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AFL Fixture: Top teams to light up Friday nights

EXCLUSIVE: Week off before the 2016 finals series Simon Lethlean reveals to afl.com.au a radical new element to the 2016 Fixture
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 3: Luke Hodge of the Hawks is tackled by Taylor Adams of the Magpies during the 2015 AFL round 14 match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Hawthorn Hawks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Australia on July 3, 2015. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Hawks, Tigers, Roos and Pies to hog premier time slot in 2016

• Click here for the full fixture
• AFL introduces week off before finals

FRIDAY night football will again become the domain of the leading clubs in 2016, with the AFL loading up on marquee match-ups for the premier time slot.
 
Thursday's release of the 2016 Toyota AFL Fixture reveals that Hawthorn will feature on six Friday nights as it seeks to become the first club since the 1927-1930 Collingwood outfit to win four premierships in a row.
 
Richmond will also feature six times on Friday nights, while North Melbourne features on five occasions, as does perennial drawcard Collingwood.
 
The improving Western Bulldogs have been granted their wish for more primetime exposure and will feature on three occasions after none in 2015.

The 2016 fixture explained
 
As expected, wooden-spooner Carlton has been dropped entirely from the Friday night schedule after six appearances in 2015, while five other clubs – the Brisbane Lions, Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda  - will also not feature in the timeslot.
 
The pick of the Friday night matches will likely be in round eight when Patrick Dangerfield returns to the Adelaide Oval, this time wearing Geelong colours, to meet his former Adelaide teammates.
 
And in another notable development, Friday night football will go 'off Broadway' during 2016. Geelong will host two Friday matches (and four night matches in total) at Simonds Stadium while Hobart also gets a taste of the action for the first time when North Melbourne hosts Richmond at Blundstone Arena in round 11.
 
There will again be five Thursday night matches in 2016, starting with the traditional Richmond-Carlton clash at the MCG on March 24.
 
The remaining four will take place from rounds 14-17 with two matches at the Adelaide Oval and one each at Domain Stadium and the SCG.
 
The Hawks will be the focus of the Thursday night fixture, with consecutive games against Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans.
 
The AFL has again gone with the 'top six, middle six, bottom six' fixture model to ensure clubs play the majority of their games against those who finished near them on the ladder.
 
The by-product of this, however, is that some traditional Victorian rivalries will only be staged once during the season. Geelong and Hawthorn will meet in the opening round next year without a return clash, while the only Collingwood-Essendon match-up will take place on Anzac Day.
 
In cross-town rivalry news, Q-Clashes will take place in rounds four and 16, the Sydney derbies between the Swans and Giants in rounds three and 12, Crows-Power Showdowns in rounds two and 22 and the Derbies between the Dockers and Eagles in rounds three and 20.
 
The Grand Final rematch between Hawthorn and West Coast will take place at the MCG on a Sunday afternoon in round two.
 
The floating fixture for round 23 has been retained even though a weekend off has been introduced between the final round of the home and away season and the first week of the finals.
 
Other notable features of the draw include:
 
-   Richmond and Melbourne playing the only Sunday night fixture of the year, on Anzac Eve at the MCG.

-   Saturday night matches in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will be pushed back by five minutes to a 7.25pm starting time.

-   St Kilda hosting Collingwood on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG in round three as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of its first and only premiership.

-   Other big Saturday afternoon MCG clashes include Collingwood-Carlton (round seven), Collingwood-Geelong (round nine) and Hawthorn-North Melbourne (round 21). All up there will be 48 day weekend games in Victoria compared to 47 last year.

-   The bye weekends will take place through rounds 13-15, during which there will be six matches each weekend.

-   The Brisbane Lions get seven games in Victoria, which will be welcomed by many of their former Fitzroy supporters.

-   Finals aspirants Adelaide and West Coast get three matches at the MCG, while Port Adelaide gets two. By contrast, dual preliminary finalist North Melbourne gets only one game there.

-   In round two, Steve Johnson will play for GWS against Geelong as will Fremantle's Harley Bennell against his former club, Gold Coast and Ryan Bastinac for the Lions against North Melbourne.

-   Hawthorn playing at the Gabba for the first time since 2008.

-   Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond and West Coast will each have eight six-day breaks with the Kangaroos also having to navigate three back-to-back six-day breaks.
 
As previously announced by the AFL, Indigenous Round will be re-named the Sir Doug Nicholls Round and will take place in round 10, including the Saturday night Dreamtime at the 'G clash between Essendon and Richmond.
 
Multicultural round will be celebrated in round 16.