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Eddie McGuire's telling revelation after AFL savaged over Opening Round concept

The AFL's historic opening round concept has come under fire from several quarters.

AFL identity Eddie McGuire has given the new Opening Round venture his seal of approval, despite the initiative dividing fans and commentators across the sport. For the first time in its history, the AFL will kick off the season outside Victoria, with NSW and Queensland to host this week's only fixtures in what has been described as a 'round zero' involving eight teams.

The radical concept is being employed to try and grow the AFL in NSW and QLD markets that are traditionally dominated by the NRL. 'Round zero' will see the Sydney Swans host the Melbourne Demons at the SCG on Thursday night, while the Brisbane Lions host Carlton in a rematch of last year's preliminary final on Friday night.

Pictured right, Eddie McGuire is a fan of the AFL's Opening Round.
Eddie McGuire has given his take on Opening Round amid criticism from around the AFL world. Pic: Getty

Saturday sees Damien Hardwick's reign as Gold Coast coach begin with a match-up against Richmond - the club he led to three premierships. Reigning premiers Collingwood then complete the four-game weekend on Saturday night when they travel to face a GWS side looking to avenge last year's one-point defeat in the preliminary final. All games are set to be played in front of packed stadiums.

"To have four games sold out in NSW and Queensland, I think if you thought back 10 years ago (it wouldn't have happened)," said AFL boss Andrew Dillon, who has officially taken over from Gillon McLachlan. "We see massive growth for us in NSW and Queensland and that's going to be a priority for us."

The concept was originally sold to AFL fans as the game capitalising on the absence of NRL during their Las Vegas extravaganza. But with NRL matches on at the same time as the AFL - including Melbourne Storm hosting reigning premiers Penrith in the only match from either code in Victoria this week - critics have slammed the AFL for missing a trick.

Seen here, AFL CEO Andrew Dillon talks up Opening Round.
AFL CEO Andrew Dillon has hailed Opening Round and says investment in NSW and QLD is a priority for the sport. Pic: Getty

“It might be a bit controversial but I feel a bit jibbed,” St Kilda great Leigh Montagna said this week. “I feel like we’ve been sold a bit of a lemon coming into this Opening Round. When it got announced in November we were going to change it up and open the game up in the northern states, we were told it was because the rugby would be in Vegas, there was going to be no NRL on and it was a great opportunity to eat into the northern market.

“You do realise there’s NRL on all weekend and it starts on Thursday night. There is NRL in NSW the same time that Sydney are hosting Melbourne to start the season.” Fellow Saints legend Nick Riewoldt added: “Wasn’t this the whole thing, ‘While you’re away we’ll rob your house?’ Isn’t that how the AFL pitched it? Have they messed up the calendar? How have they got this so wrong?"

Montagna said: "I don’t quite understand why we’re bringing these games forward when they could still be part of Round 1 next week and have their own free airtime. I just wonder whether it’s defeating the whole purpose of this Opening Round.” Lions great Jonathan Brown also roasted the AFL with the same criticism after pointing out the NRL's Vegas round has already come and gone.

Eddie McGuire gives his backing to Opening Round

However, McGuire has told critics of the AFL's new Opening Round that the initiative is here to stay and offered a glowing endorsement of the sport's attempts to grow in the NRL-dominated markets. "It is exactly what needs to happen," McGuire said. It is something we're going to get used to for a long, long time ."

McGuire's verdict came Nine AFL reporter Tom Morris told Footy Classified on Monday night that growing the game in Australia was a massive priority for AFL bosses. "Last night, Adam Kingsley (GWS coach) and John Longmire (Swans coach) had dinner with Andrew Dillon (CEO) and Laura Kane (general manager of footy) and growth of the game was number one on the agenda ," Morris said. "They want to grow it here, they do feel the clubs up here... they feel they've neglected New South Wales in the last few years."

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The AFL launched its season in Sydney on Wednesday with a banner read: "Opening Round has a new postcode." However, AFL CEO Andrew Dillon refused to guarantee that future seasons would kick off outside Victoria.

"We'll assess that as we look to do the schedule for next year, there's lots of complexities in that," 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 eight teams playing in Opening Round will have a bye between rounds two and six, meaning that when round seven rolls around, all 18 teams will have played the same number of games.

with AAP

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