Fremantle chief executive Steve Rosich has welcomed their challenging 2014 fixture, declaring it his club's "lot" as a team that finished high on the ladder this year.
The Dockers will put their season on the line in the first nine games against six of the other seven teams from the top eight in 2013 (including Essendon), plus games against expected improvers West Coast, Gold Coast and North Melbourne.
West Coast counterpart Trevor Nisbett proclaimed his team's fixture "balanced" and was diplomatic about an AFL decision to send the Eagles to the Gold Coast to play the Suns, one of the competition's longest road trips, in round 23.
And the AFL appears to have shelved plans for an All-Star game on the eve of the season just days after chief executive Andrew Demetriou publicly flagged his support.
The Dockers had been bracing themselves for a tougher program and they got it. After the season opener against Collingwood on Friday, March 14, they play the Suns (home), Hawthorn (MCG), Essendon (home), Sydney (SCG), North Melbourne (home), West Coast, Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval) and Geelong (home).
The Dockers also face four six-day breaks in that period.
Of the five teams the Dockers play twice, Geelong, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide were top-six teams in 2013.
"That will be more of a chall- enge for us next year as we play more top-six teams but it is one we welcome," Rosich said.
"There are clearly some chall- enging games to start the year against a number of top-six teams and some six-day breaks.
"The crowd-pulling power of the home fixture is significant.
"We have home games against Geelong, Hawthorn, Carlton and West Coast. There is a Friday night home game and a Thursday night home game against Carlton which is welcomed.
"There is big exposure in terms of television and we are looking forward to all of those challenges.
"We welcome the opportunity to launch the AFL season against Collingwood in Melbourne.
"It is the first time in what will be our 20th season that we get the opportunity. It is something that we probably wouldn't have envisaged a few years ago."
The Eagles have the chance to get rolling early with the Western Bulldogs at home in round one followed by an away clash with Melbourne and a home game against St Kilda. Wins in those matches will be crucial because Geelong (away), Port Adelaide (home), Carlton (away) and Fremantle follow in the next month.
They play Fremantle and Coll- ingwood from last year's top eight twice, along with Melbourne, St Kilda and Gold Coast.
"We are 13th so we are not going to get too many blockbuster games but we think we have got a good fixture and it is reasonably balanced for where we finished," Nisbett said.
He said the trip to the Gold Coast in the last game was not ideal but he would be happy if the Eagles were in the eight or playing for a finals spot at that stage.
"The bottom line is we haven't been there before," Nisbett said.
"It is not ideal being the last game of the year but the chall- enge is there if we are playing for a spot. There is no doubt Gold Coast is an emerging team so they are going to be hard to beat.
"The Richmond home game on a Friday night is a terrific game for us. We have a couple of games at the MCG which is good for us as well.
"We play the Sunday of the WA Day weekend which will be good for a lot of country supporters who last year couldn't get here.
"A reduction in six-day breaks is good, five next year down from the most in the competition last season."
West Coast and Fremantle will also play at Joondalup on Tuesday, February 18, as part of the AFL's 18 games in 18 days NAB Challenge.
The league retreated from its All-Star game concept after opposition from clubs.
AFL deputy chief executive Gillon McLachlan warned that representative football would be scrapped unless clubs showed more support and players were prepared to commit to playing.
"That will be more of a challenge as we play more top-six teams but it is one we welcome."" Fremantle chief executive *Steve Rosich *