The Roar
The Roar

AFL
Advertisement

Opinion

2021 AFL season: Round 18 preview

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Roar Guru
14th July, 2021
14
1134 Reads

We are now on the home run to September, and after an upset-ravaged Round 17 in which only one home side took the chocolates. Most matches this round will prove crucial in shaping the top eight with five rounds to play after this weekend.

After exactly five years off Broadway, Fremantle will make their long-awaited return to the prime time stage when they host the Geelong Cats at home to kick off Round 18, having forced their way into the eight after a strong win against Hawthorn last Saturday.

Richmond, the GWS Giants, St Kilda, Essendon and the West Coast Eagles will also be out to keep their finals hopes alive, while Melbourne can go a long way towards securing their first top four finish since 2000 with a second win over Hawthorn this season.

Here is your preview to Round 18.

Fremantle vs Geelong Cats

Round 18 kicks off with a second game at Optus Stadium in four days, when Fremantle features on free-to-air television for the first time this year with a blockbuster clash against the Geelong Cats.

Advertisement

The Dockers celebrated captain Nat Fyfe’s 200th AFL game with a 62-point thrashing of Hawthorn in Launceston, winning a match in Tasmania and singing the team song on the day for the first time in their history.

That, of course, discounts the controversial “Sirengate” match against St Kilda in 2006 which initially ended in a draw, after which, following a lengthy appeal, the Dockers were awarded the win by the AFL Commission after Steven Baker’s match-tying point was ruled to have been scored after the final siren.

David Mundy, the only survivor from that match over 15 years ago, was one of the best-on-ground for the present-day Dockers, his 30 disposals being just one short of Fyfe’s 31.

Their next challenge is to face the Cats off a five-day break, though they will have the home crowd behind them as they chase their first finals berth since 2015.

Without Joel Selwood (managed) and Jeremy Cameron (injured), the Cats defeated Carlton by 26 points though it could’ve been a much more interesting contest had their opponents managed to kick straighter.

It has seen them book their ticket to September for a remarkable 14th time in 15 years, and now their aim will be to retain their place in the top four and strengthen their claims to a first flag since 2011.

Though they do face a Freo side keen on consolidating their place in the eight on their home deck, the Cats should take the points on the road, though it would be just their second win outside of Victoria for the year.

Prediction: Geelong Cats by 17 points.

Advertisement
Cameron Guthrie of the Cats celebrates

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Richmond vs Brisbane Lions

The last thing Richmond want as they attempt to keep their finals hopes alive is to face a Brisbane Lions side smarting after a shock loss to St Kilda.

The Tigers’ premiership hopes took another hit last Sunday night, after they were run down by Collingwood, crashing to their fourth consecutive loss and dropping to 12th place on the ladder with six rounds remaining.

Naturally, this has led to questions being asked as to whether Damien Hardwick’s side still have the hunger to contend for another flag, as well as whether the success they’ve enjoyed in the past few years is starting to wear off, as it did for the Lions earlier this century.

But if there is an incentive for the Tigers to bounce back, it is that Jack Riewoldt will bring up his 300th AFL game, marking another milestone in a career that includes three Coleman medals and three premiership flags.

On the flipside, the Lions will hit the MCG for the first time this season, and for the first time since Round 1 last year, off the back of a shock 32-point loss to St Kilda that has dented their premiership hopes.

Not only did the Lions fail to toast Dayne Zorko in his 200th AFL game, they also lost tall forward Eric Hipwood for the season after he suffered a dreaded ACL injury.

Advertisement

Despite their latest setback, the Lions should bounce back and retain their place in the top four with a win on Friday night, which would be their first at the MCG since late 2014.

Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 24 points.

Zac Bailey of the Lions celebrates after kicking a goal

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

GWS Giants vs Sydney Swans

For the GWS Giants, every match from here on in is a virtual elimination final after bumped out of the top eight by last Sunday’s upset one-point loss to the Gold Coast Suns.

Despite the best efforts of Toby Greene, who kicked another long-range goal in the first quarter and another right on the line in the third, two late goals saw Leon Cameron’s men go down by the narrowest of margins, continuing a frustrating season.

They are back in the countryside this Saturday for a clash against the Sydney Swans, whom they handed their first loss of the season in a thriller at the SCG back in Round 5.

In that match, the Giants trailed by as much as 19 points early in the final quarter before a Nick Davis-style goal from Josh Kelly at the Paddington End saw them home by just two points.

Advertisement

However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Sydney, the 21st edition of the Sydney Derby has been moved to Ballarat, making this the second Derby in the last three editions to be played on neutral territory.

The Swans made it two straight wins last Sunday, catching the Western Bulldogs off guard with a 19-point win at Marvel Stadium, with Buddy kicking one goal as his chase for 1,000 career AFL goals continues to go down to the wire.

That followed a massive 92-point win over the West Coast Eagles in Geelong, which dispelled the critics who believed the Swans were most vulnerable to dropping out of the eight.

In winning, John Longmire’s side consolidated their place in the eight, and on Saturday they can just about kill off their rivals’ finals hopes with a win while booking their own ticket to September in the process.

Prediction: Sydney Swans by 30 points.

Tom Papley (R) and Callum Mills of the Swans celebrate

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Melbourne vs Hawthorn

Melbourne can go a long way towards securing their first top four berth since 2000 when they face struggling Hawthorn.

Advertisement

Following criticism of their recent poor form, which included scoring a season-low of 55 points against the GWS Giants, the Dees hit back with a vengeance with a strong 31-point win over Port Adelaide on the road.

The win, their 13th of the season, was anchored by another strong performance from Christian Petracca, who continues to firm among the contenders for the Brownlow medal, and captain Max Gawn, who had a 150th AFL game to remember.

On Saturday, they will start hot favourites against Hawthorn, for whom their glory days seem like light years ago currently sitting in 17th place.

The Hawks have lost their past two games, including to Fremantle by 62 points in Launceston, and now sit just two premiership points ahead of North Melbourne..

The club that once ruled the AFL world with four flags in eight years could drop to the bottom of the ladder if they lose to the Dees, and the Roos beat Essendon the next day.

While they cannot make finals, they can at least provide some nuisance value with a win over the Dees, having already derailed the Swans’ top four hopes as well as the Giants’ finals chances following their Round 12 bye.

Melbourne, however, will be smart enough not to take their eye off the ball and will start hot favourites to bring home the chocolates for the 14th time this season.

Prediction: Melbourne by 32 points.

James Jordon

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Gold Coast Suns vs Western Bulldogs

Fresh off two thrilling wins over Richmond and the GWS Giants, the Gold Coast Suns will be out to claim a major scalp when they welcome the Western Bulldogs to the holiday strip on Saturday night.

The Suns mastered the windy conditions in Ballarat well, especially in the second and fourth quarters. Mot only that, Charlie Ballard took a game-saving mark in defence to give his side their first win over the Giants since Round 6, 2014.

That came ten days after the club produced one of its best wins in history, a late goal to Ben King seeing them upset reigning premiers Richmond by ten points at Marvel Stadium.

Over the next fortnight, the Suns will face the top two teams in consecutive weeks, starting with the second-placed Western Bulldogs at home followed by a trip to Darwin where they will face top-placed Melbourne.

The last time they faced the men from Footscray, the Suns managed only one goal – towards the end of the second quarter – at the end of which they trailed by 61 points.

But to their credit, Stuart Dew’s side broke even in the second half, with Jack Lukosius their best player on what was a dirty night for the club in Melbourne.

While Saturday night’s match presents the Suns a good chance to test themselves against the best, the Bulldogs will show just why they’re the best from the west.

Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 25 points.

Jack Macrae of the Bulldogs (C) celebrates a goal

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

St Kilda vs Port Adelaide

Saturday evening sees St Kilda host Port Adelaide in Melbourne for the first time since 2013.

After a disappointing first half of the season, the Saints have picked up form over the past three weeks, restricting Richmond to only two goals and withstanding a furious final quarter comeback from Collingwood to win by nine points.

Last week, they produced easily their best performance of the season as they upset premiership favourites Brisbane.

Max King kicked three second-quarter goals, while Zak Jones gathered 26 disposals in his return from injury, as the Saints kept alive their slim finals hopes with a third straight win, moving to just outside the eight on percentage.

But after conquering one challenge, Brett Ratten’s face will face another when they tackle Port Adelaide for the second time this season, this time at Marvel Stadium.

The Power are coming off a 31-point loss to Melbourne at home, which has again exposed their status as ‘flat-track bullies’, a claim coach Ken Hinkley said was “disrespectful” to the sides that have beaten his mob this year.

They should, however, start favourites to beat the Saints on Saturday night, having already handed them a hefty defeat back in Round 6.

Prediction: Port Adelaide by 28 points.

Connor Rozee of the Power celebrates a goal

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

North Melbourne vs Essendon

Fresh off their third win of the season, North Melbourne can climb off the bottom of the ladder (if Hawthorn lose to Melbourne) and prove some nuisance value when they face Essendon.

It had been a tough first half of the season for the Kangaroos but, since the bye, the club has performed strongly, notching up wins over the Gold Coast Suns and West Coast Eagles, while also pushing the Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs all the way.

Last Monday night, the Roos defeated the Eagles by ten points on the road in what was easily their best win of the season, considering not just the long trip across the Nullarbor but also the wet weather conditions they were met with at Optus Stadium.

Todd Goldstein became the new record holder for the most hit-outs all-time, surpassing the previous record held by Fremantle giant Aaron Sandilands.

Next for the Roos are Essendon, who remain right in the finals hunt after they defeated the Adelaide Crows by 63 points at Marvel Stadium last Friday night – restricting the Crows to their lowest ever score, 2.9 (21), in the process.

They could so easily have won by more than 100 points if it wasn’t for their inaccuracy; from 29 scoring shots, they managed a return of only eleven majors.

Archie Perkins nabbed a Rising Star nomination by kicking three goals and he among a host of others have been shining lights as the Bombers continue to push for a surprise finals berth.

While they will be wary of a much-improved North Melbourne side, the men from Windy Hill should claim the points on Sunday.

Prediction: Essendon by 14 points.

Zach Merrett celebrates with Essendon teammates Nick Hind and David Zaharakis.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Collingwood vs Carlton

No matter where Collingwood and Carlton are on the ladder, matches between the two traditional rivals are a must-watch.

Last week, not only did the Pies win their first match under caretaker coach Robert Harvey, they may have also all but delivered last rites to Richmond’s premiership defence, coming from behind in the final quarter to win by 16 points.

They had trailed by 20 points at the final change of ends, but slammed home seven majors in the final quarter to bring up their fifth win of the season, and first since a Queen’s Birthday win over Melbourne at the SCG in Round 13.

It could prove to be significant in the run home, especially if the Tigers fail to reach the finals for the first time since 2016.

While finals may be out of the equation at the Holden Centre, the Pies can, for the second consecutive week, end a rival’s finals hopes when they face Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.

After stinging criticism following their six-goal loss to GWS in Sydney, the Blues hit back with wins over the Adelaide Crows and Fremantle, before their goalkicking betrayed them in a 26-point loss to the Geelong Cats at the MCG.

They booted just one goal in the first half, and kicked a string of ten straight points before kicking four majors in the second half; if they had kicked much straighter, then they could’ve given themselves a chance of an upset win like Round 3 last year.

It has also done David Teague no favours as he fights to retain his job, with an extensive review of the club already underway in earnest, at the end of which the Blues could be searching for a new coach to take them out of their current predicament.

In the end, the Pies should join their bitter rivals on six wins for the season with a win on Sunday.

Prediction: Collingwood by 10 points.

Steele Sidebottom of the Magpies celebrates a goal

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Adelaide Crows vs West Coast Eagles

The final match of Round 18 sees the West Coast Eagles make the short trip across to Adelaide with their tails between their legs, following three very disappointing losses after their Round 14 bye.

The Eagles were left, right and centre of scathing criticism from the media following their humiliating 92-point loss to the Sydney Swans in Geelong in Round 16, and while they showed plenty of improvement against North Melbourne they crashed to yet another loss, this time by ten points.

One major highlight of the final quarter, though, was a bomb from outside 50 by Liam Ryan, on his return from a one-match suspension.

While the Eagles remain in the eight, their percentage has dropped to 94.8, and there is every chance they could be out of the eight if they lose to the Crows, and St Kilda upsets Port Adelaide the previous day.

The men from West Lakes also go into Sunday’s match with a huge point to prove, being kept to their lowest ever score, 2.9 (21), against Essendon at Marvel Stadium last Friday night.

We have seen signs of improvement for Matthew Nicks’ side this year, but the loss to the Bombers marked yet another low point in the club’s history; not only was it their lowest score ever, it was also the lowest score recorded by any team at the Docklands venue since it opened in 2000.

They will want their ex-captain Tex Walker back on deck quickly, after he missed last Friday night’s match due to a neck injury.

But even so, the Eagles will want to put behind their recent horrid form and get their finals hopes back on track as a loss could see them out of the eight come sunset on Sunday.

Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 16 points.

close