Jenkins: Time to abandon Carlton vs. Richmond season opener

In his first column for ESPN in 2017, Adelaide Crows star Josh Jenkins serves up his thoughts on the opening match of the season and why two teams shouldn't have a mortgage on the first clash of the year.

There is no more exciting time in an AFL season than where we are right now.

Finals -- and the grand final in particular -- are an amazing spectacle that draw interest from around the globe, but for the pure, passionate footy fan, the lead in to Round 1 is the most magnificent time of year.

There are more than half a million paid up members of the 18 AFL clubs, each excited for what the new season may have in store for both their team and the game as a whole. The storylines that roll through a 27-week AFL season never cease to amaze.

For supporters of the Saints and Dees, the new season brings hope of a long-awaited return to the finals. Bulldogs fans, meanwhile, will be dreaming of repeating -- this time with inspirational captain Bob Murphy at the helm.

The parochial followers of Port Adelaide, Adelaide, West Coast and Fremantle will all be expecting finals success. Yes, Freo had a year to forget in 2016 but try finding a Dockers fan who doesn't think they can make the finals with the return of Nathan Fyfe and Aaron Sandilands, and a few handy recruits.

Every club has reason for hope. Every fan is optimistic. Some will be proven right, while for others it will all end in tears - literally. But that's why we love the game so much.

And it's that love that brings me to my first point: why do Carlton and Richmond have a mortgage on the season-opener?

In the past six seasons, the closest meeting between the two clubs has been nine points, which was attended by a tick over 75,000 people. No-one would argue that as a poor beginning to an AFL campaign, but surely there are even better ways to ignite the season proper? Maybe 90,000 footy-hungry fans will flock to the Melbourne Cricket Ground this Thursday night and the Tigers and Blues will put on a blockbuster and prove me wrong.

Sure, there are complexities associated with creating the fixture -- we acknowledge that. But hopefully there's an opportunity for the powerbrokers to reserve out football venues then choose the appropriate season opener.

It was not long ago that my baby, the NFL, opened the 2016 season with a rematch of the Super Bowl combatants. The juice in the September clash between Denver and Carolina was enormous and fans couldn't wait to see the two sides go head-to-head once more. The match lived up to the hype with the Broncos winning again in an epic 21-20 week one victory.

Would seeing the grit and grunt of the always competitive Swans against the reigning champion Doggies in a grand final rematch be a better option as a season opener? It is slated for the Friday night of round two - so obviously the power players at the AFL realise it is a game of significance.

How about those same premiers unveiling the premiership flag and its newest recruit Travis Cloke against his old mob, Collingwood? The sons and daughters of the west would come from far and wide to see the flag unfurled while we know the Magpie army attends in large numbers, especially with a new enemy standing between them and victory.

And then there's Essendon's clash with Hawthorn at the home of footy. The returning Bombers, stars like Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley and Jobe Watson, squaring off against the most dominant team of the past decade, a club embarking on a new chapter with a new leader who has his own remarkable comeback story. The footballing fraternity loves Jarryd Roughead arguably more than any other player in the competition. His return, as the new skipper of the Hawks would, alongside the returning Bombers, electrify the MCG on a Thursday night.

Carlton and Richmond have not drawn 90,000 to open a season in a long, long time. I suspect the old foes with new agendas would have drawn every bit of 90,000 had they been given the season opener.

The Tigers and Blues are league powerhouses who both have gigantic followings. However, both teams have suffered from indifferent form in recent seasons and their crowd figures have dwindled. As of December 23 last year (early I know) the Tigers had the fourth highest membership base while Carlton had dropped to eighth -- positions well below what both clubs are accustomed to.

Moving forward, yes, footy is back and most of us will at least tune in to get our first glimpse of AFL for 2017. But there is no valid reason why Carlton and Richmond should have a mortgage on the showcase game to start the season.