The countdown to the 2017 AFL home and away season is nearly over and the Round 1 action gets underway with the traditional season opener between Carlton and Richmond at the MCG on Thursday March 23.
The 7.20PM encounter is a vital one for the two sides that both struggled in 2016 and will be looking to open up their 2017 campaigns on a bright note. The Tigers head in as favourite’s and should get the job done.
On Friday night, the action returns to the home of football and it is Collingwood that face the 2016 premiers, the Western Bulldogs.
While the Bulldogs took some time to get going in the recent JLT Community Series, they should have enough firepower to overcome the Magpies, who are another side that are keen to atone for a disappointing 2016.
On Saturday there are four games and the footy heads to Sydney for the Sydney Swans and Port Adelaide clash at the SCG.
John Longmire's Swans step out for the first time since last year's near miss in the AFL Grand Final and are solid favourite’s against the perennial under-achievers, Port Adelaide. Expect the Swans to dominate here.
At the same time, Melbourne will be out to end one of the competition's longest hoodoos when they venture to Etihad Stadium to take on St Kilda. The two sides were the competition's big improver's in 2016, narrowly missing out on the finals, and little splits them in early betting for the encounter.
The Demons have not defeated the Saints the last 14 times the two sides have played, a sequence that stretches back to 2006. They have also battled at Etihad Stadium, winning just one of their past 26 at the venue. Jump on the Saints to do it again.
Across town on Saturday night, one of the most anticipated games of the weekend will be played out when Essendon take on Hawthorn at the MCG.
The game will be the first for the Bombers without the infamous supplements saga hanging over their heads. They head in without a win in the recent JLT Series and are underdogs against the new-look Hawks, who will unveil the likes of Tom Mitchell and Jaegar O'Meara.
In the north of the country, the competition's two Queensland based sides, Gold Coast and Brisbane, renew hostilities when they square off at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast.
The two sides featured in a spiteful clash last year and it is the Suns that should take the points against the Lions, who will be led by their new coach and captain combination of Chris Fagan and Dayne Beams.
On Sunday there are three games to close out the weekend, starting off with an intriguing encounter between North Melbourne and West Coast at the MCG.
On paper, the Eagles should have no trouble handling their opposition, however, the notoriously poor travellers should not underestimate the Kangaroos, who were the surprise packets in the recent JLT Series.
At Adelaide, the Crows play host to the GWS Giants and the 3.20PM clash pits two of last year’s finalists up against one another. The Crows have a number of injury concerns but should not be underestimated and may be the value bet of the weekend. They are currently at the odds of $2.30 with CrownBet to cause an upset win.
The action concludes when Fremantle host Geelong at Domain Stadium in Perth. The Dockers are another side with plenty of fresh faces and come off a woeful 2016 campaign, winning just four games.
Geelong should handle the road trip but there are plenty of unknowns in this one. The Cats won just one of their three JLT games, while the Dockers were two from three.
The fixture for Round 1 is listed below. All times are in Australian Eastern Daylight Time.
Thursday March 23
Carlton v Richmond, MCG (7.20pm)
Friday March 24
Collingwood v Western Bulldogs, MCG (7.50pm)
Saturday March 25
Sydney Swans v Port Adelaide, SCG (4.35pm)
St Kilda v Melbourne, Etihad Stadium (4.35pm)
Gold Coast Suns v Brisbane Lions, Metricon Stadium (7.25pm)
Essendon v Hawthorn, MCG (7.25pm)
Sunday March 26
North Melbourne v West Coast Eagles, Etihad Stadium (1.10pm)
Adelaide v GWS Giants, Adelaide Oval (3.20pm)
Fremantle v Geelong, Subiaco Oval (7.40pm)