The traditional rivals meet under the MCG lights in what shapes as one of the most anticipated games of the season. There is plenty to look forward to for both sides, with the Bombers welcoming back a host of players from doping suspensions and ushering in a new era after four years ruined by the supplements saga. New captain Dyson Heppell will lead the club out and former skipper Jobe Watson will be among the familiar faces coming back to the red and black. The Hawks, too, will have a new-look line-up, with champion midfielders Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis having departed the club and former skipper Luke Hodge to serve a one-match internal suspension for not informing the club that he would miss a recent training session. Gun recruits Jaeger O'Meara and Tom Mitchell will make their Hawthorn debuts in front of what is expected to be a crowd of more than 80,000 fans.
WHERE AND WHEN: MCG, Saturday, March 25, 7.25pm AEDT
TV AND RADIO: Click here for broadcast guide
PAST FIVE TIMES
R12, 2016, Hawthorn 23.13 (151) d Essendon 6.7 (43) at Etihad Stadium
R13, 2015, Hawthorn 16.14 (114) d Essendon 11.10 (76) at the MCG
R2, 2015, Essendon 12.6 (78) d Hawthorn 11.10 (76) at the MCG
R2, 2014, Hawthorn 13.12 (90) d Essendon 12.14 (86) at Etihad Stadium
R18, 2013, Hawthorn 22.11 (143) d Essendon 13.9 (87) at Etihad Stadium
THE SIX POINTS
1. The Hawks have dominated the Bombers in recent years, winning seven of the last eight games between the clubs, including four by more than 50 points.
2. Essendon was the lowest scoring side in 2016 averaging just 65 points a game. They reached the 100-point barrier just once for the season (in their round 23 win over Carlton). In contrast, the Hawks averaged 95 points last year.
3. It has been a long time since Essendon and Hawthorn last met in the opening round of the season – the last time being 1971 at Windy Hill. Both sides have had mixed recent results in round one.
4. It will be interesting to see what style the Bombers deploy with their big names back. Last year John Worsfold's side ranked seventh in disposals, having 382.3 a game. They were ranked second in uncontested disposals.
5. Hawthorn dominated Essendon all over the ground the last time the sides met, with 36 scoring shots to 13. The Hawks had 133 marks to 99, and almost doubled Essendon's inside 50 count (66 to 36 entries).
6.Midfielder Zach Merrett starts the season as Essendon's highest ranked player in the Official AFL Player Ratings. The best and fairest winner opens his 2017 campaign at No.32 overall as he begins his fourth season at the top level.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR … Jarryd Roughead.
The Hawthorn star returns to football as the new Hawks skipper after missing all of last season as he battled skin cancer. His presence will make a huge difference for the Hawks as they look to bounce back from their finals exit last season, and looms as an emotional comeback on Saturday night.
PREDICTION: Essendon by 8 points