Damien Hardwick after being announced as Gold Coast coach on August 21, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

FOR THE first time in AFL history, the Toyota AFL Premiership season will begin with an 'Opening Round', with four matches set to feature in Queensland and New South Wales to kick off the action in 2024.

Beginning on Thursday, March 7, the four games for premiership points in the Opening Round will be played the week before a traditional round one.

Round one will then begin the following week with the Carlton v Richmond fixture at the MCG on Thursday, March 14 and consist of a full round of nine matches.

'Opening Round' will get under way on Thursday night when Sydney hosts Melbourne at the SCG, before heading north to the Gabba on Friday night, March 8, for a re-match of the 2023 preliminary final between Brisbane and Carlton.

Gold Coast and its new coach, Damien Hardwick, will host Richmond at Heritage Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon, March 10, ahead of another preliminary final re-match between Greater Western Sydney and reigning premiers Collingwood at GIANTS Stadium on Saturday night.

The eight teams that play in the Opening Round will then have a bye between rounds two and six, with all 18 teams in the competition having played the same number of games by the beginning of round seven.

AFL Chief Executive Andrew Dillon said the AFL was presented with a unique opportunity to feature four matches ahead of the traditional start to the season.

"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," Mr 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 marque 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.

"We are driven to have footy in every home around the country, whether that be playing, coaching, umpiring, supporting or volunteering and starting the season across Queensland and NSW will only amplify this desire.

"There's a lot of people behind the scenes who helped bring this concept to life and I would like to thank our venues and the clubs for sharing in our Opening Round vision."

The full 2024 Toyota AFL Premiership Season fixture will be released on Thursday 16 November.

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