Round 18 the 2021 AFL season kicks off with two clashes that have huge Top 8 ramifications, while two traditional rivals face off in a Sunday blockbuster.

Fremantle v Geelong @ Optus Stadium

Thursday 15th July, 20:10 (AEST)

Wilson, Pearce, RyanBAtkins, Kolodjashnij, Henry
HBAish, Logue, TuckerHBSelwood, Stewart, Blicavs
CAcres, Fyfe, CerraCSmith, C.Guthrie, Tuohy
HFColyer, Lobb, WaltersHFDangerfield, Ratugolea, Miers
FSchultz, Treacy, HenryFHiggins, Hawkins, Dahlhaus
FOLDarcy, Mundy, BrayshawFOLStanley, O’Connor, Narkle
I/CSwitkowski, Banfield, Serong,HughesI/CBews, Parfitt, Menegola, Close

Played 40: Fremantle 13 v Geelong 27

Last Meeting: AFL Round 8, 2020: Fremantle (16) def by Geelong (48)

Final Thoughts: A 10-goal win plus some favourable results in Round 17 has done wonders for Fremantle’s Top 8 chances, and has seen them shorten from $4.50 to $2.60 in that market with Palmerbet. This week, however, represents a huge test against a Cats side that held the Dockers to just two goals (at Optus Stadium) when they last met. Justin Longmuir’s side have lost five of their last six against Geelong, and with newly re-signed skipper Joel Selwood back after a break, will need to be at their best if they’re any hope of four points here.

A win for the Cats is equally important in their Top 4 quest, and will keep them a game clear inside. With a relatively straightforward draw to come, they are currently $1.14 to remain there come season’s end.

Tip: Line, Geelong -8.5 @ $1.90

Richmond v Brisbane Lions @ MCG

Friday 16th July, 19:50 (AEST)

Garthwaite, Astbury, GrimesBMadden, Andrews, Lester
HBShort, Stack, MansellHBRich, Birchall, Starcevich
CMcIntosh, Cotchin, PickettCMcCluggage, Neale, Robinson
HFCastagna, Baker, AartsHFZorko, McStay, McCarthy
FLynch, Martin, RiewoldtFColeman, Daniher, Cameron
FOLChol, Lambert, BoltonFOLMcInerney, Lyons, Bailey
I/CRioli, Nankervis, Parker, GrahamI/CRobertson, Prior, Fullarton, Payne

Played 51: Richmond 32 v Brisbane 18 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 10, 2021: Brisbane (102) def Richmond (74)

Final Thoughts: Rarely in the last four seasons have Richmond started as such outsiders (currently $2.70 with Palmerbet), but such is the reigning premiers form, their price could almost be greater. Quite simply, the Tigers have been awful in the last month. Losses to West Coast, St Kilda, Gold Coast and Collingwood have given us the biggest indication yet that the dynasty — and any hopes of a three peat — may well be gone. A month ago Richmond were near-certain $1.06 Finals hopes. Now? A more-than-shaky $3.00.

They face a Brisbane side coming off the back of an uncharacteristically poor performance. Salt was rubbed into the wound with news of a long-term injury to Eric Hipwood, which likely means Joe Daniher will shoulder a bigger load for the rest of 2021. Can he lead their attack? This clash, despite the Tigers worries, will be a good indicator of whether he can.

Tip: To score 2+ goals, Dustin Martin (Rich) @ $3.50

GWS Giants v Sydney Swans @ Mars Stadium

Saturday 17th July, 13:45 (AEST)

Taylor, Davis, ReidBFox, Rampe, Cunningham
HBPerryman, Haynes, CummingHBDawson, McCartin, Lloyd
CKelly, Ward, KennedyCHewett, Mills, McInerney
HFDaniels, Himmelberg, TarantoHFPapley, Amartey, Heeney
FLloyd, Hogan, GreeneFGulden, Franklin, Hayward
FOLFlynn, Coniglio, HopperFOLHickey, Florent, Parker
I/CStein, Green, Sproule, Idun, Finlayson, Bruhn, O‘Halloran, de BoerI/CBlakey, Kennedy, Wicks, Bell, O‘Riordan, Rowbottom, Sinclair, Stephens

Played 20: GWS 8 v Sydney 12

Last Meeting: AFL Round 5, 2021: Sydney (69) def by GWS Giants (71)

Final Thoughts: Is there a more exciting team at the moment than the Swans? No side moves the ball more efficiently from defensive-50 to forward-50 (currently ranked no.1 in the competition), and in recent weeks have knocked off premiership favourites the Western Bulldogs, and thumped West Coast by 92 points. The latest win over the Dogs halved their flag odds from $26 to $13 and, as detailed this week, has positioned them with a shot at premiership glory in 2021.

They face crosstown rivals GWS in (of all places) Ballarat owing to NSW’s ongoing Covid outbreak. One of the league most inconsistent outfits, the Giants are proving a nightmare with punters. Two weeks ago they defeated top-of-the-ladder Melbourne, yet last week went down to the lowly Gold Coast Suns. They miss Lachie Whitfield (concussion) in what could prove a big loss in expected blustery conditions, however captain Stephen Coniglio and Matt de Boer should return.

Tip: Any time goalscorer, Jordan Dawson (Syd) @ $3.10

Gold Coast Suns v Western Bulldogs @ Metricon Stadium

Saturday 17th July, 16:35 (AEST)

Gold CoastWestern Bulldogs
Powell, Collins, LemmensBDaniel, Keath, Williams
HBLukosius, Ballard, BowesHBDuryea, Cordy, Dale
CEllis, Miller, SharpCMacrae, Smith, Richards
HFSexton, Burgess, HolmanHFJohannisen, Naughton, Weightman
FRankine, King, AinsworthFUgle-Hagan, Bruce, Hunter
FOLGraham, Rowell, SwallowFOLEnglish, Dunkley, Bontempelli
I/CAnderson, Corbett, Fiorini, FlandersI/CCrozier, McNeil, Smith, Garcia


History: Played 13: Gold C0ast 3 v Western Bulldogs 10

Last Meeting: AFL Round 5, 2021: Western Bulldogs (118) def Gold Coast Suns (56)

Final Thoughts: The Dogs had a rare stumble in Round 17, overpowered by the impressive Swans. But its anything but panic stations at the kennel; a four-point buffer inside the Top 4 plus the competition’s healthiest percentage allowing them space to breathe at the back-end of the season. Importantly, key forward Aaron Naughton should return from a concussion break while Josh Dunkley should also be included in the 23.

The Suns come into this one with confidence, having held off the Giants last week in Ballarat. And while their season is all but over, the momentum they’re gathering at the back-end of 2021 could finally, finally, set them up for their first AFL Finals tilt in 2022. Noah Anderson could be in line for a quicker-than-expected return.

Tip: Margin, Western Bulldogs 1-39 @ $2.00

Melbourne v Hawthorn @ MCG

Saturday 17th July, 16:35 (AEST)

Hunt, May, LeverBGrainger-Barras, Hartigan, Howe
HBHibberd, Petty, SalemHBBurgoyne, Frost, Bramble
CJordon, Petracca, LangdonCMoore, Worpel, Phillips
HFPickett, McDonald, BrayshawHFJeka, Breust, O’Meara
FNeal-Bullen, Brown, FritschFKoschitzke, O’Brien, Lewis
FOLGawn, Oliver, VineyFOLMcEvoy, Mitchell, Shiels
I/CRivers, Jackson, Harmes, SpargoI/CReeves, Greaves, Nash, Brockman

Played 166: Melbourne 79 v Hawthorn 87

Last Meeting: AFL Round 5, 2021: Hawthorn (54) def by Melbourne (104)

Final Thoughts: The Dees were yet again ultra-impressive in their win away from home in Round 17, brushing aside Port Adelaide to shorten into $2.25 minor premiership favourites. Back at home, they start short $1.08 favourites against a Hawthorn outfit that may just be stumbled to the finish in 2021. With two of the top five Brownlow Medal chances in 2021 (Clayton Oliver $6.50 and Christian Petracca $8), don’t discount either of the Demon pair looking to fill their boots should Melbourne stride ahead early. Just half a game ahead of North Melbourne (16 points to 14), the Hawks are a genuine wooden spoon chance this season, something they haven’t done since way back in 1965.

Tip: To score 2+ goals, Christian Petracca @ $2.40

St Kilda v Port Adelaide @ Marvel Stadium

Saturday 17th July, 19:25 (AEST)

St KildaPort Adelaide
Howard, Wilkie, HighmoreBLienert, McKenzie, Aliir
HBWebster, Sinclair, HillHBBurton, Jonas, Byrne-Jones
CRoss, Dunstan, BillingsCBonner, Wines, Houston
HFMembrey, Marshall, KentHFAmon, Georgiades, Marshall
FByrnes, King, ButlerFBergman, Dixon, Powell-Pepper
FOLRyder, Steele, JonesFOLLycett, Boak, Drew
I/C (from)Connolly, Crouch, McKenzie, LongI/C (from)Frederick, Woodcock, Ladhams, Mayes


History: Played 32: St Kilda 11 v Port Adelaide 21

Last Meeting: AFL Round 6, 2021: Port Adelaide (93) def St Kilda (39)

Final Thoughts: The Saints have screeched into AFL Finals contention in recent weeks after a series of impressive performances. Just three weeks ago Brett Ratten’s side were $26 Top 8 hopes following a devastating loss to Adelaide in Cairns that prompted some tough words from coach and fans alike. But three wins on the bounce — the latest a shock 32-point win over flag fancies Brisbane after starting $4.44 outsiders — has seen them into $3.20 in that market. However with a poor percentage and a draw that pits five of their next six games against Top 8 opponents, they’ve got some work ahead of them.

The Power were again exposed as a side incapable of getting it done against the best in Round 17, thoroughly outclassed by Melbourne. It means they are 0-4 against Top 4 sides in 2021, a stat that doesn’t bode well with September beckoning.

Tip: Line, Port Adelaide -2.5 @ $1.90

North Melbourne v Essendon @ Marvel Stadium

Sunday 18th July, 13:10 (AEST)

North MelbourneEssendon
Walker, McKay, TurnerBLaverde, Stewart, Redman
HBZiebell, Tarrant, HallHBHeppell, Ridley, Hind
CDumont, Simpkin, McDonaldCGuelfi, Merrett, Cox
HFStephenson, Larkey, Davies-UniackeHFSmith, Hooker, Stringer
FMahony, Zurhaar, TaylorFWaterman, Wright, McDonald-Tipungwuti
FOLGoldstein, Phillips, ThomasFOLDraper, Parish, Snelling
I/C (from)Scott, Bosenavulagi, Young, Atley, Lazzaro, Hayden, Xerri, CampbellI/C (from)Perkins, Jones, Ham, Gleeson, Cutler, Bryan, Zerk-Thatcher, Durham


History: Played 160: North Melbourne 57 v Essendon 102 (1 draw)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 10, 2021: Essendon (141) def North Melbourne (69)

Final Thoughts: It was only eight rounds ago when these two last faced off, when the Dons smashed North to the tune of 12 goals at Marvel Stadium. But David Noble’s side have improved significantly since then. In fact, they’ve not just been competitive against Top 4 sides, but knocked off finals hopefuls West Coast in Perth on Monday night — undoubtedly their best moment of the season. North have noticeably tightened up defensively, and since the Round 10 drubbing have not lost by more than five goals.

Essendon’s Top 8 tilt is on a knife edge, and likely relies on victory in this clash. They should have enough to get over the line, but will be prepared for a scrap. The experienced Dyson Heppell is in line to return.

Tip: Line, North Melbourne -22.5 @ $1.90

Collingwood v Carlton @ MCG

Sunday 18th July, 15:20 (AEST)

Quaynor, Roughead, MaynardBStocker, Jones, Plowman
HBCrisp, Madgen, MayneHBSaad, Weitering, Williams
CHoskin-Elliott, De Goey, NobleCWalsh, Cripps, Newnes
HFBianco, Cameron, ThomasHFE.Curnow, Martin, Silvagni
FSidebottom, Mihocek, ElliottFOwies, McKay, Petrevski-Seton
FOLGrundy, Pendlebury, AdamsFOLDe Koning, Dow, Kennedy
I/C (from)Brown, Cox, Ginnivan, Henry, Murphy, Poulter, Ruscoe, WilsonI/C (from)Fisher, Fogarty, Betts, O‘Brien, Williamson, Honey, Newman, Cottrell


History: Played 259: Collingwood 128 v Carlton 127 (4 draws)

Last Meeting: AFL Round 2, 2021: Carlton (85) def by Collingwood (106)

Final Thoughts: The close nature of this, one of the game’s oldest and best rivalries, can be summed up by the raw stats. In 259 encounters Collingwood and Carlton are only separated by one game, the Pies winning 128 times and the Blues 127 (with four draws thrown in for good measure). And, going into this one, you could say that it’s nicely balanced again. Punters will be keen on the Pies (who start marginal $1.95 outsiders) after they overrun Richmond in Round 17 in an impressive display. For the Blues, meanwhile, it was a similar story against the Cats; competitive, but simply unable to get it done when it matters.

While historically it’s been a close matchup, the Pies have dominated recent encounters, winning the last five in a row, including a 21-point win earlier this season. Much more was expected of both clubs this season, but a win here is sure to quell — at least fleetingly — any frustrations in 2021.

Tip: H2H, Carlton @ $1.85

Adelaide Crows v West Coast Eagles @ Adelaide Oval

Sunday 18th July, 16:40 (AEST)

AdelaideWest Coast
Hamill, Butts, KellyBHurn, H.Edwards, Sheppard
HBSmith, Murray, JonesHBCole, McGovern, Duggan
CMackay, Keays, SeedsmanCWest, Yeo, Gaff
HFMcHenry, Rowe, MurphyHFCripps, Darling, Sheed
FLynch, Himmelberg, WalkerFAllen, Kennedy, Ryan
FOLO‘Brien, Laird, SloaneFOLNaitanui, Kelly, Shuey
I/C (from)Berry, Schoenberg, McPherson, Fogarty, Frampton, Thilthorpe, Pedlar, ShollI/C (from)Langdon, L.Edwards, Petruccelle, O‘Neill, Nelson, Williams, Hutchings, Rotham


History: Played 50: Adelaide 21 v West Coast 29

Last Meeting: AFL Round 9, 2021: West Coast (106) def Adelaide (76)

Final Thoughts: Both the Crows and Eagles were hugely disappointing in Round 17; Matthew Nicks’ men were simply uncompetitive against Essendon while for Adam Simpson, they hang onto a Top 8 spot by a thread after losing to the bottom-placed North Melbourne — something that seemed inconceivable at the start of the round.

The Eagles take confidence into this one knowing they’ve won six of the last seven games against Adelaide, including a 30-point victory earlier this season. While they remain favoured to squeeze into the AFL Finals this season (but only just, currently $1.80 with Palmerbet), a loss here might see that balloon out. All to play for.

For the Crows? They need to reestablish some pride after a horror fortnight.

Tip: To get 30+ disposals, Dom Sheed (WCE) @ $3.00