AFL 2022 fixture: Five must-watch games in the first five rounds

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It's AFL fixture day! The league has released its schedule for the 2022 AFL season, with dates and times locked in up until Round 9.

To whet your appetite for the upcoming season, we've looked at the fixture to bring you the five must-watch games from the first five rounds.

1. Melbourne vs. Western Bulldogs - Round 1, MCG, Wednesday March 16, 7.30pm (AEDT)

With the disappointment of not celebrating winning a premiership at the MCG now behind Demons fans, they can really look forward to watching their club unfurl the flag in what will be a season opener between last year's Grand Final combatants. Now a standalone, marquee fixture scheduled for before Carlton vs. Richmond, Dees and Dogs fans will have their chance to pack the stands and bring in the new season (and dare we say it, rightly so!).

While the four points won't come close to a premiership cup for the Bulldogs, getting their season off to the perfect start with the W in their back pocket against the best team in the league will be front of mind. It won't be the ultimate revenge -- and the Demons will want to salute in front of more than 80,000 fans -- but what we know for certain is this contest will be a cracker.

2. GWS vs. Sydney - Round 1, Accor Stadium, Saturday March 19, 5.10pm (AEDT)

There's a bit to unpack here. Let's start with the fact Lance Franklin is just five goals away from hitting the magical and increasingly out-of-reach milestone of 1000 career goals. There's a very real chance he'll hit the mark in Round 1 and in front of what could be a monster crowd.

Strangely, however, the AFL decided to fixture this match at Accor Stadium (formerly ANZ Stadium - or Stadium Australia) which hasn't been used by the AFL since 2016 when these teams met in a qualifying final. In addition, it's a Giants home game, meaning Swans fans and neutrals alike will have to make the trek to the Olympic precinct.

And we haven't even mentioned the fact that the last game these teams players against one another was one of the most pulsating finals we've seen in recent years. This rivalry is spicy, and with these sides seemingly both in the 'middle band' of contenders, we could well be in for another barnburner in Sydney's biggest stadium.

3. Adelaide vs. Port Adelaide - Round 3, Adelaide Oval, Friday April 1, 7.30pm (AEDT)

It's about time! Year after year we find ourselves puzzled at why the AFL hasn't fixtured the Showdown on a Friday night - ever! When you consider some of the classics these teams have played in recent years -- think Motlop's late winner, Josh Jenkins' 'behind', Angus Monfries' off break, and more! -- it's hard to believe this isn't pencilled in as one of 23 Friday night games every season.

It might not be the most evenly-poised Showdown in history given the contrasting expectations of both sides' lists, but given it's a Crows home game, they'll have the majority of the crowd behind them as they try to cause an upset against one of the better and more consistent sides we've seen in the past few years.

Needn't we remember, too, that Adelaide's early-season form in 2021 was surprising if not shocking; in the matter of a month they upset the Cats and eventual premiers Melbourne at home. Perhaps this fixture is shaping up as another classic...

4. Geelong vs. Brisbane - Round 4, GMHBA Stadium, Friday, April 8, 7.50pm (AEST)

Remember this fixture last year? To say there was controversy involved would be putting it lightly. It was Round 2, and both the Cats and the Lions had posted shock losses the week prior - the Cats to the Crows, and the Lions to the Swans.

With the Cats leading by just two points with 30 seconds remaining, Mark Blicavs was caught dead cold holding the ball in the goalsquare by Zac Bailey. The umpire whiffed on the call and the ball spilled over the line and cut the margin to one point in Geelong's favour - the eventual margin. Had that decision been paid to Bailey, it would have been a certain goal and win for the Lions, who started the year 1-3 and behind the eight ball.

Add in the fact that both Geelong and Brisbane will be looking to go all the way in 2022 after years of falling short, and these early-season crunch games against potential flag fancies always carry a level of intrigue that can't be missed.

5. Brisbane vs. Collingwood - Round 5, Gabba, Thursday, April 14, 7.35pm (AEST)

If Zac Bailey felt ripped off against the Cats, he got redemption against the Magpies the following week as his Lions won by virtue of his kick after the siren. It was a belting contest between these sides early last season, and if you remember, the fixture was originally meant to be played in Brisbane but was moved due to COVID concerns up north.

This Easter Thursday fixture is the one big 'blockbuster' the Lions get; it's often their biggest match in terms of both crowds and eyeballs on TV, so they'll be jumping out of their skin to beat Collingwood at home and under lights at the Gabba. This contest also kicks off a massive Easter weekend that spans from Thursday night until Monday afternoon footy at the MCG between Geelong and Hawthorn.