Pre-finals AFL bye is here to stay

Those critics of the pre-finals bye - and it's a star-studded group including Alastair Clarkson, Mick Malthouse and games record-holder Brent Harvey - may be in for a big disappointment: the week's rest is set to be built into the 2018 AFL fixture, as well.

It is understood the AFL Commission has no plans at this stage to scrap the controversial initiative, first introduced in 2016, because it feels that rather than slow down momentum at the end of the season, the bye actually helps to build suspense among fans ahead of the finals.

It also provides an opportunity to showcase women's football, VFL finals, and other events such as the All-Australian team announcement, while achieving its stated objective of giving all eight AFL finals teams the same lead-in to September.

"The build-up of tension over the fortnight increases demand and interest, that's the general view (among the Commission)," one insider told ESPN. "The week off also helps gives the AFLW and VFL some clean air .... and it allows us to have a Thursday final."

The Commission introduced the bye, between round 23 and week one of the finals, in late 2015 in response to Fremantle and North Melbourne fielding weakened line-ups in their last home-and-away matches because their position on the ladder could not change regardless of whether they won or lost.

It announced the 2016 season would feature the pre-finals bye to ensure those clubs involved in the pointy end of the season would get "the best possible lead-in and preparation".

But Clarkson, Malthouse and Harvey - and a majority of the 18 current coaches - have railed against the move because they feel it compromises the integrity of the finals and disadvantages the top-four teams.

Last season, for example, Greater Western Sydney and Geelong finished in the top four and won their first final, meaning they got a week off in the second week before contesting the preliminary finals. Traditionally, this has clearly proved the best way to win a premiership.

But, under the new system, both the Cats and GWS ended up played just one match in a month - between round 23 on 27 August and their preliminary final appearance on 23 September. Unsurprisingly, on the back of that limited preparation, both teams lost in the preliminary final.

Those results, combined with the Western Bulldogs' shock premiership triumph from seventh place, have incensed some observers. What's the point in busting a gut to finish in the top four, they ask, if that confers no advantage during the finals?

Even former Hawk president Jeff Kennett joined in the chorus this week in his newspaper column: "The break between the last round and the finals is simply absurd. The momentum builds through the year, players and fans are wound up like rubber bands and then the AFL imposes a bye weekend. Why?"