The Courier-Mail

FIXTURES ON BRINK DUE TO WA BORDER

First-day Bathurst battle excites Skaife

- JON RALPH

THE AFL admits it might have to scrap its current fixture after only a single round as tight West Australian border restrictio­ns threaten to cause fixture chaos again.

The league has Fremantle flying to Victoria in Round 1 to take on Melbourne, with West Coast scheduled to play the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne in Round 2.

It means Fremantle could not fly back into Perth to host GWS in Round 2 because the players would be forced into a 14-day quarantine after having visited Victoria.

West Coast would have an identical problem for its Round 3 fixture.

The WA government has said it will need 28 days without community transmissi­on in Victoria before dropping border restrictio­ns.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said on Friday afternoon Victoria’s two new positives did not reset the count to zero, suggesting border restrictio­ns to Victoria would ease by March 13.

That would allow both WAbased teams to fly in and out of the state freely, but it would take only another COVID case that spread past close contacts for the WA border to again be closed, causing uncertaint­y.

AFL fixturing boss Travis Auld conceded on Friday that the league was still in talks with the WA state government about how the fixture could proceed.

The tight restrictio­ns might force the WA-based teams on the road for the early weeks of the season again in a reprise of last year’s nightmare fixture.

“The Round 1 fixture as it stands, we can proceed with that. The challenge will be Fremantle coming to Victoria to play Melbourne. It presents an issue as it stands for Fremantle going back to WA, they would have to quarantine,” Auld said.

“That causes issues for them but it causes issues for us as a competitio­n and West Coast play Gold Coast in Round 1, but in Round 2 they come to Melbourne.

“So it’s the same issue for them. We have a challenge in Western Australia. We have got to work through that challenge. Our goal is to work through the fixture to the extent we can but clearly we have to work with those clubs and the WA government to see if there is a better solution without compromisi­ng the health of the community.”

Asked what that compromise might be, Auld replied: “I wish I had the answer to that”.

The AFL has short-term options including cycling those clubs through Queensland for several weeks after playing Melbourne sides to effectivel­y “cleanse” them for 14 days.

It means they could continue playing each week then fly from Queensland back into WA, with no border restrictio­ns between those states.

But the Courier-Mail understand­s if either West Coast or Fremantle play a team which has played a Victorian side within the past 14 days, the WA-based teams become “dirty” again and have to quarantine for 14 days upon return.

All of it shapes as a recipe for disaster unless the WA government relaxes its hard-line stance after the state election on Saturday March 13.

The league could also seek exemptions for WA teams to have tighter COVID restrictio­ns when they leave Perth and be able to return without quarantini­ng.

CHAZ Mostert went on a season-opening Bathurst blitz to emerge as a shock contender to become the next Scott McLaughlin.

Returning to Mount Panorama 133 days after season 2020 ended with McLaughlin winning his third title straight, Mostert went quickest in both practice sessions to show that he will be a genuine contender for the vacant V8 crown.

Considered a dark horse to replace Indy Car-departed star McLaughlin as the sport’s best driver, the Walkinshaw Andretti United driver delivered an early upset by beating both Red Bull and Dick

Johnson Racing with a double showing of speed.

“He shapes up as a real contender in 2021,” V8 legend Mark Skaife said.

“He is fit, fast and is ready for a big year.

“He didn’t drive the car as well as he would have liked last year, but they have made a lot of changes over the offseason.”

Skaife predicted a mouthwater­ing battle between Mostert and Cam Waters, after the Holden driver edged out his old Ford teammate in a thrilling first-day serving of Supercars.

Tickford pilot Waters looked to have snared the fastest lap of the day, until Mostert replied with a charttoppi­ng time of 2min 04.78sec.

“The prospect of Mostert versus Waters is something that has me very excited,” Skaife said.

“I am loving it, because we all know they have a history and they could go on to become the rivals of the year.”

In a frenetic season start that was highlighte­d by a Will Brown crash, Mostert edged out Waters in the first session before doing it again in the second.

Brown conceded a mistake was to blame for what was the first shunt of the season.

“It was just a complete balls-up on my half,” the Erebus driver said.

“I’m not going to let it get us down, it’s one of those things. You shouldn’t do it as a rookie, I did everything wrong as a rookie.

“I was just getting a lot of understeer through there on all my other laps and I sort of tried to turn in early to try to stop the understeer and get in a bit closer. But I turned in a bit too early in the end and did that.

“It’s really disappoint­ing, I’m probably out for the weekend now.

“It sucks for the team, but we’ll keep our chins up.”

The Mount Panorama brutality continued in practice session two, with the red flag waved just minutes after the field left the line.

Prompting another stoppage, Macauley Jones got bogged in a sand trap after firing off the track at the Chase.

Waters registered a 2.04.79 to go to the top, before Mostert stole the show to set up what could become the sport’s next great rivalry.

 ??  ?? Chaz Mostert during his scorching practice session at Mount Panorama on Friday, and (inset) after the session.
Pictures: Getty Images
Chaz Mostert during his scorching practice session at Mount Panorama on Friday, and (inset) after the session. Pictures: Getty Images

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