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Banned Dons face Hawks in AFL 2017 opener

AAP logoAAP 23/10/2016 Michael Ramsey

Essendon will welcome back their banned stars with a blockbuster clash against Hawthorn in round one of the 2017 AFL season.

The Bombers and Hawks will face off on a Saturday night at the MCG in one of three primetime games at the home of football in the opening round.

Traditional heavyweights Carlton and Richmond will kick off the season at the MCG on Thursday March 23, while Collingwood will host reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs on the Friday night.

It will be the first opportunity for the likes of Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley to line up for Essendon after being handed 12-month suspensions by the Court of Arbitration for Sport over doping offences.

"It's going to be a massive crowd and an important night for our football club," Bombers chief executive Xavier Campbell told the Essendon website.

"This really is another step in our comeback as a football club and an important milestone for our players and fans as we look to move on from the issues of the past."

The Bombers have 10 banned players who will press their case for selection in round one, while another six - including Port Adelaide's Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries - have joined other teams.

Hawthorn will line up for the first time without star veterans Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, who have been traded to West Coast and Melbourne respectively.

Star recruit Jaeger O'Meara is likely to play for the Hawks in his first AFL game since late-2014, alongside former Sydney onballer Tom Mitchell.

The Swans will host Port Adelaide at the SCG on Saturday afternoon, West Coast travel to Etihad Stadium to take on North Melbourne and Brisbane's Chris Fagan will make his coaching debut against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.

Adelaide will take on preliminary finalists Greater Western Sydney in a Sunday afternoon clash at Adelaide Oval, while St Kilda face Melbourne at Etihad Stadium and Fremantle host Geelong.

The AFL will release the full 2017 fixture on Thursday.

THE AFL'S 2017 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

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