Here are our predictions and tips for every game in Round 18.
All times AEST
Thursday, 7:10pm, Metricon Stadium
West Coast’s top four fate is out of their hands.
The Eagles go into their Round 18 match against North Melbourne needing a win and other results to go their way if they’re to clinch a double chance in the finals.
Last week’s spirited win over St Kilda – without several key players – has West Coast in fifth spot behind fourth-placed Geelong on percentage.
For Adam Simpson’s side to jump into the top four they must beat the Kangaroos and hope either the Cats or third-placed Richmond slip up in their final home-and-away matches against Sydney and Adelaide respectively.
If Geelong and the Tigers win their games, then the Eagles will host a home elimination final at Optus Stadium against whoever finishes in eighth spot.
As for North Melbourne, they will be happy to see the back of a difficult campaign.
A loss to the Eagles and an upset win for the Crows would hand the Roos their first wooden spoon since 1972.
All West Coast can do is win their match and hope either the Swans or Crows do them a huge favour.
Tip: West Coast by 40 points
Friday, 7:50pm, Gabba
It all comes down do this.
St Kilda and GWS meet in a high-stakes Friday night clash that holds major finals implications.
The equation is simple for the Saints: Win and they play finals regardless of other results. A loss and suddenly their finals hopes will be out of their hands.
Brett Ratten’s side squandered a golden opportunity to seal a finals spot against an undermanned West Coast last time out, but will get another chance to put things right in another primetime encounter.
The loss of key midfielder Zak Jones (hamstring) is a huge blow but Dan Hannebery is pressing for a recall having not played since Round 5.
GWS’ path to the finals is more complicated.
The Giants must beat the Saints by a few goals, hope Fremantle beat the Western Bulldogs by the same margin, and for Essendon to defeat Melbourne.
Missing the finals in 2020 was unthinkable for Leon Cameron’s side after making last year’s Grand Final.
It’s a genuine flip of the coin but the Giants’ talent could prove too much for the Saints if they turn up.
Tip: GWS by 10 points
Saturday, 2:10pm, Metricon Stadium
Melbourne’s finals chances go on the line at Metricon Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they come up against an Essendon side who would be glad their 2020 campaign is about to come to an end.
The Dees kept their hopes of snaring a finals birth alive by beating GWS this week and winning here is a non-negotiable as they enter Round 18 outside of the eight by a game, although they do boast superior percentage to the eigth-placed Western Bulldogs.
This game was originally scheduled for earlier in the season before Conor McKenna’s positive COVID-19 test saw it postponed and it looms as no less important now as it would’ve been back then.
These sides haven’t played since April 5 last year, where Essendon won by 18 points in a high-scoring Friday night match at the MCG, where 38 goals were scored between both sides.
It’s hard to see anything but a Melbourne win here considering what’s on the line for Simon Goodwin’s side. That’s unlikely to be anything but cold comfort for Dees fans though, as they nervously await a game which for them is essentially a final before the finals.
Tip: Melbourne by 8 points
Saturday, 5:10pm, Adelaide Oval
The Crows face their biggest test since returning to the winners’ list.
Matthew Nicks’ patience has been vindicated with three victories on the trot made possible by a more attacking brand after he somewhat released the shackles. But that game style will have to go to another level up against the in-form Richmond.
The Tigers put Geelong to the sword with a dominant display that could have been over by half-time had they have kicked straight. The win did come at a cost, however, with ruckman Ivan Soldo (ACL/medial) and key forward Tom Lynch (hamstring) sustaining injuries.
To offset that, Damien Hardwick is expected to recall Mabior Chol and perhaps Josh Caddy, while Shane Edwards will play after coming through the quarantine hub and important defender David Astbury may also return.
From a head-to-head viewpoint, the Crows won the last encounter between the two clubs at the Adelaide Oval in Round 13 last year and have won their past four at the venue against the Tigers. They also hold a 5-2 record in recent years, although the Tigers have won two of the last four.
Richmond lost its last visit to the venue against the Power in Round 11 but have won five on the trot since.
While the Crows will be intent on taking a massive scalp in their final match of the season, expect the Tigers to go about their business in a professional manner and get the job done before setting their sights on another finals campaign.
Prediction: Richmond by 22 points
Saturday, 7:40pm, Gabba
Brisbane has a top two spot on the ladder locked away and how important they view this clash with the eliminated Carlton will be a big factor in the result. The Lions will be without key midfielder Jarrod Berry and likely won’t take any risks with other players under injury clouds.
Carlton defeated Brisbane last year in David Teague’s first game in charge, coming from well behind in the first half to overrun the Lions. Brisbane had won the previous three games against them, however. Carlton has not beaten Brisbane at the Gabba since 2013.
The Blues are coming off two incredibly poor first halves, conceding the first seven goals to the Swans and eight of the first nine against Adelaide – two bottom four teams. They cannot be caught napping against a Lions side capable of putting teams to the sword if they start slow – their win over Essendon, for example.
Given it will be Kade Simpson’s final AFL game, you would hope the Blues would be up for this one and give him the send off he deserves, but recent form suggests they are not in Brisbane’s league.
Tip: Brisbane by 20 points
Sunday, 1:05pm, Adelaide Oval
As unlikely as it seems, Hawthorn could still finish the season with the wooden spoon if things go awry in Round 18. Both Gold Coast and the Hawks are limping to the finish line after reasonable starts to the 2020 season, making this a tough one to work out.
This has been a very one-sided matchup since the beginning, with Hawthorn winning 10 of their 12 encounters with the Suns. Of course, the two teams are usually much further apart on the ladder.
Jack Gunston (nine goals from the last five games) has played well against Gold Coast in recent matchups, as has Tom Mitchell (32 disposals per game in the last three). For the Suns, David Swallow has averaged 27 disposals per game against the Hawks across their last four encounters.
It’s hard to know what to expect on Sunday afternoon at the Adelaide Oval given there is nothing to play for here, but with the Hawks playing youth and looking to the future and the Suns having a more stable line-up, that might tip this one in their favour.
Tip: Gold Coast by 8 points
Sunday, 3:35pm, Metricon Stadium
Sydney and Geelong round out their respective home-and-away obligations at Metricon Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Swans will be looking to finish on a high by claiming a top quality scalp while the Cats will have only one thing in mind with a win securing them a top-four berth.
Chris Scott’s side will know its status prior to when they cross the white line after both West Coast and Richmond play earlier in the round but regardless of those results, four points is a must.
Sydney battled away in Round 17, losing to Brisbane by 32 points, and will need to improve out of sight in order to beat Geelong, who despite a disappointing performance in last weekend’s loss to Richmond, remain a genuine premiership threat.
John Longmire’s Swans will also need to overcome the fact they have been unable to beat the Cats in their last three encounters while winning just one of the past five meetings.
With a position in the all-important four up for grabs and the opportunity to tune up for a fifth straight finals campaign, expect the Cats to eventually get the job done comfortably but not without some fierce competitiveness from the Bloods.
Prediction: Cats by 26 points
Sunday, 6:10pm, Cazaly's Stadium
Win and you’re playing finals.
That’s the prospect Western Bulldogs face heading into their pressure-cooker Round 18 clash against Fremantle, which is essentially a final before the finals as they look to lock in a spot in the bottom half of the eight.
The Dogs were dominant for most of the match against Hawthorn last week, winning by 36 points after flying out of the blocks to record a seven goal to one first half. The game was soured somewhat with Toby McLean sustaining a serious knee injury in the first quarter and it remains to be seen how his long absence was affect Luke Beveridge’s side.
A victory is anything but guaranteed though, as they face off against an in-form Dockers outfit who dispatched North Melbourne last Saturday to the tune of 64 points.
Two of the game’s best young midfields will go toe-to-toe at Cazalys Stadium in the penultimate game of the home and away season – it promises to be an absolute beauty.
Tip: Western Bulldogs by 9 points
Monday, 7:15pm, Gabba
The final match of the home-and-away season throws up a battle of the black and white between two of the country’s traditional powerhouse sides who look set to make an impact in the finals.
With a home final at the Adelaide Oval and second chance sewn up after a season with few blips, a win against Collingwood will seal the minor premiership for Ken Hinkley’s men. Port enter this clash on a four-match winning streak, having easily disposed of Essendon at home last week.
Nathan Buckley’s side too has plenty to play for. They are already guaranteed a finals berth for a third consecutive year but a win could potentially spare the Magpies a trip over to Perth to face the West Coast Eagles, who trounced them by 66 points earlier in the season.
The Pies and the Power haven’t clashed since Round 7 of last season, where the Magpies kicked seven goals to none in the first term to eventually run away 39-point victors. The last time Port claimed the four points was Round 21 of 2017 at the Adelaide Oval.
With their first McClelland Trophy since 2004 in sight, Port Adelaide will enter the finals on a high hoping to replicate the outcome of that glorious year.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 15 points