St Kilda, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney are all fighting it out for the two remaining finals spots in a thrilling Round 18 of AFL action.
An intriguing top-four battle is on the cards, too, with two of Richmond, Geelong and West Coast to win the double chance.
Victory against Collingwood would see Port Adelaide finish a crazy home-and-away season on top of the ladder, while Carlton and Hawthorn are set to say goodbye to retiring champions.
Read on for our full Round 18 preview!
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AFL Tipping – Thursday, September 17
North Melbourne v West Coast Eagles
Metricon Stadium | 7:10 pm (AEST)
North Melbourne Kangaroos – Was confused to read Rhyce Shaw talking about the “gains” the Kangaroos have made this season. North Melbourne has lost 13 of its last 14 matches and is even in danger of winning the wooden spoon in what has been a terribly disappointing season. The club’s massive injury list has not helped, but Shaw can not afford a similarly poor year in 2021. We’re not used to seeing such an uncompetitive North Melbourne side, but six of its last seven losses have been by five goals or more. Out-of-contract forward Mason Wood has been dropped for the third time in 2020, while ex-GWS midfielder Aiden Bonar is injured. Can’t see the Kangaroos getting close in this.
West Coast Eagles – The Eagles did what good sides do in Round 17 – they found a way to win when the odds were stacked against them. Missing midfielders Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden, among others, the Eagles scrapped hard in a 15-point win over St Kilda. Tim Kelly, Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui all stepped up and had big games, and Adam Simpson welcomes back Sheed (hamstring) and Brendon Ah Chee (finger) this week. Key defender Jeremy McGovern (hamstring) is on the sidelines again, but the Eagles won’t be troubled here. If West Coast wins and Richmond or Geelong loses, the Eagles will make the top four. The lowest they can finish is fifth.
AFL Tipping – Friday, September 18
St Kilda v GWS Giants
Gabba | 7:50 pm (AEST)
St Kilda Saints – What a game this is! The seventh-placed Saints take on the 10th-placed Giants in a game that can shape the top eight. Victory for St Kilda will see the Saints secure their first finals appearance since 2011, but Brett Ratten’s men have won just two of their last six matches. Zak Jones injured his hamstring in the defeat to West Coast last week, too, and his absence could see Dan Hannebery in line for a long-awaited recall. Hannebery (hamstring) has not played since Round 5 and has featured in just 10 games in two seasons since crossing from Sydney. The stakes are massive here as two out-of-form sides do battle. Expecting a thriller.
GWS Giants – Successive defeats to Adelaide and Melbourne may have ended GWS’ season, even if the Giants beat St Kilda here. Like the Saints, the Giants have won just two of their last six, and the nature of some of those defeats has been extremely disappointing. The story around Stephen Coniglio is fascinating, the skipper dropped ahead of the five-point loss to Melbourne in Round 17. Surely Coniglio is recalled for this must-win clash? The Giants have won five of their last seven against the Saints and might have the big-game experience to pinch this. This remains tricky from a betting perspective, though.
AFL Tipping – Saturday, September 19
Essendon v Melbourne
Metricon Stadium | 2:10 pm (AEST)
Essendon Bombers – Mark this down as a wasted year for the Bombers. The coaching ‘succession plan’ between John Worsfold and Ben Rutten has not been as successful as the club would have liked, with Essendon’s finals victory drought, which stretches back to 2004, to go on for at least another year. Just one win since Round 8 has frustrated Essendon fans and after a super-impressive return from injury against Hawthorn, Joe Daniher has gone goalless in his two games since. Will this be his last match for the Bombers? Ruckman Tom Bellchambers retired this week and won’t play.
Melbourne Demons – The ninth-placed Demons can still make the top eight but must win this clash. They can play finals football if they win, and GWS beats St Kilda, while an upset in Fremantle’s clash with the Western Bulldogs would also aid their cause. To be in the finals conversation represents a positive turnaround for Melbourne, who won just five of 22 games in 2019. The Demons have been typically hard to catch for punters this season, though, wildly inconsistent from week to week. Simon Goodwin’s men have so much on the line and should win this clash. The key word in that sentence is should.
Adelaide Crows v Richmond
Adelaide Oval | 5:10 pm (AEST)
Adelaide Crows – The Crows are perhaps the only side outside the top eight who wish this season would not end, Matthew Nicks’ men entering this clash against the reigning premiers on the back of three successive wins. Those triumphs followed 13 straight losses to start the campaign but the turnaround has been impressive, with many of the club’s younger players really putting their hands up. Harry Schoenberg, Lachlan Sholl, Shane McAdam, Chayce Jones, Elliott Himmelberg and Tyson Stengle have all had their moments in recent weeks. Having said all that, this is surely a bridge too far for the Crows. Expect a competitive performance – but one that ends in defeat.
Richmond Tigers – Richmond’s win over Geelong last week was huge in the top-four race. Victory against the Crows in this clash would secure that coveted spot – and important double chance – for the Tigers. Ruckman Ivan Soldo (ACL) and Tom Lynch (hamstring) were both injured against the Cats and are sidelined, but Shane Edwards (quarantine) should return in this. David Astbury and Josh Caddy could play, too, a welcome boost for a side looking for a third premiership in four seasons. One of those premierships came against Adelaide, and although the Crows have won two of three meetings since, Richmond should enter the finals on the back of another triumph.
Brisbane Lions v Carlton
Gabba | 7:40 pm (AEST)
Brisbane Lions – The Lions can only finish first or second, meaning they will get a double chance – and host a Gabba final. It is a great position to be in, especially when there was so much talk that Brisbane would fail to back up its excellent 2019 campaign. The form of Lachie Neale has played a huge role, of course, but he has received great support from the likes of Jarryd Lyons, Hugh McCluggage and Harris Andrews. Neale was tagged in a Round 17 win against Sydney and was kept to just 15 disposals. The ploy worked, and expect Neale to get similar attention in the finals. Brisbane still won comfortably, though, and that will delight coach Chris Fagan. The Lions have won six in a row and have won six of their last eight against the Blues. Expect a strong win to end the home-and-away season.
Carlton Blues – It has been a season of what-ifs for Carlton in 2020, the Blues mixing scintillating attacking football with a frustrating tendency to fall asleep during games. It will be a major focus for Carlton coach David Teague in the off-season. Finishing with a triumph on the road against the in-form Lions seems unlikely, but Carlton will be determined to help Kade Simpson go out in style. The Blues veteran announced his retirement this week, with this clash to be 342nd and last match for the Blues. Simpson has been a warrior for the Blues in some dark times. Happier times could be around the corner for Carlton … but it won’t be this week.
AFL Tipping – Sunday, September 20
Hawthorn v Gold Coast Suns
Adelaide Oval | 1:05 pm (AEST)
Hawthorn Hawks – Hawthorn is another club who will farewell retiring champions this weekend, with skipper Ben Stratton and small forward Paul Puopolo to play for the final time against the Suns. Both arrived at Hawthorn as mature-age recruits and both leave the club as triple premiership players … not bad going! Those days are well and truly behind Hawthorn, though, Alastair Clarkson’s men having won just once since Round 4. The Hawks have used 40 different players this season and a major off-season clear-out, featuring even more retirements, seems likely. The Hawks have won 10 of 12 matches against the Suns but are in such bad form, you could not tip them with any confidence.
Gold Coast Suns – The numbers don’t really tell the story with the Suns this season. Gold Coast won three games in 2019 and were thrashed on a regular basis, losing 18 games in a row to finish the campaign. Stuart Dew’s side have won just two more matches in 2020, so far at least, but have been far more competitive and shown plenty of good signs. Particularly exciting has been the form of young guns Ben King, Izak Rankine, Noah Anderson, Jack Lukosius and, for a few weeks at the start of the season, Matt Rowell. The compressed nature of 2020 probably hasn’t helped Gold Coast, but Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood have enjoyed good first seasons at the club. That duo – and the likes of Lachie Weller and Touk Miller – should help the Suns win the midfield battle here.
Sydney Swans v Geelong Cats
Metricon Stadium | 3:35 pm (AEST)
Sydney Swans – A frustrating season for the Swans draws to a close on Sunday, with Sydney unlikely to add to its five wins for the campaign – a season-low since 1994 (four). John Longmire’s men won two of their first three matches this season and have shown some glimpses since, but have struggled for consistency, shown by the fact they have not won back-to-back games in 2020. The news that Tom Papley will not seek a move to Victoria in the off-season is a boost for a Swans side who could desperately do with a quality big man in the forward 50. Lance Franklin could be that man in 2021, but is in the twilight of his career, adding intrigue to the club’s pursuit of Joe Daniher. Sydney has lost four of its last five against Geelong and should lose this one, too.
Geelong Cats – Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood would be more than handy inclusions for the Cats this week, as they bid to bounce back from a disappointing Round 17 loss to Richmond. That defeat ended a six-game winning streak and the Cats barely fired a shot against the premiership favourites. Geelong needs to beat Sydney here to claim a top-four spot and should prove far too good. Look for a response from Tom Hawkins, who was held to just one goal against the Tigers. A double chance is on the line in this and that motivation will drive the Cats to victory.
Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Cazaly’s Stadium | 6:10 pm (AEST)
Fremantle Dockers – Happy to put a tick next to Fremantle’s name when reviewing 2020, the Dockers getting it right in a year of solid progression under new coach Justin Longmuir. Give the Dockers every chance here, too, even if the Bulldogs have their finals destiny in their own hands. The Dockers have won five of their last eight matches, and kicked 15 goals in a 64-point trouncing of North Melbourne in Round 17. The tall forward line of Jesse Hogan (four goals), Matt Taberner (three goals) and Rory Lobb (one goal, seven marks) worked well against the Kangaroos, and smalls Michael Walters and Lachie Schultz added three goals each. The Dockers played in Cairns just two weeks ago, and upset Melbourne. This will be close.
Western Bulldogs – Victory will confirm a finals berth for the Bulldogs but if they lose, they will need Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne to both suffer defeats. Whatever the scenario, the Bulldogs will know what they need to do by the bounce. Toby McLean suffered an ACL injury in an otherwise routine win over Hawthorn in Round 17, notable for the domination of the Bulldogs midfield. Jack Macrae, Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli and Bailey Smith all won plenty of the football, while Caleb Daniel was outstanding with his precision kicking. Confidence is high at the Bulldogs, with four wins from five matches sure to have them in good spirits ahead of this clash. The difference in experience might prove enough here.
AFL Tipping – Monday, September 21
Collingwood v Port Adelaide
Gabba | 7:15 pm (AEST)
Collingwood Magpies – Collingwood’s 22-point win over the Gold Coast on Monday secured finals football for the Magpies, and victory here could see them climb as high as sixth. The Round 17 win was most notable for the return of Jordan De Goey (four goals) and Adam Treloar (26 disposals). Both are huge additions and if Collingwood can get Steele Sidebottom and Jeremy Howe back in the finals, they can still do plenty of damage. This match serves as an important hit-out for the Magpies and Mason Cox will look to build on his good form. Cox took seven marks and kicked two goals against the Suns and gave his side a much-needed focal point around the ground. The Magpies are good enough to win this intriguing clash – can they produce a four-quarter effort?
Port Adelaide Power – The Power already have a home qualifying final and a double chance, but victory would see them finish the home-and-away season on top of the ladder. That would see Port claim the McClelland Trophy for the fourth time in its history, and the Power have won four of their past six against Collingwood. Key defender Tom Clurey (hamstring) won’t feature, as Port aim for five wins in a row. They’re in good form and might just pinch this.