AFL 2020 Round 17 Review, Round 18 Preview: Plenty of teams, one finals spot on the line

The finals race is coming down to the last round. With everything on the line, where does your team stack up?

ROUND 17

St Kilda 6.14 (50) defeated by West Coast 9.11 (65)

A late Eagle surge does the trick

With Jeremy McGovern injured before half-time and other Eagles missing due to injury concerns, it was going to take something brave from West Coast.

When St Kilda fought back in the last quarter to take the lead after a great Rowan Marshall snap goal, the Eagles looked worn out. But Tim Kelly (29 disposals and a goal) performed when his new club needed him most, firing an under-manned midfield to a crucial win. Andrew Gaff also played admirably, while Nic Naitanui fought hard in the ruck, Liam Ryan gave his usual effort down forward and Tom Barrass controlled defensive 50 without McGovern. Hunter Clark and Jack Steele both continued their fine seasons for the Saints, but they had too many passengers when it counted.

Verdict: St Kilda need to find touch in the last round if they are to trouble anyone in the finals, while West Coast just secured a massive four points.

Geelong 4.7 (31) defeated by Richmond 7.15 (57)

The Tigers are the ones to beat

The AFL world went into this clash expecting plenty from the two in-form teams. Unfortunately, Geelong’s solid run came crashing down in a horror Friday night match. Richmond were their impressive selves that we have all come to expect – Jack Riewoldt and Dustin Martin were up to their usual tricks, while Dylan Grimes and Liam Baker were terrific in defence. Only Tom Stewart gave any real sense of defiance to the Richmond wave – Cam Guthrie and Patrick Dangerfield also fought hard in a losing cause.

Jack Riewoldt led the Tigers to a massive win over the Cats (Image by Chris Hyde/ Getty Images)

It may have been a great night for the yellow and black, but the win came at a cost – Ivan Soldo looks to have done a serious injury in his knee, while Tom Lynch also suffered a hamstring injury.

Verdict: A reality check for the Cats, who must click to challenge the Tigers. Richmond are cruising – it’s too hauntingly similar to last year.

North Melbourne 5.5 (35) defeated by Fremantle 15.9 (99)

Despair for the Roos

North Melbourne’s woes have continued to fall. Another ten-goal defeat puts them in danger of snatching the wooden spoon. Todd Goldstein tried his heart out in his 250th match, but Fremantle were too classy all day.

The Roos could barely lay a tackle on the Dockers, as David Mundy and Nat Fyfe troubled the young North Melbourne engine room. Sean Darcy held his own against Goldstein, while Lachie Schultz, Jesse Hogan and Matt Taberner all became dangers in front of the big sticks. In the end, North didn’t have enough firepower to match the Dockers, and quickly fell behind.

Verdict: Plenty of positives for the Dockers, but the Roos are having a nightmare of a year.

Port Adelaide 11.13 (79) defeated Essendon 4.5 (29)

Rediscovering form

Despite being on top of the ladder, Port haven’t been in the best form. They needed this 50-point win. The likes of Tom Rockliff, Travis Boak and Ollie Wines all wound back the clock to create a strong midfield that bullied Essendon all day. Connor Rozee began to flourish, while Karl Amon proved a threat off half-back.

Only Jordan Ridley and Adam Saad thwarted Port Adelaide, as the rest of the Bombers line-up looked tired and sore. It signalled the end of Essendon’s finals push, while highlighting the excitement surrounding Port Adelaide in the coming weeks.

The Power flexed their muscles against the Dons (Image by Daniel Kalisz/ Getty Images)

Verdict: Port will benefit from this. Essendon need to get to the end of the year without any more damage being inflicted.

GWS 11.8 (74) defeated by Melbourne 12.7 (79)

Keeping hopes alive

It was a crazy Saturday night clash – one that defined many clubs’ seasons. Without captain Stephen Coniglio, youngster Tom Green and Jake Kelly stood up in the middle, while Brent Daniels rediscovered his spark up forward. Unfortunately, none of GWS’ tall targets could get past Steven May, while Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca continued to dominate off the back of Max Gawn’s terrific ruckwork.

GWS are now likely to miss out on finals action, while Melbourne’s topsy-turvy campaign still has life in it with one match to go. They need the Dogs to slip up and a win against the Bombers to give them a shot at eighth spot.

Verdict: GWS keep shooting themselves in the foot – was resigning Leon Cameron done too hastily? Melbourne have plenty of heart, and deserve a go at making finals.

Carlton 8.8 (56) defeated by Adelaide 10.12 (72)

Sending Gibbsy off well

Carlton simply had to win this, but came up against an emotional force on Sunday. Adelaide can’t admit to treating Bryce Gibbs well, but they gave him a great finale to his career. The Crows flogged the Blues in the first half, leading 53 to 9 at the main break. Young Lachie Sholl dominated with 24 touches and two goals, while Harry Schoenberg continued to evolve as a strong midfielder.

After half-time, Carlton managed to bridge some of the gap. Harry McKay fought for four majors, but his teammates weren’t able to peg back the unassailable deficit. With Rory Laird controlling the middle and Gibbs ending with a solid outing, Adelaide did enough to continue their September resurgence.

Bryce Gibbs had a stunning finish to his career (NT News)

Verdict: A disappointing day for the navy Blues, but a treasured afternoon for Gibbs and his Crows.

Hawthorn 6.4 (40) defeated by Western Bulldogs 11.10 (76)

A win that comes with a price

The Dogs looked switched on early, and rode to a four-goal lead at the first break. Unfortunately, their finals chances received a massive blow when strong midfielder Toby McLean went down with a serious knee injury. Yet the Bulldogs weren’t disheartened – Caleb Daniel manipulated the game from half-back, while Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Bailey Smith and Jack Macrae all smacked Hawthorn’s scant midfield.

In a second half comeback, it was veterans in Luke Breust, Liam Shiels and Jack Gunston who were their side’s best. Unfortunately they were too far gone, and the Dogs were able to coast to another important win.

Verdict: Hawthorn will be the team to watch over the off-season, while the Dogs are doing everything right to make finals.

Sydney 6.5 (41) defeated by Brisbane 11.7 (73)

Shaking off dodgy form

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was enough. Brisbane continue to win ugly, as a horrible night in Cairns allowed the Swans to stay in the contest. Luke Parker and Jake Lloyd were their usual selves, Justin McInerney continued to shine off the wing, Callum Mills controlled his defence and Ryan Clarke worked hard to shut down Lachie Neale.

Jarrod Berry and the Lions are in good position coming into the finals (Image by Glenn Hunt/ AAP)

All of this wasn’t enough. Zac Bailey is an underrated youngster who has had a terrific year, while Daniel Rich, Dan McStay and Jarryd Lyons all held firm to direct the Lions in the right direction. When Brisbane needed it, Charlie Cameron and Eric Hipwood snagged goals to suggest things may be tracking upwards for the Lions.

Verdict: Sydney continue to fight admirably, while Brisbane have done well to lock in a top-two spot.

Collingwood 10.8 (68) defeated Gold Coast 6.10 (46)

Maligned forwards find form

For Collingwood to stand a chance of running through the 2020 Finals series, they must have their prime players back and in good touch. They went a long way forward on Monday night, as the returns of Jordan De Goey and Adam Treloar fired Collingwood into sixth spot with a round to play.

Despite Alex Sexton’s electric three-goal opening term, the Pies rallied off the back of De Goey’s four majors and Adam Treloar’s dominance in the middle. With Mason Cox proving dangerous all night up forward, Collingwood looked a much better side for it. Wil Powell did everything he could down back, while Lachie Weller ran his heart out all night. Unfortunately, the firepower of Josh Daicos, Darcy Moore and Isaac Quaynor proved too much for the tiring Suns.

Verdict: A last-round hit-out against the Power could tell us lots about the Pies. Gold Coast have plenty of young kids to be excited about, but they are an exhausted list.

ROUND 18

Thursday 7.10PM

Metricon Stadium

North Melbourne v West Coast

Ominous signs for the Roos

In their last stand before the end of a difficult season comes, North Melbourne must ensure they don’t finish on a sour note. It’s hard to do, but they need to end with some confidence still intact if they are to improve through a difficult off-season.

On the other hand, West Coast simply must win. Their recent form has been wayward – a win in Queensland should give them the confidence boost they need on the eve of finals. Expect Tim Kelly to continue his strong form, while Liam Ryan and Josh Kennedy should prove too much up forward.

Tip: This should be one-sided – the poor Roos have nothing to play for. Eagles by 43.

Friday 7.50PM

The Gabba

St Kilda v GWS

Everything to play for

This game is the opposite of Thursday night’s clash. Both teams are fighting – GWS have to win to have a chance of sliding into the top eight, while St Kilda could plummet down to eighth with a loss here.

If Stephen Coniglio is reinstated into the Giants’ midfield, he will have an intriguing battle against Brownlow Medal chance Jack Steele. Josh Kelly can also influence this clash, while it’ll be telling to see whether GWS elect to go with Shane Mumford or Sam Jacobs as ruckman for the big game. Whoever it is, they should have a hard time coming up against Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall.

The Saints will be looking to position themselves well for the finals series (Image by Daniel Kalisz/ Getty Images)

Tip: GWS will give everything they can, but it won’t be enough. Saints by 10.

Saturday 2.10PM

Metricon Stadium

Essendon v Melbourne

A belated early season match-up

This game was meant to be held months ago before a COVID-scare pushed it to the last round of the season. It would’ve been an exciting game back then, but it should be a cracker now.

Melbourne must win if they are to have a chance of snatching eighth place. Essendon have been out of form in recent weeks, so the Dees have a prime chance to strike. Can Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver finish off their brilliant year against Zach Merrett? Will Steven May continue his great form by taking the scalp of Joe Daniher? How will Jordan Ridley handle the versatile Melbourne forward line? It’ll take a fine effort from the Dons to grab this win.

Tip: Essendon can make this close, but I can only see the Demons winning this. Dees by 20.

Saturday 5.10PM

Adelaide Oval

Adelaide v Richmond

The Crows will be looking to beat their 2017 vanquishers (AFC)

Finishing off with some momentum

The Crows have found form late in September – a horror season has been complimented by a superb month of young talent improving and coming to the fore. They’ve been great, but their happy run should end when they come up against the flag favourites.

In a tune-up for finals, Richmond should cruise home. Dustin Martin and Shai Bolton are a versatile combination in the middle that will require some serious contested ball-work from Matt Crouch and Rory Sloane. Dylan Grimes will be hard to handle down back with his intercept marking game, while Noah Balta has a chance to squeeze Taylor Walker out of the match. Also, how will Lachie Scholl handle Richmond ball magnet Trent Cotchin?

Tip: Sorry Adelaide, but the run ends here. Tigers by 35.

Saturday 7.40PM

The Gabba

Brisbane v Carlton

A potential farewell parade

Saturday night will be a tear-jerker. After a rough past month where finals chances flew out of the window, Carlton will bid farewell to a club stalwart. Kade Simpson will hang up the boots after this game, and will receive a massive send-off at the end of this match.

Brisbane now have a top two spot wrapped up, and can tune up for finals with a win here. Lachie Neale has an opportunity to grab three votes and grab a Brownlow Medal, while Charlie Cameron and Eric Hipwood can find the form they desperately need if the Lions are to reach the big dance in 2020.

Tip: Don’t put it past the Blues giving one last effort for Simpson, but my head tells me it’s Brisbane’s game to win. Lions by 15.

Sunday 1.05PM

Adelaide Oval

Hawthorn v Gold Coast

Saying goodbye 2.0

If Saturday night will be a sad one, the retirement of Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo should be just as sad. Two premiership heroes will retire after facing the Suns, who will be desperate for a win after coming close in recent weeks.

The Hawks will have to out-point the Suns if they are to send their retiring stars out in style (Image by Getty)

Usually, I would go the Suns to finish on a high. But the emotion surrounding the double-retirement could power the Hawks over the line.

Tip: For pure sentimental reasons, I’m going the Hawks by 18.

Sunday 3.35PM

Metricon Stadium

Sydney v Geelong

Restoring faith

Geelong were embarrassed last week. They have fallen off their perch, and must enter the finals with form if they are to finally get past Preliminary Final weekend.

With Gary Ablett Jnr’s return imminent, the Cats should be buoyed. Tom Hawkins can celebrate an easy Coleman Medal win, while Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola can all fight for votes that could become very important in the Brownlow Medal race.

Sydney get one last crack at causing an upset. Don’t put it past their young list, who have shown a remarkable penchant for improvement and dare over the past two months.

Tip: Sydney may push the Cats, yet Geelong have to win this. Cats by 28.

Sunday 6.10PM

Cazaly’s Stadium

Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

Who’s good enough for finals?

It’s the question of the round, and it could be decided on Sunday night. If surrounding teams win, the Dogs have to grab the four points over the Dockers to claim their finals spot.

It definitely won’t be easy – Fremantle have turned into a tough team to play. They have a good group of veterans and some wonderful talent that has shone through in 2020. If Matt Taberner and Jesse Hogan can get on top once again, it becomes critical that the Dogs win the midfield battle. How much of an impact will Toby McLean’s injury have on their contested ball work? Can Caleb Serong claim the Rising Star with another big performance?

Matt Taberner has had a great year, and can finish it off with a big night against the Dogs (Image by Richard Wainwright AAP)

Tip: The Dockers will turn this into a scrap, but the Bont’s Dogs should just win. Bulldogs by 7.

Monday 7.15PM

The Gabba

Collingwood v Port Adelaide

An exciting test

It’ll be an exhausting weekend of footy, but we will all get a great game to finish. Collingwood can avoid a dreaded trip out west in week one of the finals if they beat the Power here. Port have already ruled out Tom Clurey for the clash, and could take a conservative approach to rest up for finals.

If this happens, Jordan De Goey and his Pies could strike. Mason Cox has a massive chance to head into finals with form under his belt, while Darcy Moore can take plenty of confidence out of beating Charlie Dixon on the verge of finals.

Tip: This is tough. Normally, Port would win this. But the circumstances lend me to going with Collingwood. Pies by 15.

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