

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There were similarly eerie scenes at ANZ Stadium, where the Canterbury Bulldogs took on the North Queensland Cowboys.

Rugby league journalist Buzz Rothfield tweeted a list of preventative measures the league was taking throughout the match, which included moving the interchange benches 20 metres apart, having players on the bench remain 1.5m apart, and washing the game balls every 10 minutes.

A total of 241 people were at the ground including players, with all asked questions as they entered the one open door about their health and travel history.

A journalist was turned away after only arriving from overseas less than a fortnight before the match.

Jason Taumalolo had the most powerful game by a forward in a decade to help North Queensland beat Canterbury 24-16 in the NRL's first closed-doors match.

Taumalolo had a monster first half for the Cowboys, as they ran in four first-half tries to all but wrap the match up in the opening 40 minutes.

The Cowboys lock ran 304 metres in total, according to Fox Sports Stats' provisional numbers, the most by a forward since Steve Price in 2007.

WITH AAP