THE AFL has been forced to cancel the final round of the VFL season and the first week of the finals after yet another lockdown extension this week.
The season has now lost a total of five of the 19 rounds, with each of the past 12 weeks being affected to some extent by state government lockdowns in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
The cancellation means the ladder has been adjusted on a match ratio order with not all teams playing the same amount of games. Collingwood moves into the top eight and Frankston drops out because the latter has played more games than the Magpies despite having the same points.
The top four have also lost their double chances with the finals being reduced to three weeks.
The finals will retain the top eight clubs but in an elimination format should they be able to start on the weekend of September 4, with minor premier Footscray to meet GWS (eighth), Southport (second) to play Collingwood (seventh), Box Hill Hawks (third) up against Williamstown (sixth) and Geelong (fourth) facing Casey Demons (fifth) in sudden-death showdowns.
The four winners will meet in the preliminary finals for a spot in the VFL Grand Final at Marvel Stadium on Sunday, September 19.
A further week's delay would see the fifth to eighth placed teams eliminated and the top four would play off for a spot in the decider.
The AFL is working with the Sharks to explore all possible arrangements to allow them to play in the finals after they finished second with a 9-1 record, while the Giants are based in Melbourne and will be able to play.
AFL Head of Talent Pathways and State League Competitions Tristan Salter said the VFL community continued to navigate its way through a challenging year for sport and although the conclusion to the season would look different, it was the only system available to crown a premiership team.
"The 2021 season has been a challenge to everyone connected to football (and) the AFL is very proud of how all VFL clubs, players, officials, supporters and corporate partners managed through a difficult year and kept their communities connected," Salter said.
"All 22 clubs continue to play a vital role in keeping their suburban and regional networks engaged and we acknowledge the importance they have played as pillars of their local communities and … (in) growing and nurturing our national code.
"We have seen 107 exceptional games of football this season, with the engagement in the VFL in 2021 highlighting how important football is to so many people across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
"The VFL maintains a strong presence in the football landscape and the role it plays in the growth of our game should never be underestimated."
Salter said the VFL competition had been extremely even this season and was excited by the prospect of a fiercely competitive finals series, should restrictions ease enough to allow them to be played.
"We will continue to make changes that best manage the current environment, progresses our season and protects the health and safety of those in our game and the wider community," he said.
"While COVID-19 continues to impact the community, the health and welfare of our players and the community remains the priority and all matches will operate in a safe manner anchored in the advice of respective governments, public health officials and medical experts.
"Strict protocols will be in place to protect players, officials, staff and the wider public at all matches when they return."
All VFL finals matches will be shown by broadcast partners the Seven Network, Foxtel and Kayo, with games also heard on broadcast partner Casey Radio 97.7FM and WBC 94.1FM.
The AFL will explore all options to investigate ways to get fans back to the footy as safely and as soon as possible.
VFL and VFL club digital channels will have all the ticketing information for fans as each weekend’s games are released and fans can return to matches.