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Dons-Hawks clash highlights blockbuster opening round

Bradley Hill of the Hawks is tackled by Patrick Ambrose of the Bombers during the 2015 AFL Round 02 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Hawthorn Hawks at the MCG, Melbourne on April 12, 2015. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
The Bombers can't wait to tackle the Hawks in round one

ESSENDON'S banned stars will make their return in an MCG clash against arch-rival Hawthorn in round one's Saturday night match next year.

Meanwhile, a new-look Hawthorn side will be unveiled, with midfield duo Jaeger O'Meara and Tom Mitchell set to don the brown and gold as they aim to fill the sizeable holes left by traded champions Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis.

Key forward Tyrone Vickery will also aim to make an impact in his first game as a Hawk after departing Richmond as a free agent.

Collingwood premiership player Travis Cloke will make his debut for the Western Bulldogs on Friday night at the MCG against his former side, and Gold Coast recruit Pearce Hanley will not have to wait long to face his former side the Brisbane Lions, with the QClash scheduled for Saturday at Metricon Stadium.

Carlton and Richmond will again kick off the season on Thursday, March 23.

Port Adelaide travels to face the Sydney Swans on the Saturday, while West Coast will make the cross-country trip to Etihad Stadium to face North Melbourne in former Hawk veteran Mitchell's first game as an Eagle.

Lewis will attempt to help Melbourne break a 14-match losing streak against St Kilda on the Sunday at Etihad Stadium, while Adelaide hosts Greater Western Sydney in what shapes as Brett Deledio's Giants debut.

Fremantle's revamped line-up will be tested by Geelong at Domain Stadium in the final match of the round.

Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Brent Stanton, Heath Hocking, Travis Colyer, David Myers, Ben Howlett and Tom Bellchambers will aim to make their highly anticipated returns after serving suspensions handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport throughout 2016.

Bombers CEO Xavier Campbell told essendonfc.com.au the Bombers had requested a home game to start the season.

"We wanted to start the season with a big game and they don't get much bigger than Hawthorn at the MCG," Campbell said.

"It has been a long time since Essendon has played a home game in round-one so we made this fixture our highest-priority request with the AFL.

"We are thrilled to be scheduled against one of our traditional Victorian rivals on a Saturday night in primetime at the home of football for our season opener."

It will be just the third time Essendon has played host in its season-opening match.

The club has committed to picking up two of its top-up players as delisted free agents – James Kelly and Matt Dea. The first delisted free agency period begins on November 1.

The full round-one fixture

Thursday, March 23
Carlton v Richmond, MCG

Friday, March 24
Collingwood v Western Bulldogs, MCG

Saturday, March 25
Sydney Swans v Port Adelaide, SCG
North Melbourne v West Coast, Etihad Stadium
Gold Coast v Brisbane Lions, Metricon Stadium
Essendon v Hawthorn, MCG

Sunday, March 26
Adelaide v Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide Oval
St Kilda v Melbourne, Etihad Stadium
Fremantle v Geelong, Domain Stadium