Kangaroos request Good Friday fixture, as Horne-Francis faces grudge match

North Melbourne have submitted an official fixture request to the AFL to retain the Good Friday standalone clash, but it’s too late for the Kangaroos to specifically detail when they would like a grudge match against Jason Horne-Francis.

The Kangaroos are fighting to retain the Good Friday fixture, having been thumped by the Western Bulldogs over the past two seasons, by 128 points last year and 68 this season, the latter before 32,162 fans. The Kangaroos and Bulldogs have played in the past three Good Friday fixtures, this event first introduced in 2016.

While the football spectacle, and resultant broadcast ratings, are important, the two clubs have been praised for the way they have helped to raise funds for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. The match acts as a lead-in and additional fundraiser for the annual appeal.

Power recruit Jason Horne-Francis faces a grudge match against North Melbourne next season.Credit:Nine News

Kangaroos chief executive Ben Amarfio said he understood why the club’s right to play on Good Friday had been questioned.

“We get that, in where we are in our rebuild cycle and our performance. But we, obviously, plan to be a more competitive outfit next season and there is no reason why we can’t put up a really good showing,” Amarfio told The Age.

“For us, it’s also about appealing to the kids. We think it’s an opportunity to grow our appeal to youth for our club. It’s been a very successful push for us in the growth of our membership. We have grown our membership to over 50,000 members now, and we have done that largely on the back of attracting a lot of kids. Good Friday is an important plank of our kids’ strategy.

“We have, obviously, played the Dogs over the last couple of years, but I am also conscious our biggest crowd we have ever had [on Good Friday] was against Essendon, over 40,000. It’s up to the AFL to which way they go.”

The Bombers faced North in 2019, after St Kilda played the game in 2018. The Saints lost the fixture after a disappointing performance and attendance of 33,966.

Horne-Francis, meanwhile, was at the centre of one of the biggest trades in VFL-AFL history, and his first match for Port Adelaide against his former club shapes as must-watch viewing.

That the former No.1 pick cited the Kangaroos’ instability this season, and potential for more next year, as one reason for his departure, is likely to ensure Kangaroos supporters vent their anger when the Power and Roos next meet.

It was a rough evening for the Kangaroos when thumped by the Western Bulldogs on Good Friday this year.Credit:AFL Photos

Amarfio said as the trade was completed after the fixture requests were due, it would be solely up to the AFL to determine where and when the two clubs were slated. While agreeing it “might” attract a major crowd if staged at Marvel Stadium, he added: “But by the same token it might be a good one for Port Adelaide. But, as I said, they would have had their request in … that one is going to fall where it falls. It won’t be engineered.”

League and broadcasters will debate whether it is worthy of prime-time viewing, particularly in the marquee Friday-night timeslot early in the season.

The lone clash between the two clubs this season was off Broadway, that being in Hobart on a Saturday afternoon in round nine, the Kangaroos losing by 69 points.

The AFL says the full fixture is not expected to be released until late November or early December.

There will be some ill-feeling towards Horne-Francis from his former teammates, if Cam Zurhaar is any guide. After Horne-Francis’ deal was done, Zurhaar posted on his Bulls Cooking Instagram page a pointed message. “Lamb ribs, grilled chicken, elite salad, happy man for more than just this meal.”

The robust forward also took to his Instagram story, promoting his Bulls Cooking tote bag with the discount code “Hornetgone”. He later changed the discount code to: “Discount code, if you know you know.”

Former North Melbourne and Sydney star Wayne Schwass says the Power must ensure Horne-Francis is ready to handle the attention expected to come his way ahead of the Kangaroos’ clash. Schwass, the 1996 Kangaroos premiership player, and now a leading mental health advocate, said the Power would need to monitor the man dubbed the “Hornet”.

“The AFL focuses on the fixture and Port focuses on Jason. It [Horne-Francis’s mental health] is a shared responsibility between club and player, not the AFL. If he’s ready and capable to handle the situation, then he plays, if he’s not ready physically and/or mentally, then hold him back,” Schwass said of potential grudge match.

The Kangaroos had only two Friday night clashes this season. Aside from Good Friday, they were beaten by the Dockers in Perth by 78 points in round eight, that being one of two games held that night.

North Melbourne could also look to cash in next season on a clash against Hawthorn, should Alastair Clarkson – a four-time premiership coach with the Hawks – retain his new position as coach of the Kangaroos amid an independent investigation of allegations of racism against him from his time with the Hawthorn. Clarkson has strongly denied all allegations.

Amarfio, who will finish up soon in the top job, said the Kangaroos had also requested four home games in Hobart, which could be impacted by an impending vote on the league’s 19th licence, for a team to be based in Tasmania.

They also want home games against major Victorian clubs – Collingwood, Essendon and Carlton – held at Marvel Stadium.

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