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A full Guide to the AFL’s brand new season-opening ‘Round 0’ concept

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afl opening round 2024

It’s a controversial decision, but the AFL is determined to continue growing the game interstate. So the league has announced the start of season 2024, the opening round, will look a little different.

The traditional Carlton v Richmond fixture at the MCG has been put on the back-burner; the league’s announced they will have a four-game first weekend that will see games exclusively outside of Victoria.

The two Sydney-based sides – the Swans and Giants – and the two Queensland-based teams – the Lions and Gold Coast Suns – will each host matches against Melbourne teams.

It had been rumoured, following the 2023 season, that the league was interested in having a split first round that capitalised on the NRL’s season openers in Las Vegas. And with the fixture being slowly released, that’s now a reality.

The Swans will have the honour of starting the new season, hosting long-time rivals the Melbourne Demons on a Thursday night blockbuster; it’s the earliest start to an AFL/VFL season in history.

With the four games locked in, here’s everything you need to know about the new-look season-opening weekend.

AFL’s opening round games

MARCH 7-9

The change to the traditional start to the season will see the four-game opening weekend played outside of Victoria, with two games in New South Wales and two in Queensland.

Opening Weekend fixture:

Sydney Swans vs Melbourne | Thursday March 7, Sydney Cricket Ground, 7:20pm AEDT

Brisbane Lions vs Carlton | Friday March 8, Gabba, 7 :50pm AEDT

Gold Coast Suns vs Richmond | Saturday March 9, Heritage Bank Stadium, 4:20pm AEDT

GWS Giants vs Collingwood | Saturday March 9, GIANTS Stadium, 7:30pm AEDT

AFL Opening Round
Lachie Neale (left), Touk Miller (middle) and Patrick Cripps (right) will all be involved in Round 1.

Why has the League introduced this new concept?

Put simply, it’s an opportunity for the AFL to continue to grow their product interstate and block the clear air that the NRL has enjoyed in previos seasons — the NRL usually starts 1-2 weeks earlier and enjoys huge ratings with less competition.

The NRL has also decided to host two games in Las Vegas to launch its season. It means less footy happening in traditional Rugby League states across that first weekend.

Newly appointed CEO Andrew Dillon spoke to media explaining the reasons for introducing a unique Round 1 — the league’s first major decision associated with the new boss.

“We were fortunate to be in a position where we were able to have access to our major venues in Queensland and New South Wales a weekend earlier than usual, which gave us a unique opportunity to play these four games in key markets where footy continues to grow in popularity,” Dillon said.

image 38
New AFL CEO Andrew Dillon, who announced AFL Opening Round fixtures

“The four match-ups are big, with four of our biggest supported Victorian clubs travelling north, and we look forward to starting our season with real momentum before we head into a blockbuster round of matches in round one.”

“Given this weekend also falls on the Labour Day long weekend in Victoria it presents a terrific opportunity for fans to travel north to support their club and enjoy an extended interstate break.”

Major storylines heading into the four games

The league has made sure there’s no shortage of intrigue for the Round 1 action, headlined with ‘replays’ of both 2023 Preliminary Finals.

Sydney Swans vs Melbourne: Faces in new places

Two teams that flunked out of last season’s finals series without recording a win clash in the first game of the 2024 AFL season — and there will be no love lost between these two either.

The Swans, who dominated the off-season trade period, plucked two players from the Demons’ list; Brodie Grundy and James Jordan. You can expect both to be in Sydney’s Round 1 team for this huge game.

Both sides have again been tipped to make the finals and push for a premiership, so securing an opening round win could be vital.

Brisbane Lions vs Carlton Blues: Prelim rematch

The first of the two Prelim rematches bounces on the Friday night at the Gabba; the Lions host Carlton.

The Blues are coming off their best season in over a decade, breaking their finals drought. But it wasn’t meant to be in the Grand Final qualifier, going down to Brisbane by 16 points at the same ground.

And for Brisbane, their confidence will be at an all-time high after another great year that saw them go heartbreakingly close to winning the premiership.

Gold Coast Suns vs Richmond Tigers: The ‘Damien Hardwick derby’

Quite possibly the spiciest matchup of the AFL Opening Round is Richmond’s trip north to the Gold Coast. The Tigers will take on a Suns side that’s now being led by celebrated former Richmond coach Damien Hardwick, who of course was in charge of all three of Richmond’s recent flags — including the drought-breaker back in 2017.

Richmond, who have lost experienced veterans Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin to retirement, start a new chapter in 2024 and will want to get off the best possible start. The Tigers will also have to back up only five days later for the club’s traditional, normally season-opening, clash with Carlton. A rough start.

Similarly for the Suns, with Hardwick now at the helm, they will be wanting to start a brand new chapter and end what’s currently the longest active finals drought in the AFL.

GWS vs Collingwood: Another Prelim replay

The other Prelim rematch will happen at an alternative venue; it’s the Giants with hosting rights this time, after the Pies qualified for the Grand Final by winning a nail-biter in Melbourne in September. In what was one of the best finals games of last season, Collingwood walked away victors by just one point, which should serve as great motivation for GWS to enact revenge.

Premiers Collingwood look even stronger than their 2023 team, though, adding 26-year-old small forward Lachie Schultz to their already stacked roster.

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