THE ANNUAL under-18 national carnival will have a different look this year after the AFL replaced the division two championship with an academy series.
For the past two decades the League has split the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships into two divisions – with traditional football states Vic Metro, Vic Country, Western Australia and South Australia in the top tier and Queensland, NSW-ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory in division two.
But with the strength of the northern academies growing, this year the division two carnival has been changed to a five-round competition between the four academy clubs, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
The AFL believes the developing depth in Queensland and NSW-ACT has made the division two carnival uneven in recent years, with a gap growing between those states and Tasmania and the NT.
Also, the academy-based format will allow more players in the northern clubs' under-18 systems to impress at a higher level.
The introduction of the Allies side as a division one team (made up of players from the division two competition) means the best prospects from those regions will still play at a national level in the division one carnival, which takes place after the academy series is finished.
The Gold Coast and Brisbane Lions academy sides will open the series next month on March 25, with Sydney and Greater Western Sydney facing off the following day on March 26 after Tasmania and the NT clash.
The academy series will run through to May 6, before the division one championships begin on June 10.
Lions forward Connor Ballenden looks set to be the most prominent academy prospect this year, with the marking goalkicker tipped to be a very early selection at the draft.
A decision from the AFL Commission is expected this week regarding the Giants' access to their academy hopefuls, but at this stage versatile tall Jarrod Brander and midfielder Charlie Spargo remain tied to the club and have already shown their talents.
2017 UNDER-18 ACADEMY SERIES FIXTURE
Gold Coast Suns vs. Brisbane Lions (Queensland)
Tasmania vs. Northern Territory (NSW)
Sydney Swans vs. GWS Giants (NSW)
Brisbane Lions vs. Tasmania (Queensland)
GWS Giants vs. Gold Coast (Blacktown)
Northern Territory Thunder vs. Sydney Swans (TIO Stadium, Darwin)
Sydney Swans vs. Gold Coast Suns (Blacktown)
Tasmania vs. GWS Giants (Blundstone Arena, TAS)
Northern Territory vs. Brisbane Lions (TIO Stadium, Darwin)
GWS Giants vs. Northern Territory (NSW)
Sydney Swans vs. Brisbane Lions (NSW)
Gold Coast Suns vs. Tasmania (Queensland)
Gold Coast Suns vs. Northern Territory (Broadbeach)
Brisbane Lions vs. GWS Giants (Broadbeach)
Tasmania vs. Sydney Swans (TAS)