The GF re-match, Giants v Dogs, and Buddy's return are just some of the must-see games in 2021. Pictures: AFL Photos

Round one

Richmond v Carlton, MCG, Thursday 7.25pm AEDT

The traditional season-opener pits the reigning premier against a Carlton team expected to rise under coach David Teague. It's the ultimate measuring stick for the Blues and you can guarantee whatever crowd is allowed in will be there at the MCG. All going well, Carlton will also unveil important recruits Adam Saad and Zac Williams.

It was a season-opener like no other in 2020 as the Tigers and Blues clashed at an empty MCG. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

FULL FIXTURE Every round, every game

Collingwood v Western Bulldogs, MCG, Friday 7.50pm AEDT

The circumstances of Adam Treloar's departure left Collingwood fans disappointed with their club, so how will they receive one of their favourites in opposition colours knowing he wanted to stay? And how will his former teammates approach the new Bulldog? One thing is for sure, the midfielder himself will be out to make a statement. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs could unveil exciting No.1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan on the big stage. Pairing him with fellow high-flying forward Aaron Naughton will make it hard to look away when the Dogs go inside 50.  

Essendon v Hawthorn, Marvel Stadium, Saturday 7.25pm AEDT

Ben Rutten is now in charge after a season-long handover and will be accountable for the Bombers' performances from a coaching perspective. It will be interesting to see the changes he implements and how the players respond to the clarity of having one man in charge. 

Brisbane v Sydney, Gabba, Saturday 6.45pm AEST

The prospect of watching Lance Franklin after an entire season without him should put a smile on a lot of faces. Buddy was sidelined through 2020 with a serious hamstring injury and groin troubles, but he is gearing up for a full running program in January. Hopefully, Joe Daniher will also be fully fit and ready for his Brisbane debut. If the electrifying forwards are both back in round one, we're definitely in for a treat. 


Round two

Fremantle v Greater Western Sydney, Optus Stadium, Sunday 3.10pm AWST

Key forward Jesse Hogan was unable to deliver in his two seasons with the Dockers, who paid a high price to secure him. Now a Giant, having been traded for a bargain price, will he return to his best form of 2018? Watching him flourish would be bittersweet for Fremantle, which understood his struggles and wanted him to achieve his potential. The Dockers just wanted that to happen in purple.

THURSDAY NIGHT FLURRY 2021 season to open with rivalries galore

Round three

Geelong v Hawthorn, MCG, Monday 3.20pm AEST

Hawks fans are used to seeing premiership heroes in opposition colours by now, but none of their triple-premiership heroes from 2013-15 have moved to finish their career at bitter rival Geelong. Wingman Isaac Smith moves at a time when he is playing solid football and he is every chance to finish with a fourth flag. It just won't feel right for Hawthorn fans seeing him in the hoops.

Isaac Smith will run out for the Cats against his old club in the round three Easter Monday blockbuster. Picture: AFL Photos

Round five

West Coast v Collingwood, Optus Stadium, Friday 6.10pm AWST

Last year's elimination final lit a fuse under this already combustible rivalry, which peaked in the thrilling 2018 Toyota AFL Grand Final. The Magpies notched their best win of 2020 against West Coast and they might rediscover that magic when they take on the Eagles in 2021.


Brisbane v Essendon, Gabba, Saturday 7.25pm AEST

The exit of key forward Joe Daniher (pictured below) was at least 12 months in the making after his failed bid to join Sydney at the end of 2019. Now a Lion after moving as a restricted free agent, Daniher's ability to rediscover his best form and stay on the park will be a key storyline in the Lions' season and their quest to play in their first Grand Final since 2004. 

Round six

Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs, Manuka Oval, Friday 7.50pm AEST

Expect one of the AFL's best rivalries of recent seasons to continue bubbling along after a fiery clash in round three last season. The coin toss involving Nick Haynes and Marcus Bontempelli preceded a clash in which the Giants made a fighting statement but went down swinging. How do they approach this encounter in 2021? 


Collingwood v Essendon, MCG, Sunday 3.20pm AEST, Anzac Day

The AFL's biggest occasion outside the Toyota AFL Grand Final, Anzac Day will have added significance in a football sense as the Magpies and Bombers return to the MCG. A lone bugler played the Last Post to an empty MCG on Anzac Day last season, with the special day falling during the AFL's coronavirus-enforced shutdown. The two teams finally met on July 3, with the Bombers winning by 15 points and ending a four-match losing streak against the Magpies. 

Round seven

North Melbourne v Melbourne, Blundstone Arena, Time TBC

It could be argued that no traded player has more to prove to his former club than ex-Kangaroo Ben Brown. The key forward kicked 60 or more goals in three straight seasons leading into 2020 and then fell out of favour and form dramatically. His team's inside-50 supply contributed, and it was flagged in September he would be traded. He has the ability to make a massive impact at the Demons and will be keen to remind North Melbourne of his ability.

West Coast v Fremantle, Optus Stadium, Time TBC

The first Western Derby of the season promises to be an intriguing affair as the Dockers plot their rise and the Eagles look for redemption after a disappointing 2020. The midfield battle will pit Freo's young and exciting group against the established, proven Eagles onballers.

Round eight

Richmond v Geelong, MCG, Time TBC

The Grand Final rematch is a must-watch encounter every season, and Geelong's off-season acquisitions make the 2021 version all the more interesting. Can the Cats catch the Tigers with all they have added, or will they remain a step behind?


Port Adelaide v Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, Time TBC

The two South Australian clubs could not have been further apart in 2020. The Power spent the entire season atop the ladder and Adelaide did not win until round 15. But Showdowns have traditionally delivered and the Crows will be desperate to atone for last year's 75-point thumping in round two. 

Rory Laird tackles Steven Motlop during last year's Showdown between the Crows and Power. Picture: AFL Photos

Round 12

Essendon v Richmond, MCG, Time TBC

Last season's Dreamtime match, held in Darwin for the first time, was a memorable occasion. Shifted from the MCG due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, it was launched with an epic pre-game ceremony at TIO Stadium and continued a proud tradition between these two clubs. Back at the MCG in 2021, expect another spectacle in the centrepiece match of Sir Doug Nicholls Round. There is also the matter of Essendon's 10-match losing streak against Richmond to deal with.

The annual Dreamtime game between Richmond and Essendon was shifted to Darwin in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Round 13

St Kilda v Adelaide, Cazaly's Stadium, Time TBC

Brad Crouch's move from the Crows to the Saints has the ability to launch the Saints to a new level in 2021 if he can rediscover his best form in a new midfield. Crouch will also play against his brother, Matt, for the first time in his AFL career in a battle for bragging rights.

Sydney v Hawthorn, SCG, Time TBC

A rivalry will continue when top-six picks in the 2020 NAB AFL Draft, Denver Grainger-Barrass and Logan McDonald, line up against each other for the first time at AFL level. It is fair to assume both Western Australians will earn senior debuts early and it will be a treat to watch them face off against each other for years to come. The Hawks will also potentially come up against the Swans Academy player they bid on early, Braeden Campbell, forcing Sydney to pay up for the No.5 selection.  

Swans forward Logan McDonald and Hawks defender Denver Grainger-Barras are set for a long rivalry in the AFL. Picture: AFL Photos

Round 16

Geelong v Essendon, GMHBA Stadium, Time TBC

The last time Geelong hosted Essendon at its home ground, Gary Ablett snr and Billy Brownless were the Cats' forward combination. Now, 28 years on, Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron will link up as big-time Victorian rivalries continue to slowly return to the Cattery. Carlton and Hawthorn have returned to GMHBA Stadium in recent seasons after the capacity was increased, with the Geelong ground now able to hold 36,000 spectators after significant redevelopments. North Melbourne, St Kilda, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne have regularly travelled to the ground, with Richmond playing there once since 2012. After the Bombers return in 2021, Collingwood's 22-year absence from the ground will be the longest standing.

The Cats and Bombers will clash at GMHBA Stadium for the first time since 1993. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Round 17

Greater Western Sydney v Gold Coast, Giants Stadium, Time TBC

There is a sense Gold Coast is building while Greater Western Sydney has peaked after a run of four straight finals appearances ended in 2020. A clash between the two expansion teams will give an indication of where the Suns are in their development and if this Giants group has another shot at it after losing key players in the off-season.  

Round 21

Geelong v Greater Western Sydney, GMHBA Stadium, Time TBC 

Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron will be targeting a bounce back in 2021 after struggling with hub life in 2020 and averaging a career-low 1.4 goals a game in shortened matches (down from 3.2 in his 2019 Coleman Medal year). The Giants were desperate to retain the dual All-Australian and even matched Geelong's offer for him. Will he lift against his former club?