Sydney coach John Longmire says it's only fair Opening Round is played interstate. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Opening Round balances out MCG grand final: Longmire

Jasper Bruce March 12, 2024

Sydney coach John Longmire has declared it is only fair to keep the interstate Opening Round on the AFL calendar if the grand final is to be played exclusively at the MCG.

Longmire floated the possibility of one day moving the grand final interstate, though conceding such a move was probably “off the agenda” for now.

The AFL’s inaugural Opening Round proved a hit with local fans across four games between the emerging Brisbane and Sydney markets last weekend.

sydney melbourne
 More than 40 000 fans attended the first-round clash between Sydney and Melbourne. Image by Steven Markham/AAP PHOTOS 

For their win over Melbourne, the Swans attracted a crowd of over 40,000 to the SCG for only the 13th time, while the fifth-largest home crowd in GWS history turned out to see the Giants beat reigning premiers Collingwood.

The Gabba and People First Stadium also sold out for Brisbane and Gold Coast’s respective clashes with Carlton and Richmond.

But on Monday, Geelong coach Chris Scott became the latest AFL figure to voice concerns logistically the “round zero” concept could create an uneven playing field amongst the league.

The sides participating in Opening Round are given an extra bye across the regular season and given 10 teams are playing their first game this weekend, the ladder is likely to remain skewed until round six, when the last of the first-round round teams have their first bye.

Fans in the traditional AFL heartlands of Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide also missed the chance to see any football in their home states as the season kicked off.

But Longmire said with or without Opening Round, it was difficult to pretend everything was equal across the AFL.

“I think one of the great, it’s almost a myth, is the (idea of) equalisation. Everything’s not quite equal.

“The MCG has the grand final every year, I think that’s just a reality that everyone accepts that it’s very difficult to get everything equal and we deal with that all the time. 

“Having a couple of games up here probably balances it out okay.”

Longmire suggested moving the grand final interstate could be another way to boost the profile of the game in Brisbane and Sydney.

“If you’re talking about the growth of the game, wouldn’t it be wonderful (to have the grand final interstate),” he said.

“The game (grand final) last year, if that was in Brisbane … (but) those things are probably off the agenda and I’ll let the commission sort that out.”

 Norths head coach Alastair Clarkson praised the AFL for identifying a gap in the interstate market. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Given rugby league remains the dominant football code in Brisbane and Sydney, North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson praised the AFL for spying an opening in the NRL fixture, with games largely played elsewhere last weekend.

“When rugby league is vacant pretty much in those northern markets for that round of a season, then why not utilise it?” he said.

Longmire was hopeful his counterparts would remain on board with the concept but was unsure whether the teams visiting interstate should be rotated each year.

The Opening Round match-ups created plenty of intrigue this season, with two preliminary-final rematches, a chance for new Suns coach Damien Hardwick to face his old side and Sydney ruckman Brodie Grundy clashing with his ex-Demons teammates.

“This year seemed to have a lot of the storylines … I’m sure that’ll evolve over the course of this year,” Longmire said.

“I’m really confident that the AFL industry and the supporters are really behind it (Opening Round).

“To be able to have Opening Round up here, I think, is massive.”