THE 2024 Toyota AFL Premiership Season will begin at the SCG on Thursday, March 7 with Brodie Grundy's first game as a Sydney player to come against his former club, Melbourne.
As reported by AFL.com.au last month, the 2024 season will start with just four games on the weekend of March 7-9, two in each of NSW and Queensland, with the League today confirming the details of what it has labelled 'Opening Round'.
A full round one, featuring all 18 clubs, will then commence on Thursday, March 14 with the traditional Carlton v Richmond game at the MCG.
The Swans v Demons clash to start the season will be followed by Brisbane hosting Carlton at the Gabba on Friday, March 8 in a rematch of this year's preliminary final.
Gold Coast will then host Richmond on the Saturday afternoon, pitting ex-Tigers coach Damien Hardwick against his former club in his first game as Suns coach.
'Opening Round' will conclude with Greater Western Sydney hosting Collingwood on Saturday night in another preliminary final rematch.
The eight teams involved in 'Opening Round' will have a bye at some point between rounds two and six, meaning all 18 clubs will have played the same number of games by the start of round seven.
The 'Opening Round' games are part of the AFL's ongoing plan to grow the game in the northern states. The National Rugby League, which will start its 2024 season in Las Vegas, has scheduled just one game in Sydney (on Saturday evening) and two in Queensland (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon) for that weekend of March 7-10, giving the AFL some clear air for its 'Opening Round' games.
AFL CEO Andrew Dillon is also hopeful the Labour Day public holiday in Victoria on Monday, March 11 will further encourage fans of the Victorian clubs to travel north for the games.
"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.
"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.
"We continue to find opportunities to build marquee games and events across the season, with recent examples being King's Birthday Eve, Anzac Day Eve and Gather Round and our four matches in the Opening Round build on this approach.
"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."
The March 7 start date is the earliest ever for a VFL/AFL premiership season. The season started on March 8 in 2000 when the competition was moved forward to accommodate a finish in early September before the Sydney Olympics.
The AFL last trialled a split round to begin the season in 2014, when four games were played across an earlier weekend – two in Melbourne, one in Sydney and one on the Gold Coast – before the remaining five games the following week.
The season opener is traditionally held in Melbourne, but 2024 is not the first time the AFL has moved the game to other parts of the country. The first game of the season has previously been played in Adelaide (in 1991 and 2013), Sydney (2012), Perth (1989 and 2006) and Brisbane (2005).
The news comes following the announcement of the Gather Round fixture in South Australia and details of three games in the Northern Territory for the 2024 season. The full fixture will be announced on Thursday.
2024 Opening Round
Thursday, March 7
Sydney v Melbourne, SCG, 7.20pm AEDT
Friday, March 8
Brisbane v Carlton, Gabba, 6.50pm AEST (7.50pm AEDT)
Saturday, March 9
Gold Coast v Richmond, Heritage Bank Stadium, 3.20pm AEST (4.20pm AEDT)
Greater Western Sydney v Collingwood, Giants Stadium, 7.30pm AEDT
Full round one to commence on Thursday, March 14