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The 21 must-watch matches in 2017

Fixture's biggest winners and losers Ash Browne and Nathan Schmook put the fixture under the microscope
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 01: Liam Picken (left) and Tory Dickson of the Bulldogs celebrate during the 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final match between the Sydney Swans and the Western Bulldogs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on October 01, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media)
The Grand Final rematch will take place in round two at Etihad Stadium

• The full 2017 Toyota AFL Premiership Fixture
• The 21 must-watch matches
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• WATCH: The 2017 blockbusters to look forward to
 

Round one, Carlton v Richmond, MCG, Thursday night
The traditional rivals will once again open the season, with Tigers fans hoping Chris Yarran can make his long-awaited debut for the club. Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy should also play, while the Blues will likely unveil their own recruits, with defender Caleb Marchbank chief among them.  

Round one, St Kilda v Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, Saturday twilight
On 14 straight occasions the Demons have lost to the Saints. The streak has to end at some point, so could 2017 be the year? Former Bombers will be prominent in this game, with Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham set to line up for the Dees, while Jake Carlisle is expected to play for the Saints. 

Round one, Essendon v Hawthorn, MCG, Saturday night
Bombers supporters have been anticipating the day their stars would return. Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley will slot straight in if fit and available. It will be a huge clash, with fierce rivals Hawthorn likely fielding Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara. The former Sun almost became a Bomber before landing at the Hawks.

Round one, Brisbane Lions v Gold Coast, Metricon Stadium, Saturday night
Pearce Hanley's defection to Gold Coast wasn't the first time a Brisbane Lion has gone to the Suns but it is sure to add another chapter in a rivalry that grows more spiteful each year. Chris Fagan will want a strong start to his coaching tenure at the Lions.

Round two, Western Bulldogs v Sydney Swans, Etihad Stadium, Friday night
The Grand Final rematch is always one to mark in the calendar. With the Bulldogs the hunted instead of the hunter, it will be interesting to see how they cope. If last season is anything to go by, they will cope better than most. 

Round three, Port Adelaide v Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, Saturday night
Every year the Showdown presents as a game to watch, if nothing else than for the intense rivalry between the sides and their supporters. Since moving to Adelaide Oval, the annual clashes between the clubs have grown in stature and drawn huge crowds.

Round four, North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs, Etihad Stadium, Friday twilight
After a long wait, football will finally be played on Good Friday. The Kangaroos have long campaigned to play in the slot and have been rewarded, although the AFL will consider changing the teams that take part in the match every year. Tough opposition will come in the form of the reigning premiers.

Round four, Hawthorn v Geelong, MCG, Monday afternoon
These two sides have a tendency to put on classic matches, and the Cats' qualifying final win was no exception. An errant Isaac Smith set shot after the siren cost the Hawks what would have been a famous win. Expect another tight encounter.

Round five, Hawthorn v West Coast, MCG, Sunday twilight
The biggest trade for many years will see Hawthorn legend Sam Mitchell line up for the Eagles against the club he led to a premiership in 2008, before becoming a key player in their three successive flags. He has played in 12 wins in 20 games against the Eagles and dominated them in recent seasons.

Sam Mitchell will now line up alongside Matt Priddis in a star-studded midfield. Picture: AFL Photos

Round six, Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs, Manuka Oval, Friday night
The Giants started their angling for the Friday night spotlight last year and they deserve it after making the preliminary final and being a kick short of a maiden Grand Final appearance. The early flag favourites will take footy under lights at Manuka Oval in their first Friday night appearance as a club. 

Round six, West Coast v Fremantle, Domain Stadium, Saturday night
The Eagles claimed wins in both of the local derbies last year as Fremantle slumped to a bottom-four finish. But the Dockers should be bolstered by the additions of Cam McCarthy and Bradley Hill, plus the return of recruit Harley Bennell, who failed to play a senior game last season. 

Round six, Essendon v Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, Sunday afternoon
The Bombers and Demons have had an interesting history of late and last year Essendon got the chocolates, shocking the Demons in round two to claim the first of their three wins for the year. Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham will come up against their old side for the first time after being two members of Essendon's suspended players to change clubs.  

Round seven, Melbourne v Hawthorn, MCG, Sunday afternoon
Jordan Lewis's arrival at Melbourne after four premierships and a best and fairest at the Hawks makes this a must-watch. The veteran played Melbourne 12 times with his only loss coming in round 20, 2016. He also polled 13 of his 69 career Brownlow votes against the Demons but he will want to prove to the Hawks he can dominate.

Round eight, Gold Coast v Port Adelaide, Jiangwan Sports Centre, Sunday afternoon
Port Adelaide trumpeted its desire to take the game to China and have found an opponent willing to do the same, with Gold Coast scheduled to head to Shanghai for the contest. Expect plenty of media coverage in the game that has been spearheaded by Port chairman David Koch. 

The Power and the Suns are off to China for a history-making game. Picture: AFL Photos

Round nine, Greater Western Sydney v Richmond, Spotless Stadium, Saturday twilight
This might be a tough day for Tigers supporters with the talented Giants a tough enough ask at any time but if Brett Deledio can get on a roll it will be a tortuous occasion. Although once loved Richmond supporters will not roll out the welcome mat for Deledio, with the prospect of an upset win enough to drag them along. 

Round 12, Carlton v Greater Western Sydney, Etihad Stadium, Sunday afternoon
Reminiscent of the days when Australia played Australia A in the one day cricket series, the Giants will take on a Blues team that has eight ex-players on the list. Although there is little hope all eight will be in the line-up for this game, there will be enough ex-Giants in the navy blue team to spice things up.

Round 15, Carlton v Adelaide, MCG, Saturday afternoon
This contest would have had some extra spice had last week's trade gone through that saw Bryce Gibbs become a Crow. But as we know, the proposed deal hit a snag when Carlton refused to lower its price for the best and fairest winner and Adelaide believed the Blues would blink and let him return to South Australia.

Round 17, St Kilda v Essendon, Etihad Stadium, Friday night
Suspension to Jake Carlisle as part of the Essendon 34 means he has not yet faced his former side. That should change next year and Bombers supporters are sure to let the defender know how they feel about him.

Round 19, Hawthorn v Sydney Swans, MCG, Friday night
It's hard leaving a team that has just lost a Grand Final although Tom Mitchell's departure was well known way before it eventuated. The Swans will want to make Hawthorn's new-look midfield earn its stripes and put extra pressure on Mitchell. It will make for compelling viewing.   

Round 19, Gold Coast v Richmond, Metricon Stadium, Saturday night
There will be some extra interest in this clash as ex-Gold Coast midfielder Dion Prestia comes up against his former side in his new colours at Tigerland. The Suns have won three of their six contests against Richmond and will be keen to continue that run of form this time around.

Round 20, North Melbourne v Collingwood, Etihad Stadium, Saturday night
Dancing Daniel Wells was close to best on ground when the Kangaroos defeated Collingwood in round 18 but few knew he would become a Magpie just three months later. The free agent is an ageing star that arrives at the Magpies with plenty of pressure on him to perform and there's no better time to do so than against his old mob.

Daniel Wells will have to wait a while for a chance to play his old side. Picture: AFL Photos