5 in 5: The games not to miss in the first five rounds

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Former Richmond Tigers Ben Lennon and Ben Griffiths talk to ESPN about their move from professional Aussie rules to college football. (2:09)

The AFL has released its 2019 fixture, with Collingwood and Thursday night football taking centre stage.

The League has scheduled Thursday night matches in each of the five opening rounds in 2019, and eight overall - one more than last year.

After a barnstorming run to last year's Grand Final and the promise of an even stronger showing next season, Collingwood have been given the lions' share of the marquee matches, with the Magpies handed 11 blockbusters through the 2019.

As well as their annual Anzac Day and Queen's Birthday clashes, the Magpies will play two Thursday night and a whopping seven Friday night games in 2019.

As every supporter digests the draw their club has been given, we've taken a look through the first five rounds and pulled out the must-see clashes.

Round 1

Sunday March 24: GWS vs. Essendon, Spotless Stadium

After the glitz and glamour of the season opener between Carlton and Richmond, and the Friday night blockbuster between Collingwood and Geelong, comes one of the most intriguing games of the opening round. Yes, the Giants-Bombers Sunday twilight clash at Spotless Stadium is almost as off-broadway as it gets, but it is a must-watch encounter.

All eyes will be on Dylan Shiel, the superstar ex-Giant who will take on his former teammates in his debut in the red and black. How will he respond? This week, he admitted he'd prefer to have had more time to settle into his new colours before facing the Giants: "I would have liked a few weeks to get used to the teammates before I face the old club, but it's going to be exciting."

But Shiel isn't the only aspect of this clash that will be fascinating.

It features two teams that are difficult to get a read on considering their 2018 seasons and efforts during the trade period. The Giants look far less scarier after shedding the likes of Shiel, Rory Lobb and Tom Scully but still boast one of the league's most enviable lists. Meanwhile, the Bombers are being talked up as premiership contenders; not just for their trade coup, but the prospect of a fit-again Joe Daniher and the breathtaking way they finished 2018.

Whoever emerges with a win in Round 1 gets to make an early statement.

Round 2

Saturday March 30: Geelong vs. Melbourne, GMHBA Stadium

Contenders or pretenders? That question could be posed about both teams heading into this season, and we will be closer to an answer after the Saturday night clash in Geelong.

The Cats and the Demons have developed quite the rivalry in the past 12 months. Last season, they played out two one-kick thrillers, with the Cats winning both, before the Demons unleashed 12 years of frustration with a dominant elimination final victory.

Both teams bolstered areas of weakness during the trade period, with the Cats adding some forward-half pressure and speed through the additions of Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan, while the Dees' signing of Steven May gives their defence much-needed steel. Demons coach Simon Goodwin will feel much more comfortable sending him to Tom Hawkins, rather than Oscar McDonald or Sam Frost.

Round 3

Saturday April 6: Collingwood vs. West Coast, MCG

Grand Final rematch. Need we say more?

While the calls for a Round 1 rematch of the previous year's decider have merit, at least we don't have to wait too long to see these teams match up again after last season's epic finale.

The pain of that defeat will no doubt be fresh for Collingwood. With the addition of Dayne Beans, they now boast by far the strongest midfield in the league -- on paper, at least -- and have an early chance to atone for the heartbreaking defeat. It could be a perfect stage for Brodie Grundy to dominate, as the Eagles lost premiership ruckman Scott Lycett to Port Adelaide in the trade period, while No. 1 big man Nic Naitanui (ACL) will almost certainly still be sidelined.

A fascinating sub-plot will be the likely return of West Coast's premier midfielder Andrew Gaff, whose season was cut short due to the suspension for his Derby brainfade. He has two games of his ban to serve and will almost certainly be brought straight back in to face Collingwood in Round 3. We're sure the Magpie Army will welcome him back with warmth and appreciation ...

Round 4

Saturday April 13: West Coast vs. Fremantle, Optus Stadium

Western Derbies are fierce contests regardless of the context of the season and where each team is placed on the ladder, but this one should be extra spicy.

After years of looking on enviously at the powerful West Coast key forwards, suddenly the Dockers will run onto Optus Stadium with imposing firepower of their own thanks to two recruits who look likely to terrorise opposition defences: Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb. They may take time to gel together, but look out when they do.

Adding fuel to the Derby fire will be the presence of Andrew Gaff, set to return the previous week. Fremantle won't have forgotten the mess he left Andrew Brayshaw in after his off-the-ball hit last season, and he'll be tested emotionally and physically. He's fortunate this will be a West Coast home game, meaning only a small proportion of Freo's fan base will be able to squeeze into the ground to pass on their thoughts.

Round 5

Thursday, April 18: Brisbane vs. Collingwood, Gabba

Does this qualify as a grudge match for the Dayne Beams-less Lions after the defection of their former captain? Beams' return to Collingwood on the surface appeared amicable from all sides but Brisbane fans will no doubt still be hurting at his departure only weeks after his emotional speech at the Lions' best-and-fairest night.

"The amount of support you've shown me over the last six months has been unreal ... I can't wait to see us progress as a team and a footy club," Beams said in early September after a difficult year on and off the field.

"That was a real driving factor in me wanting to stay here and stick around."

A little more than a month later and Beams returned to Collingwood in one of the more head-scratching player moves from recent years.

While the Lions were well compensated for their loss -- they received two first-round picks from the Pies, for Beams and some minor change -- he'll likely receive a very warm, if not heated, welcome back to the Gabba for this blockbuster Easter Thursday clash.

The game will kickstart a carnival of footy, with games to be played on 10 of 11 days across the Easter and Anzac weekends.