AFL 2023 fixture: Five must-watch games in the early rounds

The 2023 AFL fixture has been released after a busy trade and draft period. So, to whet your appetite for the upcoming season, we've looked at the fixture to bring you the five must-watch games from the opening month of action.

1. Geelong vs. Collingwood - Round 1, MCG, Friday, March 17, 7:40pm (AEDT)

It's the Grand Final that could have (should have?) been. The Magpies' 2022 season ended in dramatic fashion with a heartbreaking loss to Sydney at the SCG. Few predicted Collingwood would make finals last season, let alone reach the last four, so it will be fascinating to see how this side handles the pressure and expectation piled on them next year.

Meanwhile, the Cats have won 16 straight games, including last year's premiership, and are as dominant as any side in recent memory. Chris Scott's team will once again be out to prove that age is just a number, making a mockery of everyone who had written them off over the last few years.

The last three games between Geelong and Collingwood have been decided by 13 points or fewer. It should be another absolute cracker.

2. Carlton vs. Geelong - Round 2, MCG, Saturday, March 23, 7:20pm (AEDT)

Are the Blues legit? You feel we'll have the answer to this question after their Round 2 clash with the aforementioned red-hot Cats.

Led by reigning Brownlow medallist Patrick Cripps, Carlton will be looking to make amends for last season's late drop off which saw them fall out of the top eight at the eleventh hour. In 2023, the Blues have a favourable draw, with double-ups against Collingwood, Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne, St Kilda and West Coast. But they'll need to set the tone early, and what better way to do it than against the reigning premier.

3. Western Bulldogs vs. Brisbane - Round 3, Marvel Stadium, Thursday, March 30, 7:20pm (AEST)

Josh Dunkley's move to Brisbane was one of the biggest of the AFL offseason, the premiership Bulldog heading north to join a Lions side ready to contend again. And it isn't going to take long for the 25-year-old to face his former team for the first time when they clash in another Round 3 blockbuster.

It's fair to say the Dunkley trade-off was a heated one, both clubs hardly budging when it came to an offer and the Dogs hard to appease, not willing to let go of one of their best players.

But aside from the off-field argy-bargy, these are two potential heavyweights of the 2023 season. The Dogs are coming off a lacklustre campaign -- by their standards after a 2021 Grand Final appearance -- which ended in a first week finals exit, and the heavily topped-up Lions will be looking to go one step further than their embarrassing preliminary final loss to Geelong, as a fifth-straight finals series beckons.

Yeh, this has all the makings for an early-season classic.

4. Hawthorn vs. North Melbourne - Round 3, UTAS, Saturday, April 1, 1:45pm (AEST)

This one mightn't look like the most appealing clash but there's plenty of intrigue around Alastair Clarkson. Hawthorn's greatest ever coach is now leading the Kangaroos so there will be real interest when he squares off against the side in which he made a name for himself.

Let's not understate this. Arguably the game's greatest coach -- at least one of the most successful -- coached Hawthorn for 17 seasons and won four famous premierships, all including current Hawks coach Sam Mitchell who'll be looking to go one-up on his former mentor.

Plus, Clarkson may not be the only familiar face in this clash, with Dan Howe heading to Arden Street via this year's rookie draft, and veteran Liam Shiels also re-uniting under the preseason supplemental selection period rule.

5. Port Adelaide vs. Adelaide - Round 3, Adelaide Oval, Saturday, April 1, 7:30pm (AEDT)

This fixture rarely fails to live up to the hype. Think Steven Motlop's late winner, Josh Jenkins' 'behind', Angus Monfries' off break. Last season the AFL scheduled the first Showdown on a Friday night, but next season it returns to Saturday.

Yes, it's cliche, but the great thing about a Showdown is that form and ladder positions rarely matter. Time and time again we're treated to epic clashes between the Power and Crows. Two of the last three contests have been decided by just four points, and with both sides eager to surge up the ladder in 2023 after disappointing, finals-less seasons, this contest shapes up to be yet another epic.