Craig McRae at Collingwood photo day ahead of the 2024 AFL season. Picture: AFL Photos

COLLINGWOOD premiership coach Craig McRae is all behind the AFL's early-season push into NSW and Queensland.

Less than a week after the NRL launched its season in Las Vegas, the AFL will kickstart 2024 with four sold-out games in rugby league heartland.

Opening Round comes after years of pleas from Sydney, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast about feeling neglected up north.

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The Swans will get the season underway at the SCG against Melbourne on Thursday night, relegating the usual Carlton-Richmond blockbuster at the MCG to week two.

It will mark the earliest start to a season in AFL history, pipping the March 8 date back in 2000 when the Grand Final was moved forward by four weeks to accommodate the Sydney Olympics.

Max Gawn, Dane Rampe, Daniel McStay and Toby Greene pose during the Opening Round media opportunity at Circular Quay on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"I think it's a great thing for our game," McRae said on Thursday.

"We don't live in those (northern) states. 

"I was fortunate enough to live in Brisbane for 15 years and it's a hard sell.

"AFL doesn't get on the front page, or back page, of the paper much, so any opportunity we can grow the game around the country I think is a good thing."

Collingwood will begin its premiership defence on Saturday night when it faces the Giants at Giants Stadium in a rematch of last year's thrilling preliminary final.

The Magpies will unveil their 16th VFL/AFL flag at the MCG six days later when they host the Swans.

"We'll get our time. Next week will be pretty full at the MCG, I reckon," McRae added.


The AFL initially promoted the all-northern weekend as capitalising on the NRL being away in the US.

The NRL did split its first round over two weeks, but Newcastle will be hosting a match against Canberra at the same time as the Swans battle the Demons down the Pacific motorway.

Damien Hardwick's first game as Gold Coast coach on Saturday, up against the club he led to three premierships - Richmond - will get underway only a few hours before the Titans' NRL team begins a new era under the experienced Des Hasler.

The AFL is only testing the waters in NSW and Queensland, failing to commit to beginning the season outside Melbourne beyond this year.

Toby Greene and Daniel McStay pose during the Opening Round media opportunity at Circular Quay on March 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

At the season launch in Sydney on Wednesday, a banner read: "Opening Round has a new postcode."

"We'll assess that as we look to do the schedule for next year, there's lots of complexities in that," AFL boss Andrew Dillon said.

"But all signs are pointing towards us continuing to bring big blockbuster games up into NSW and Queensland. 

"Our investments in GWS and the Gold Coast are generational investments and we're going to continue to invest."


The Lions will host Carlton on Friday night in a rematch of last year's preliminary final that attracted 36,012 fans to the Gabba.

"To have four games sold out in NSW and Queensland, I think if you thought back 10 years ago (it wouldn't have happened)," Dillon said.

"We see massive growth for us in NSW and Queensland and that's going to be a priority for us."