14/04/2024
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 06: Max Gawn of the Demons, Dane Rampe of the Swans, Daniel McStay of the Magpies and Toby Greene of the Giants pose for a photograph during the Sydney Opening Round Media Opportunity at Circular Quay on March 06, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 06: Max Gawn of the Demons, Dane Rampe of the Swans, Daniel McStay of the Magpies and Toby Greene of the Giants pose for a photograph during the Sydney Opening Round Media Opportunity at Circular Quay on March 06, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

The AFL will march right into rugby league heartland this weekend, with Opening Round kicking off tonight with four matches across New South Wales and Queensland.

AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon is optimistic about the move to have four marquee games in NRL territory, with all four games sold out.

“To have four games sold out in NSW and Queensland, if you thought back to 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have been in anyone’s contemplation,” Dillon said.

The AFL formally announced the Opening Round concept in November last year, and it has its supporters.

Collingwood premiership coach and former Brisbane Lions champion Craig McRae said it’s a significant opportunity to grow the game.

“I think it’s a great thing for our game,” McRae said on Thursday.

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“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.”

Sydney and Melbourne kick off proceedings tonight where former Dees ruck Brodie Grundy and mid James Jordon face their old side for the first time.

The GWS Giants will host Collingwood, Brisbane will tackle Carlton and Gold Coast will face Richmond in the remaining games this weekend.

Both the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions have been established for decades, and Swans chief executive Tom Harley is delighted in growth.

Both clubs broke their membership records in 2023 with the Swans reaching 65,332 and the Lions reaching 54,676 members.

“Reaching more than 65,000 members for the first time in our club’s history is an incredible achievement and we are extremely proud of where our club is today,” Harley said.

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