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Is this the Pies’ most important match since the grand final?

After 17 rounds of tipping hazards every which way you turn, we’ve arrived at what might be the toughest of all: Round 18.

There are pretty much only two games – maybe three if you’re a Western Bulldogs pessimist like I am – that you can lock in confidently, and in two of those, the benefit of home ground advantage gives Richmond and West Coast a chance if they’re good enough.

Then there’s an Isaac Heeney-less Sydney: ripe for the picking for a resurgent North Melbourne? Only time will tell.

But the flagship match of the round might be the toughest of all: with their season on the brink, do an injury-plagued Collingwood have anything left in the tank to mount a stoic rearguard and take down the back in business Geelong?

It might be the Magpies’ most important match since the 2023 grand final; and if one thing’s for sure, it’s that you write off Craig McRae’s men at your own peril.

Tim Miller

Last week: 4

Collingwood, Hawthorn, Sydney, Carlton, Adelaide, Essendon, Gold Coast, GWS, Brisbane

Having thought last week’s tipping was a relatively easy business, only for us all to get 4s across the board, I’m far more hesitant when it comes to locking in my nine winners this week.

Let’s start with the easies – minus Liam Jones, James O’Donnell and Alex Keath, the Bulldogs’ key defensive stocks are ripe for the dominating by Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay; and to finish the round, GWS and Brisbane both hit the road supremely confident of taking down the season’s two worst teams in Richmond and West Coast, even if the Eagles might put up more of a fight to farewell Adam Simpson.

Starting off the round, I’m backing Collingwood to turn things around after a rough few weeks against Geelong: if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Craig McRae’s men, it’s that you can never, ever write them off.

Similarly, it would be foolish to pick against Sydney even without Isaac Heeney, though North Melbourne’s strong recent form gives them a definite puncher’s chance.

On Saturday afternoon, Fremantle’s hot form hits a major litmus test in the form of a trip to Tasmania to face Hawthorn. The Hawks got a reality check last week, but their record in Launceston is superb, and the gap between third and 13th is small enough that that extra home ground advantage is enough for me to tip them semi-confidently.

Saturday night gives Essendon the chance to prove they won’t be the harbingers of their own destruction this year, because they really should be beating a Max Gawn-less, Christian Petracca-less Melbourne. In previous years I wouldn’t trust them enough to have them avoiding the banana skin, but the 2024 Dons are different gravy.

The Crows minus Izak Rankine are ripe for the picking if St Kilda are good enough, but I just can’t get past their awful record at the Adelaide Oval – and the fact I suspect their stirring win over Sydney was one out of the box.

Hardest of all is the first match of Sunday, where two of 2024’s most frustrating teams in the Suns and Power lock horns on the Gold Coast. It’s a question of whether you’re confident enough in the Suns’ ‘win every game at home and lose every game away’ mentality, or think a streak-breaking loss is inevitable at some point. I’m backing in the former.

Geelong and Collingwood square off at a packed MCG. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Dem Panopoulos

Last week: 4

Geelong, Fremantle, Sydney, Carlton, Adelaide, Melbourne, Gold Coast, GWS, Brisbane

Alright, tipping is getting a little tougher and the season is getting a tiny bit clearer.

And we may as well use this opportunity to acknowledge Adam Simpson for the coaching career he’s had at the Eagles through the ups and downs and different styles of play, both good and bad – it’s always fascinating to see the pile on ensue.

It’s hard to watch Collingwood, see their absences and then tip against a team who has recaptured some excellent form. When Tom Hawkins went down, as unfortunate as it was, it seemed like it’d end up being a net positive for Geelong’s forward structure and that’s how it has played out.

A desperate Magpie team is one that can be destructive, but fixing the bad defensive running in a week is difficult.

The Hawks have earned enough credits to understand the fact they aren’t quite a finals-quality team, but also that last week was an outlier. Hosting in Tasmania usually works out well for them, while the Dockers are searching to cement their place in the top four. It’s a fascinating match, one that I’ll certainly enjoy and I’m always happy to discuss the progress of these two teams at any stage of their development – Freo’s got my tip here.

Carlton have got a couple of issues that were exposed against the Giants but they’re still clearly a good team. This is must-win for the Bulldogs, but their absences are cruel. Now that Simpson is gone, it always feels as though a handful of clubs are simply waiting for that first domino to fall. If it were to eventuate, Bevo wouldn’t look unusual in the red and blue he first donned as a player, or perhaps even out west.  Blues bounce back.

The Bombers are top four and they’ve knocked off the reigning premiers – both big ticks, both still with little question marks. Now, they’re against a Melbourne team without its two best players. Expectation hasn’t been higher than it currently is for Essendon, so it’s time for Brad Scott’s team to deliver.

I think they’re pretty good, but will they fall into the “kick it long to May and Lever” trap yet again? Slight concerns.

Finally, it’s worth touching base on the Suns’ most important match in a long time. Their season is over if they lose to Port and backing them in after what both clubs did respectively last round seems absurd. But they’re a different team at home, Dimma gave them a bake and their best can compete with the top four teams in the league. Last chance, Gold Coast.

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald (Photo by Michael Dodge/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Cameron Rose

Last week: 4

Collingwood, Hawthorn, Sydney, Carlton, Adelaide, Melbourne, Gold Coast, GWS, Brisbane.

A number of good games this week, that will go a long way to shaping the eight.

The Pies have lost two in a row post-bye, but I can see them having a line in the sand moment on Friday against Geelong to regenerate their season.

I wonder if the Hawks can bounce back after a poor showing last week against Geelong, and take down the rampaging Fremantle in Tassie. Perhaps so.

Melbourne look a value play against Essendon, who we may see get ahead of themselves after what could be a season-defining win against Collingwood. No Max Gawn could make the Demons more unpredictable, too.

Liam Salter

Last week: 4

Geelong, Hawthorn, Sydney, Carlton, St Kilda, Essendon, Port Adelaide, GWS, Brisbane

Seven games left, and everyone from third-placed Freo to the thirteenth-placed Hawks is in with a chance of playing finals (or more) – so very loss is now critical. Sounds like fun. Or torture. 

It’s fitting that the perennial finals challengers – the Cats – are never, ever quite dead. Seemingly struggling a fortnight ago, they’ve rebounded with a pair of wins over the in-form Dons and Hawks to head into tomorrow’s game with Collingwood as the bookies’ favourites. Of course, the Pies are good – great, even – but they’re not quite the world beaters they were in their remarkable 2023 season, and gut feel says they’ll drop this one.  

The Hawks have a superb opportunity to bounce back when they face Freo in Tassie; despite the Dockers’ excellent season, their top four hunt will take a hit with a loss here. At the same time, given their last few weeks, North are a chance – a slim chance, but a chance nevertheless – against the Swans; but there’s no way Sydney drops a third in succession (especially not at home).

It’s well known the Doggies are wildly inconsistent, so literally no result against the Blues will surprise me. The one I’d expect, though, is a comfortable Carlton win (sorry, Tim). 

“I expected nothing and was still disappointed” was the vibe I got from Crows fans after last week’s loss, so I’m keen to see how they react when they drop this one against the Saints (hey, as a neutral living in South Aus, I love a bit of chaos). The Bombers, too, have (yet another) excellent chance to solidify their top four credentials when they face the Demons – and given they’re in much better form they should clinch this win.

I said I like chaos, and Port dropping this game to the Suns would provide me plenty of it – but despite Gold Coast’s superb record at their home ground, I can’t shake the feeling the Power will surprise.

The Giants need a lot more of what they produced last week to re-enter premiership contention, but should smash the Tigers; and despite a collective chill down Brisbane fans’ backs when they saw that Adam Simpson news, the Lions won’t succumb to a late post-coach-sacking rally by the Eagles. 

Andrew Brayshaw of the Dockers celebrates the win on the final siren

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Round 18TimDemCamLiamCrowd

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