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The 5 biggest questions before Round 1 of the 2017 AFL season

2017 AFL season
WITH the 2017 AFL season a little over a week away, the anticipation for the round one clashes is ready to hit fever pitch.

In what has become tradition, Carlton ($2.90 with hosts Richmond ($1.42) at the MCG to kick off the season on Thursday night March 23.

Collingwood ($2.84) is in action on Friday night, hosting the Western Bulldogs ($1.43), also at the ‘G in a blockbuster between the AFL’s biggest club and the reigning Premiers.

Four games on Saturday kick off with Port Adelaide ($4.20) visiting the SCG to take on the Sydney Swans ($1.23) during the day, and a pair of clubs expected to be big improvers in St Kilda ($1.97) and Melbourne ($1.84) clash in Etihad Stadium’s first match of 2017.

Then the night games feature the Q Clash between the Gold Coast Suns ($1.36) and the Brisbane Lions ($3.17) at Metricon Stadium and the mighty Hawthorn Hawks ($1.61) up against the reincarnated Essendon Bombers ($2.34) in their first game on the MCG since the supplements saga decimated the club.

Sunday’s games kick off with the early clash between a new look North Melbourne ($2.90) and the West Coast Eagles ($1.42), complete with former Hawk Sam Mitchell in the guts.

Adelaide ($2.39) then hosts Greater Western Sydney ($1.58) at the Adelaide Oval, before Geelong ($1.40) heads to Perth to clash with Fremantle ($2.96) to close out the round.

While there is plenty of punting action available over the weekend, we’re taking a look at the most compelling storylines of round one, 2017.

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Will Damien Hardwick last past round one?

If the Tigers lose in round one to the lowly Blues – again – the pressure on Hardwick will almost be too enormous to bare. The Tigs survived a massive scare in Round One last season when they escaped with a nine point win over a Blues side that had five debutants. They did it without Brett Deledio – who was injured at the time – and they will have to do it again, with Lids now up north in GWS colours. Hardwick has proven a very resilient character and, armed with a deal that keeps him contracted to the Tigers until the end of 2018, he will be very hard to dislodge, given the cost of axing his big money contract. But, having said that, the jungle drums will be beating hard at Punt Rd if they lose to the Blues and that might prove deafening for Hardwick. We’re most interested to see just who becomes the whipping boy with Ty Vickery escaping the sometimes choking confines of the yellow and black Tiger army.

Can the returning Bombers win their first game against a new-look Hawthorn?

A supporter base that has been beaten from pillar to post over the past three years might finally have something to cheer about when their returning stars take to the MCG for the first time since completing their suspension for allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs. The supplements saga has loomed large over the Essendon and decimated the club. But the fans have stood thick and, while there is plenty of hatred out there for the club, you can’t help but feel a little pleased for them to finally have their men back in the red sash. Still, the new look Hawks – with no Sam Mitchell, no Jordan Lewis and no Luke Hodge, but with the additions of Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara and Ty Vickery – will prove a tough ask for a Bombers side that could take some time to find its feet.

Will new man Sam Mitchell dominate for West Coast against a Boomer-less North?

Why the Hawks let Sam Mitchell go is any one’s guess. This is a guy who has won four flags, five best and fairest awards and three All Australian guernseys as the heart and soul of the Hawks. And now he will wear West Coast colours in 2017. Even at 34 years old, he has shown no signs on slowing down, with his game predicated not on athleticism, but on his ability to get in and under, extract the hard ball and use it delightfully with both hand and foot. Joining another Brownlow Medalist in Matthew Priddis, the Eagles’ outside midfielders like Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff will be near impossible to stop. This one shapes as a flogging for a Roos’ side that begins life without champs Boomer Harvey, Drew Petrie – who may line up for the Eagles against his former club on debut – and Michael Firrito.

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Can the Bulldogs get off to a winning start to their premiership defence against the Pies?

Defending a premiership can be one of the toughest asks in football. Doing it after no one though you could might just be impossible. That’s the task facing the Western Bulldogs in 2017 and they must kick it off against a Collingwood side with plenty to prove. The storyline within the storyline here is Travis Cloke, who is tipped to line up in the goal square in his first game for the Dogs against a side he gave 12 years of loyal service. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, but, with the pressure fair and square on the Dogs, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Pies made a winning start to 2017 at big odds.

Can premiership favourites GWS stand up to their first massive test against the Crows?

For all the fanfare over Greater Western Sydney as the hot AFL premiership favourites, they have achieved nothing until they step out on the field and start winning games. And they face a massive, massive task against an Adelaide Crows side that has no perceivable weaknesses. Up against arguably the best forward line in the game and with the likes of Daniel Talia down back to keep the Giants talent in check, GWS faces a baptism of fire, with the pressure on them for the first time in the club’s history. It’s a test that might just prove too steep, given they have to face it at the cauldron in Adelaide.

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