With six rounds remaining, including this weekend, the race for finals spots will continue to heat up this weekend.
Seventh plays eighth to kick off Round 18, when the Adelaide Crows welcome Essendon to the Oval, while the Brisbane Lions can all but secure their first finals berth in a decade if they knock off North Melbourne at the Gabba on Saturday night.
Elsewhere, Port Adelaide’s consistency will be tested when they face Richmond, to whom they haven’t lost at the MCG since 1998, while two of the game’s longest serving coaches will go head to head in the west on Saturday night.
Crunch time also arrives for the injury-ravaged GWS Giants, who will be hoping to keep their chances of a double chance alive when they host Collingwood at Giants Stadium.
Here is your full preview to Round 18.
Adelaide Crows vs Essendon
Round 18 starts with a genuine blockbuster on Friday night with the Adelaide Crows hosting Essendon at the Oval, with the Crows to start favourites to continue their rich vein of form on their home turf.
After a sub-standard first half of the season by their standards, Don Pyke’s side has lifted since the start of June, registering wins over the likes of the GWS Giants and Richmond to enter the top eight.
Last week, they showed their ruthless side by posting the highest score of the season so far, booting 23.13 (151) in their 95-point demolition of the Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium.
Attempting to keep them to a low score will be a major task that awaits the Bombers, who have won their last three matches by a grand total of just 21 points, this Friday night.
Also last Saturday night, the Bombers escaped with a five-point win over North Melbourne with Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicking the match winning goal inside the final 30 seconds, the result keeping their finals hopes well and truly alive.
Prior to that, they also had to come from behind to beat the GWS Giants and Sydney Swans, reversing earlier-season defeats against them in the process.
This will be the first time the Bombers have met the Crows since Round 1 last year, when John Worsfold’s side came from 20 points down in the final term to record a twelve-point victory.
However, facing them at the Oval will be a tougher prospect altogether, and history is against the red and black, which has also not beaten the Crows in Adelaide since Round 1, 2013.
That being said, expect the Crows to romp home here.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 25 points.
Richmond vs Port Adelaide
The first of five matches on Saturday sees Richmond look to continue its surge towards September when they host Port Adelaide at the MCG.
With Jack Riewoldt back in the side after ten weeks out through injury, the Tigers led from start to finish to defeat the GWS Giants by 27 points in the first of seven straight matches at the MCG to finish the season.
Just to show how important that win was, it lifted the Tigers above the Giants into fifth place on the ladder and they will now start favourites to beat the Power at home this Saturday.
Port Adelaide’s attempt to target Brisbane Lions star and one of the favourites for the Brownlow Medal, Lachie Neale, backfired spectacularly last Sunday as it went down to the Lions by 48 points at the Oval.
It continued a win-loss pattern which has been in place since it lost back-to-back matches against Collingwood and the Adelaide Crows in rounds seven and eight.
If that is any indication, then they could be due for a win against the Tigers, whom they beat by 35 points the last time they played them at the MCG which was back in Round 6, 2016.
In fact, to find the last time Richmond defeated Port Adelaide at the MCG, you’d have to go all the way back to Round 10, 1998 – to put that into perspective, Tigers teen sensation Sydney Stack hadn’t even been born yet.
Surrounded by the comforts of home, Stack and the Tigers should prevail.
Prediction: Richmond by 18 points.
Carlton vs Gold Coast Suns
This match looms as possibly the final chance for the Gold Coast Suns to avoid the wooden spoon when it travels to Melbourne to face Carlton – the last side they beat prior to enduring an ongoing 12-match losing streak.
To say that season 2019 has been another season from hell for the Suns would be an understatement, given they have been competitive in a small number of matches including stretching the Geelong Cats at home as well as the Sydney Swans in the first half at the SCG.
But their past two weeks has seen them serve nothing but tripe, losing to Richmond and the Adelaide Crows by a combined total of 187 points and barely giving a yelp in either match.
It’s a completely different story at Carlton, which since severing ties with coach Brendon Bolton in round eleven has won three of its past five matches, including defeating Fremantle and the Sydney Swans on the road as well as upsetting the Brisbane Lions at home in Round 12.
Co-captain Patrick Cripps returned last week to marshal their win over the Swans, which was their first at the SCG since 2011 but just their second there in a quarter of a century, last Saturday.
Nic Newman also performed well in his return to the venue, where in his last game as a Swan he was on the wrong end of one of Toby Greene’s infamous karate kicks, which prompted the AFL to introduce a new rule in his honour outlawing the dangerous act.
Surely, at home, the Blues will start favourites, but not even a strong finish to the season may guarantee caretaker David Teague the full-time coaching gig.
Prediction: Carlton by 18 points.
GWS Giants vs Collingwood
Once again, the GWS Giants have been struck down by injuries at the wrong time of the season and it’s fair to say they are close to breaking point.
Three months after losing co-captain Callan Ward to a serious knee injury from which he will not return from this season, vice-captain Stephen Coniglio will almost certainly not play any further in 2019 after suffering a minor knee injury against Richmond last Sunday.
His injury, which came inside the opening five minutes of the game, became a major topic of discussion after he was seen with strapping around it, this coming about after coming off sore in the loss to the Brisbane Lions in Round 16.
A poor first quarter, at the end of which they trailed by 26 points, would prove costly as the Giants again suffered from stage fright on the MCG, losing to the Tigers by 27 points despite valiantly fighting back in the third quarter.
Another tough test awaits on Saturday night when they welcome Collingwood to Giants Stadium this Saturday night.
It will be the Pies’ second straight match on the road after coming from behind to upset reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles at Optus Stadium last Friday night.
A lot had been spoken about their poor mid-season form, as well as injuries, but the Pies lifted in the final quarter to record their third win from as many road trips this year after previous wins at the Gabba and SCG in rounds five and ten respectively.
It will be the first time the Giants and Pies have met since last year’s semi-final, which was won by Nathan Buckley’s side by ten points. However, the Giants did get up by 16 points at the MCG in Round 2 last season, one of just three wins at the home of football for the men in orange.
On home turf, the Giants should put up a good challenge, but the Pies will be just too good.
Prediction: Collingwood by 18 points.
Brisbane Lions vs North Melbourne
In what is arguably their most important home game for over a decade, the Brisbane Lions can finally bury the demons that was the decade of darkness when they host North Melbourne at the Gabba this Saturday night.
The Lions’ surge towards a first finals berth since 2009 took another step forward last Sunday when they defeated Port Adelaide by 48 points at the Oval, marking their first win at the iconic venue after so many heavy defeats there this decade.
Sitting third on the ladder with a record of eleven wins and five losses, this makes it officially their best season since Michael Voss’ first season as coach a decade ago, but Chris Fagan’s side will surely want to continue shooting for the stars in 2019.
A win over the Roos will just about see them book their berth in September and it would come as a massive reward to the club’s members fans after the dark times they’ve endured this decade, ranging from Brendan Fevola’s ill-fated time at the club to the Justin Leppitsch years.
The Kangaroos have lifted since coach Brad Scott voluntarily left after Round 10, but their finals hopes took a hit when they suffered a heartbreaking five-point loss to Essendon at Marvel Stadium last Saturday night.
Still, Rhyce Shaw has guided the club impressively to a 4-2 record in his six games in charge, and with John Longmire having recently re-signed with the Sydney Swans, the 2012 premiership defender who played under ‘Horse’ is now firming as the Roos’ next full-time coach.
But back at home after a fortnight on the road, the Brisbane Lions should all but secure a finals berth with a win in front of their home fans.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 28 points.
Fremantle vs Sydney Swans
Two of the game’s longest serving coaches will come face to face when Fremantle tackle the Sydney Swans at Optus Stadium in the other Saturday night match.
Between them, Ross Lyon and John Longmire, among other achievements:
* Have racked up over 500 matches as coaches (Lyon reached his 300th game as an AFL coach last Saturday, while Longmire has coached the Swans 212 times),
* Have taken their sides to six grand finals, including the 2010 draw (Lyon), for a return of one premiership (Longmire in 2012),
* Were on the coaching panel when the Sydney Swans won the 2005 premiership, and nearly backed it up in 2006,
* Have achieved significant success at the clubs they have coached, with two minor premierships each (Lyon at St Kilda in 2009 and Fremantle in 2015, and Longmire with the Sydney Swans in 2014 and 2016)
Further, there has not been a finals series that has not featured either a Lyon or Longmire coached side since St Kilda finished ninth in 2007, which was Lyon’s first year as a senior coach after he took over from Grant Thomas at the end of 2006.
But that looks like changing this year, with neither Fremantle or the Sydney Swans likely to play in September this year.
The Dockers crashed to their fourth straight loss last Saturday when it lost to Hawthorn in Launceston by 31 points, despite the best efforts of captain Nat Fyfe, who was repeatedly targeted by Hawks players after he suffered a shoulder injury.
Meantime, any chance the Swans had of qualifying for a tenth straight finals series all but evaporated last week when it suffered a frustrating seven-point loss to Carlton at home.
Injuries have played a part in the Swans’ downfall, with Lance “Buddy” Franklin now unlikely to play his landmark 300th game against the Geelong Cats at home in Round 19, with that milestone now likely to be pushed back to the following week’s Derby against the GWS Giants.
Despite their current plight, coach John Longmire continues to be lauded for continuing to develop his younger players, which will come out of it a better side and hopefully back into a position where they can again contend for premierships in the next decade.
The trip to Perth will be their only one for the season, and first since they gate-crashed the West Coast Eagles’ christening of Optus Stadium with a 29-point win in Round 1 last year.
But despite the Dockers’ recent poor form, I have them bouncing back at home this Saturday night.
Prediction: Fremantle by eight points.
Geelong Cats vs Hawthorn
The first match on Sunday afternoon brings together two great rivals, with one well and truly heading for another premiership while the other heads south, facing the prospect of missing September for just the third time since 2006.
The Cats’ form since their Round 13 bye has been shaky at best, losing matches on the road against Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs, but otherwise maintaining their strong record at home with wins over the Adelaide Crows and St Kilda.
To say the least, they were unconvincing against the Saints, falling behind in the second quarter before rallying to win by 27 points and keep them winless at Kardinia Park this millennium.
Still, they remain on top of the ladder and will start favourites to beat the Hawks, who despite being unlikely to feature in September this year have won their last two, beating Collingwood and Fremantle at home and damaging both clubs’ finals chances in the process.
The Cats and Hawks have maintained a strong rivalry in the past decade, despite the Cats winning most matches, some by small margins, thanks to a pact by Paul Chapman that they should not lose to the Hawks again as long as he was at the club.
History would tell us that Chapman would be suspended for the match which saw the Hawks end five years of misery at the hands of the Cats with a five-point win in the 2013 preliminary final.
To the present to finish off, and despite having to travel up the highway for a “home” game against a regular MCG tenant, the Cats should get the job done and almost certainly kill off the Hawks’ finals hopes once and for all.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.
Melbourne vs West Coast Eagles
Currently sitting in 16th place with five wins and eleven losses, the only thing Melbourne can play for is pride as they look to hopefully a much better 2020 season.
Season 2019 has not unfolded how many Dees supporters would have liked, with injuries and the departure of key players certainly not helping their cause.
Last week, they stuck with the Western Bulldogs for most of the match before falling to a heartbreaking eight-point defeat, which has all but ended their chances of participating in September this year.
Now, coach Simon Goodwin will need to pick his side up for a second bout against the West Coast Eagles, in a game they have transferred to Alice Springs, where his club has a 2-3 record.
The last match the Dees played in the red centre saw them record a 91-point thrashing of the Adelaide Crows, but they will face much sterner opposition in the Eagles, who are coming off a one-point loss to Collingwood at home.
The Eagles’ form had seen them win three matches in succession since their Round 13 bye, but they were found napping in the final quarter by the Pies, which won its third match on the road this season.
After the Eagles demolished the Dees by eleven goals in the preliminary final last season, they were made to work much harder when the teams met in Round 9, recording a 17-point victory.
This time, they should be more ruthless as they chance a double chance.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 30 points.
St Kilda vs Western Bulldogs
The final match of Round 18 sees St Kilda begin life after Alan Richardson when they tackle the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Sunday night.
After what has been a disappointing five-and-a-half years, the last eighteen months in particular, Richardson made the decision to step aside after it became clear he wouldn’t be coaching the club beyond this season.
Injuries to key players, as well as mental health issues surrounding Jack Steven, had made his job much more difficult, however Saints officials have commended him for the work he has done in the face of such adversity.
Caretaker coach Brett Ratten will have the chance to impress officials when he begins a six-match audition for the top job when the Saints tackle the Bulldogs, who look to be making a late surge for finals after a disappointing first half of the season.
Since the Round 12 bye, the Bulldogs’ improved form has seen them beat Carlton, Port Adelaide, the Geelong Cats and Melbourne, with the only defeat being against Collingwood in Round 14 in a match they could have also won.
Last Sunday, they withstood a serious challenge from the Dees to win by eight points and move up to tenth on the ladder with an 8-8 record, but with their percentage still in the red at 94.8.
The win over the Dees was marshaled by Josh Dunkley, who played the match of his life racking up nearly 40 disposals and laying fifteen tackles, while kicking two majors.
If they are to beat the Saints, they may have to do so without Marcus Bontempelli, who has been seen this week with his left foot in a moonboot thanks to an ankle injury.
Whether he plays or not, I think the Bulldogs will get the job done.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 14 points.