Round 18 Preview
Updated: Sep 21
The final round of this crazy regular season. Every game (bar one) will have a bearing on the finals series placings in some way. Just the way we like it - clearly some are more significant than others, with the Giants, Demons, Saints and Bulldogs fighting it out for the last couple of spots. Intense! There is an angle to suggest we should tread warily with those who have already made it, particularly when playing a side who knowingly will end up on a Queensland holiday once the formalities are over. Which side turns up switched on? Will we see a distinct lack of defence which we have become accustomed to over the years in the usual final round "dead rubber"?
Even some who could improve their ladder position might be forgiven for taking the foot off the pedal a little bit - you'd hate to be charging down the wing in the second half and ping a hamstring... (or lay an unnecessary head-high bump, for example)
North Melbourne v West Coast
A rather underwhelming start to the round. West Coast get to beat up on the worst form team in the comp, jet home and quarantine while waiting for their hapless finals opponent to make their way over.
It seems like a perfect storm for West Coast to finish fifth and tackle a pretty low-rated side who manages to sneak into 8th. But who would they rather not face? You'd have to think it's the Bulldogs, with their contested ball-winning ability and small (ish) forward line that half renders their intercept marking a little redundant at times.
If it was pure a contested-ball battle you could argue that the Demons might cause them issues, but they have problems of their own at either end - and we know what happened last time Melbourne travelled to Perth for a final...
Back onto this game, and it's hard to see North getting anywhere near West Coast, even if the Eagles back off a little once they know they aren't in danger of a massive upset.
Pick: West Coast by 31
St Kilda v GWS
Remember when we used to describe the "Orange Tsunami" of Giants when they used their run and carry out of defence as a form of attack? Well, that is gone. GWS are dead last at going from defensive 50 to inside 50 this season, which in turn effects their ability to get it into an open forward line to let their big guns do their work.
When you are also bottom four at winning the ball back in your own front half, it makes things incredibly difficult. The Giants can't even boast a quality stoppage record to offset their issues in general play - bottom eight for centre bounce clearances (St Kilda is in fourth, importantly), and usually totally owned against the better ruckmen. Big test for Marshall and Ryder to dominate this one.
Neither side are really adept at the contested ball game (the Giants should be, but they aren't), so this could end up being a bit of an uncontested FEAST - whoever can get their ball movement chains humming probably ends up the winner.
You'd hope Leon just releases the shackles a little and forces the Giants to get creative - if they just continue the way they have been and don't find any quality inside 50s by using their speed and skill, then this is all over. With a final eight spot on the line, it's the perfect time for some serious attack and creativity on behalf of the Giants.
By doing this, it opens the one window of opportunity to strike at the heart of the Saints' weakness - conceding marks inside 50. St Kilda have given up double figure F50 marks in four of their past six matches (one of the others was a loss on a slippery deck against the Demons), the worst record of any of the sides currently in finals contention.
Jeremy Cameron might be horribly out of form and confidence, but he gets an amazing chance here to make amends if the Giants get their ball movement right and don't play it safe.
Neither result would shock, but considering all of the above there's a slight lean to St Kilda finding enough ways to get the job done.
Pick: St Kilda by 8
Essendon v Melbourne
Demons fans with long memories would be having nightmares about Joe Daniher this week. His last full seasons (albeit way back in 2017 and 2016), he has managed a career-high 15 marks in a 13-point win in 2016 along with 2.4, and a 13-mark performance in 2017 where the radar was just *slightly* off in front of goal - 1.6 to be exact.
He is probably a long way from that sort of form, admittedly, and the Demons are arguably far better equipped with key backs these days, yet it wouldn't surprise if Big Joe terrorises them again in this one.
The Bombers haven't won a contested possession count in the past six weeks, aside from their crazy second half against the lowly Hawks a few games back. The one thing you have to do against Melbourne is find a way to break even on that front, or be prepared to spend a long time defending.
For that reason, you have to side with Melbourne. Clearly in the final round there have been crazier things happen than a Bombers upset, but on form you can't possibly side with Essendon with any sort of confidence.
Can the Demons carry the pressure of a potential finals spot along with their favourite tag? They could be their own worst enemy if they decide to lose their confidence and play it safe for too long. Can't wait to see how this plays out.
Pick: Melbourne by 17
Adelaide v Richmond
Crows are airborne, but they're still the Crows. Richmond should find it pretty easy here, and book their place in the top four. Not much else to say, really.
Pick: Richmond by 29
Brisbane v Carlton
Danger game for the Lions - top two sewn up, young group, facing a Carlton side that may have lost their mojo a little, but could easily get that long and direct game going with nothing to lose in the final four quarters of their 2020 campaign.
Like always, a fast start is usually a fair chance against the Blues. Brisbane have the best record of any side in terms of first quarter wins this year, so Carlton would want to be switched on. Interestingly, the Blues have won only three fewer quarters than the Lions so far. They are doing something right, but those huge goal streaks against them will be a huge point of focus through the pre-season, whenever that may be...
Banking on Brisbane maintaining the rage and taking care of Carlton here. They can't take them lightly, though, or Carlton could find a way to cause a bit of an upset.
Pick: Brisbane by 20
Hawthorn v Gold Coast
It's a mad world when the Suns start favourite against the Hawks, but here we are. The market might have overreacted a little to the Hawks failing to put four quarters together recently and the Suns being competitive without winning - couldn't possibly be confident in a side with a single win and a lucky draw in their past nine matches.
So we give Hawthorn a bit of a chance here in what could be a classic last-round offensive battle. Once the heat comes out of the game we could see a real live version of circle work - the scoring will just depend on how accurate they are, or whether both sides don't fall into selfish habits and can at least manage the right shot selection.
Could go either way, this one. Can the Hawks just get one late and force the footy media into wondering whether the Suns season has been a total disappointment? (An uneccessary take...their time is 2021)
Pick: Hawthorn by 4
Sydney v Geelong
Cats to win, but win ugly. Swans have been great this year - a perfect example of a team that can have a successful campaign without making finals or winning many games. Cats just have too much firepower and class, as long as their minds are on the job.
They will be hoping to avoid any major injuries and be able to coast through a second half, if the Swans will let them...
Pick: Geelong by 20
Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Never has a game relied more on a weather report - thankfully for the Bulldogs, it looks like the rain clouds are avoiding Cairns this weekend. Their best result, and the worst result for anyone cheering them to lose (*Demons*)...
So we side with the Bulldogs to get their running game going from the start and post a big enough scoreline that Fremantle might find hard to match. The game against a terrible North Melbourne was a bit of a false dawn for Fremantle's forward line, given the Dogs defence has managed to keep basically all of the mid-to-lower tier teams to a manageable scoreline.
Pick: Western Bulldogs by 24
Collingwood v Port Adelaide
Giving Collingwood a genuine chance here. Both sides have obviously already qualified for finals, but Collingwood desperately need a bit of momentum finally heading into an elimination matchup in two weeks time.
Port have the incentive of landing top spot as well, and will want to put a stamp on their season by finishing the regular season as minor premiers.
There is a bit of talk about who Port Adelaide and Collingwood would prefer to face, but it definitely isn't a factor when the teams go to strategise - no one tries to manipulate a result to face a different opponent in the finals. They might have a preference in theory, but it won't have any bearing on the result in this one.
Importantly, Collingwood haven't beaten a top 8 opponent since they shut down Geelong in Round 7 (with a tough early draw, they've only played two finalists in the run home, funnily enough). So we will get a good guide as to whether they can match it with the best tonight.
They simply have to find a way to post a 60+ scoreline, otherwise their defence will have to defend for their lives against a pretty unpredictable (and potent) Port Adelaide forward line.
The pivotal contest might be at stoppages - Port Adelaide have the highest clearance differential for the season, but against Top 8 sides they drop to eighth. in contrast, the Pies are 12th for clearance differential overall, yet they jump to third against this year's finalists.
As we've said above, that figure is slightly misleading given they were travelling far better way back earlier in the season (premiership favourites at one point), but at least it shows they have the ability to compete with the best.
Both side are top four in terms of percentage of time spent in their forward half, so the clearance battle becomes even more important. You would usually back the Collingwood defence to be able to absorb a lot of ball down their end, but these days it's a lot harder to be confident they can keep a quality team like Port Adelaide at bay.
Hoping for a thriller, watching for the stoppage and territory battle.
Pick: Collingwood by 2
Round 18 Burning Question:
Why is it suddenly so important for ex players and coaches to be looking after Coterie Groups as a job?
Very much a complex issue, given the cuts to football departments and staff levels moving forward. But shoving old assistant coaches or ex players into roles that would have previously been filled by hard-working, highly qualified staff who don't come with a famous name just seems a little...wrong.
There are no easy answers to all of this, but it starts to become disingenuous when football staff are wedged into admin roles in order to dodge soft cap restrictions and give a cushy job just to "one of the boys".
What about the people who used to do that job?