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2018's 'must-watch' matches

We're back in Brisbane Relive the last game up North as the Hawks are set to return to the Sunshine state for Round 9 in 2018.

Round one, Richmond v Carlton
MCG, Thursday night

This looms as the biggest season opener Richmond and Carlton have faced off in since it became a traditional clash. The Tigers will unveil their flag to their faithful supporters, who will probably still be delirious. It will also be the first time the teams have played since Bachar Houli left Jed Lamb unconscious after collecting the Blue with his left forearm in round 14. 

Round one, Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs
UNSW Canberra Oval, Sunday afternoon

The animosity between these two sides is palpable and this looms as another heated encounter, especially considering Toby Greene planted his right boot's studs in Luke Dahlhaus' face last time the teams met. There have been off-field stoushes as well, most notably Ryan Griffen and Tom Boyd's acrimonious trade in 2014.

Round one, West Coast v Sydney
Perth Stadium, Sunday twilight

The first men's AFL game at Perth Stadium will be a huge occasion, especially considering how much West Coast and Fremantle fought to host the first game there. It is an occasion that could be made even bigger with the expected return of high-flying ruckman Nic Naitanui, in what will be his first game since round 22, 2016. 

Round two, Adelaide v Richmond
Adelaide Oval, Thursday night

Richmond was dominant in the Grand Final, against an Adelaide outfit that had been heavily favoured. Several prominent Crows put in sub-par performances, including Taylor Walker and Josh Jenkins, and will want to at least partly redeem themselves. For Tigers fans who do not want to travel to see the rematch, the return clash at the MCG will be in round 16.

Round two, North Melbourne v St Kilda
Etihad Stadium, Friday twilight

Another instalment of Good Friday football in what is a relatively fresh concept. The crowd figure will be of interest. When the Roos hosted the Western Bulldogs last year, 42,814 showed up, so the pressure will be on to come close to that figure, at the very least. A good showing from the Saints would help their bid to receive more prime-time exposure. 

Round two, Geelong v Hawthorn, MCG
Monday afternoon

The return of Jeff Kennett as Hawthorn president, and therefore the 'Kennett Curse', will add spice to the Eastern Monday clash. A brief refresher: after Hawthorn beat Geelong in the 2008 Grand Final, Kennett claimed the Cats didn't have the "mental drive" to beat his side. Geelong then won the next 11 games against the Hawks. Furthermore, it will be Gary Ablett's first home game in the hoops since returning to the Cats.

Round three, Western Bulldogs v Essendon
Etihad Stadium, Sunday afternoon

Just a year after helping the Dogs to a drought-breaking premiership, Jake Stringer was booted out of the club. He will have plenty of motivation to put on a clinic against his former side. 

Round four, Geelong v St Kilda
GMHBA Stadium, Sunday twilight

Good luck finding an empty seat when Gary Ablett represents Geelong, in Geelong, for the first time since 2010. The cheer that comes if the champion boots a goal will be as loud as any heard at the venue in recent times. Sure to be an emotional game. 

Round five, Sydney v Adelaide
SCG, Friday night

When these teams met in round 22 last year, the three-point win to Sydney was close to the game of the season, as two teams that were highly fancied to meet in the Grand Final fought out a classic. The decider did not eventuate that way but few would be surprised if both teams are alive deep in September next season, so expect a thriller.

Round five, Melbourne v Richmond
MCG, Tuesday night

This massive clash on the eve of Anzac Day yet again looms as a bigger game than the traditional Bombers v Magpies event the next day. This year's premier Richmond usurped Melbourne in its quest to become the next big thing, and the Demons will be keen to turn the tables.

Round five, Collingwood v Essendon
MCG, Wednesday afternoon

Although the sacred observance on Australia's most patriotic day has often overshadowed the onfield contest – particularly given it has been some time since both teams have occupied the upper rungs of the ladder – this one promises to be a hard-fought clash between a strengthened Essendon and a potentially rising Collingwood.

Round six, Fremantle v West Coast
Perth Stadium, Sunday twilight

The two West Australian franchises will have hosted home games at the new world-class Perth Stadium on alternate weeks in each of the opening five rounds, but none of those clashes will produce the wall of sound that will accompany their first Derby there. The Eagles have comfortably won their past five against the Dockers, but a new stadium might make it a new ball game.

Round seven, Adelaide v Carlton
Adelaide Oval, Saturday night

After more than 12 months of speculation, and a false start, the Crows finally agreed to the Blues' demand of two first-round picks for South Australian-born star Bryce Gibbs. And the recruit and his new club will want instant return on investment. However, Gibbs might well have the close company of old mate Ed Curnow.

Round eight, Hawthorn v Sydney
MCG, Friday night

The 2012 and 2014 grand final opponents have formed a strong rivalry in recent years, forged in some classic contests. Their past three games have been decided by a total of 17 points, with the Hawks saluting each time. This one, at the MCG on a Friday night, might well add another compelling chapter to their joint history.

Read: Hawks Swans to contest beyondblue Cup

Round eight, Port Adelaide v Adelaide
Adelaide Oval, Saturday twilight

Showdowns are always huge events in the city of churches and the Power should be far better equipped to end their five-game Crow hoodoo, which included an 84-point loss in round 20 this year. Port's successful recruiting campaign might well lift it into the premiership window alongside its arch enemy, and this will be a great test of its reinvigorated line-up.

Round nine, Brisbane Lions v Hawthorn
Gabba, Sunday afternoon

Hawks fans are entitled to feel a little miffed by the decision of their legendary former skipper Luke Hodge to overturn his retirement to help the battling Brisbane Lions. In some ways Hodge will get out of it lightly next year, given his first game against his old club will be at the Gabba and the return match will be in Launceston. But that won't stop anyone from feeling strange about it all.

Round 10, Geelong v Carlton
GMHBA Stadium, Saturday night

The Bluebaggers will load up the bus to venture down the Princes Freeway to Geelong's newly named GMHBA Stadium for the first time since 1997. Carlton has historically performed well at the venue, winning 23 of 42 games and five of the last nine (for what any of that is worth), but it will be tougher in 2018. 

Round 11, Gold Coast v Geelong
Metricon Stadium, Saturday twilight

It was a case of second time lucky for Gary Ablett as his wish to return to the Cats was granted in this year's NAB AFL Trade Period after an unsuccessful attempt in 2016. Ablett played 110 games across seven seasons as the Suns' inaugural marquee player, but it ended a tad sourly. Will Gold Coast enforcer Steven May line him up if he gets the chance? 

Round 11, Essendon v Richmond
MCG, Saturday night

The Dreamtime at the 'G was first held in 2005 and has become a huge part of the AFL calendar, but next year's edition may well be the most anticipated. The Tigers return as the reigning premiers – ending a 37-year drought – while the retooled Bombers could swagger onto the home of Australian football with star recruits Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Adam Saad in tow. 

Round 12, Melbourne v Collingwood
MCG, Monday afternoon

The Queen's Birthday fixture remains the jewel in the Demons' crown and always attracts a strong crowd regardless of how the two clubs are faring. This year's match did not disappoint, with Jeremy Howe taking his Mark of the Year contender and Jack Watts – who infamously made his AFL debut on this stage as a skinny teenager in 2009 – kicking the sealing goal.

Round 14, Port Adelaide v Melbourne
Adelaide Oval, Friday night

Jack Watts, the No.1 pick in the 2008 NAB AFL Draft, will have a new club next year and this will be his first clash with the Demons, where he spent 153 matches and nine sometimes-turbulent seasons. Watts was popular with the Melbourne fan base despite having a reputation as an underachiever whose intensity wasn't always on high. The fact the Dees discarded him and not the other way around should spare him any boos from the travelling fans.

Round 15, Richmond v Sydney
Etihad Stadium, Thursday night

The Swans became the popular pick to win the 2017 premiership during a patch where they won 14 of 16 matches to end the home and away season in sixth place after starting 0-6. Instead it was the Tigers who roared their way to a famous Grand Final victory over Adelaide, as Sydney bowed out in a humbling semi-final defeat to Geelong. 

Round 17, St Kilda v Carlton
Etihad Stadium, Friday night

You can't fabricate this sort of spite. Jake Carlisle's sledge towards Carlton skipper Marc Murphy regarding his wife lit an on-field wildfire that played out in the media for days afterwards. The Saints apologised as a club, but Murphy and the Blues won't have forgotten. These types of situations can be fizzers at times, but if the two of them find themselves in the same vicinity… 

Round 19, Adelaide v Melbourne
Adelaide Oval, Saturday night

This will technically be round two as far as new Demon Jake Lever facing his old side, with the clubs doing battle in round 10 in Alice Springs. But the Adelaide Oval ingredient will ensure whatever spice is leftover on-field from the earlier clash will energise the crowd for this one. It also gives 'Tex' Walker a second chance to let Lever know what he really thinks about him leaving.

Read: Hawks to celebrate 10th anniversary of 2008 cup

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs