AFL 2021: Everything you need to know ahead of Round 18

AFL expert Josh Gabelich previews another action-packed weekend live on BT Sport.

Published: 14 July 2021 - 4.54pm

The whips are cracking as we round the final corner towards the home straight ahead of September.

But just as we’ve become accustomed to in the past 18 months, nothing is certain amid a pandemic. A few clubs have been forced to depart Melbourne at the last minute to ensure games proceed as planned this weekend.

Right now, we move ahead as planned with nine games to look forward to this weekend, starting with a tantalising Thursday clash between Fremantle and Geelong at Optus Stadium. 

BT Sport Monthly Pass

Join the home of live sport for just £29.99 per month. Get instant access to the BT Sport app, with no contract and no BT broadband required.

The Dockers are in the eight and fighting for one of the two spots at the bottom of the top eight with six teams – West Coast, St Kilda, Greater Western Sydney, Essendon and Richmond. If they can get over the line against the Cats at home, it will enormously boost their chances of qualifying for the finals for the first time since 2015.

After four straight losses, the dynasty has crumbled at Richmond. The aura and the intimidation factor that was once there has disappeared. Now the reigning premiers host Brisbane who are looking to rebound after being stung by St Kilda last weekend. The Lions need to win to keep themselves in the top four.

We have four games to digest on Saturday starting with a Sydney derby that will be played in Queensland – instead of Ballarat – after some last minute moves to the ongoing coronavirus outbreaks on the east coast of Australia. The Giants were upset by the Suns last weekend and flicked out of the top eight. They need to win to keep their finals chances alive, while the Swans showed they are the real deal with a brilliant win over the Western Bulldogs.

Live AFL on BT Sport this weekend

The Gold Coast Suns return to Metricon Stadium after the best fortnight in the history of the expansion club. They beat Richmond in prime time on a Thursday night then they beat Greater Western Sydney by a point at Mars Stadium last weekend. Stuart Dew’s men now host one of the premiership favourites in the Western Bulldogs in what could be one of the most entertaining games of the round.

Hawthorn is two points off the bottom of the ladder following an awful season at Waverley Park which has highlighted a lack of forward planning post dynasty. They are now dealing with a daily discussion regarding the future of master coach Alastair Clarkson after they announced a succession plan last week. They now face Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday in a match that could get ugly.

If you are looking for a game of the round prediction, this could be it. St Kilda versus Port Adelaide under the lid at Marvel Stadium. Two teams with so much on the line right now. The Saints must keep winning if they are going to produce a miraculous recovery to play finals, while the Power don’t look capable of going all the way, but could still pull off a top four finish if things go their way between now and September. 

St Kilda’s clash with Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium could be the game of the weekend

It is remarkable to think that North Melbourne could climb off the bottom of the ladder this weekend if they beat Essendon, but that’s the situation right now. David Noble’s side have risen from the canvas in the past month and shocked West Coast in Perth on Monday in one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Traditional rivals Collingwood and Carlton meet at the MCG on Sunday afternoon at a time when some expected them to be competing for finals spots – or more – but that’s not the case in 2021. The Magpies trumped Richmond in a stunning fourth quarter revival last weekend to hand caretaker coach Robert Harvey his first win, but they have tumbled badly this season. While the Blues have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season.

Round 18 finishes at Adelaide Oval with West Coast flying in to face the Crows inside South Australia’s sporting cauldron. Matthew Nicks’ men have continued to fall further and further after a brilliant start to the year, with last Friday’s loss to Essendon one of their worst in recent memory. The Eagles are also coming off a horrible patch of matches and won’t play finals if they continue in this manner. This shouldn’t be a classic.