Digby Beacham’s AFL Preview: Round 18


Western Bulldogs v St Kilda, Marvel Stadium, 5.50pm

On form it is hard to see why there is such a discrepancy in the price between the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda. Neither are really lighting it up at present at a time when their respective coaches would kill for some consistency … of the good variety.

The Bulldogs were exposed once more last Friday night by Sydney, but the return of Bailey Smith from a lengthy suspension bolsters an area of the ground Luke Beveridge cares about more than any other.

As for the Saints, they have dropped four of their past five games and will again be without tall defender Dougal Howard, an area of concern given the presence of high-flying Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce’s recall.

VERDICT: Western Bulldogs by 1-24 points


Adelaide v Collingwood, Adelaide Oval, 11.45am

Collingwood’s six-game winning streak was under real threat last Saturday afternoon by the most unlikely of sources — North Melbourne. In further proof the Magpies are a quality side, they found a way and scraped past the Kangaroos.

Having survived that scare, it would be a massive shock if they didn’t come to play for the second successive week, especially with arguably the greatest Magpie of all, Scott Pendlebury, making his 350th appearance.

No Taylor Adams (concussion) is a setback, but Collingwood’s formline, coupled with how well they do perform interstate, enables them to remain in the hunt for a top-four berth.

VERDICT: Collingwood by 1-39 points

GWS v Brisbane, Manuka Oval, 11.45am

It was little wonder that Chris Fagan became a little tetchy with a journalist in the wake of last weekend’s narrow loss to Essendon. Beset by COVID-19 issues and injuries to key personnel, Fagan knows the Lions have precious little wriggle room.

And when you factor in Brisbane are 1-5 in six finals appearances under Fagan, many are watching the Lions intently. As harsh as it sounds, they simply need to find a way against GWS, regardless of their final line-up.

The Giants remain a very ordinary football side, despite the initial sugar hit provided by interim coach Mark McVeigh.

VERDICT: Brisbane by 1-39 points

North Melbourne v Richmond, Marvel Stadium, 2.35pm

Beware the wounded football club with an interim coach stepping in for the first time. That’s been uttered more than once this week after David Noble’s sacking was confirmed on Tuesday morning.

As good as they were against Collingwood, coupled with how banged up and disappointing Richmond were late against Gold Coast, it will matter little here. The Tigers can get wobbly at key stages, whereas North Melbourne are just flat out devoid of confidence.

The Tigers cannot just hold their ground until the reinforcements arrive. They need to take ground and boost their percentage. This is must-win.

VERDICT: Richmond 1-39 points

Carlton v Geelong, MCG, 5.25pm

Have we seen this Geelong movie before? Or this is a completely different script in 2022 that is going to silence the Chris Scott detractors?

Geelong powering through the home-and-away campaign has become second nature. As have shaky performances from the Cats at key stages in the post-season. We won’t know for just over six weeks, but the flexibility of the current Cats line-up looks destined to hold them in good stead.

As does the power forward pairing of Carlton’s Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow. The duo combined for 10 goals in the win over West Coast, who were also powerless to get a handle on the Blues’ midfield.

VERDICT: Geelong by 1-24 points

Fremantle v Sydney, Optus Stadium, 5.30pm

With a win here and other results falling in their favour (Geelong and Melbourne both losing), Fremantle could finish round 18 on top of the ladder. Some would say that is fanciful, but it’s hard to argue the Dockers don’t deserve to be in the top-two conversation.

The ability to rally against St Kilda was impressive, coming off the back of Nat Fyfe’s shift inside the centre square after half-time and Andrew Brayshaw running up a remarkable 24 second-half possessions.

Sydney will no doubt have plans for both, while also being mindful that they need to show the same level of contested ball-winning prowess that served them so brilliantly last Friday night against the Western Bulldogs.

VERDICT: Fremantle by 1-24 points


Hawthorn v West Coast, MCG, 11.10am

Just like West Coast did late last month against Essendon, Sam Mitchell’s Hawthorn had their toil rewarded with an overdue and confidence-boosting win opposed to Adelaide.

The five-goal burst from Mitchell Lewis in the first half proved telling. And the fact the Hawks were able to defend stoutly for the duration will have no doubt provided the rookie Hawks coach with great pride.

West Coast were solid enough on their most recent trek to the MCG, but were scoreless for a half of football (quarters one and four) against Carlton last weekend. Such a statistic doesn’t scream “tip me” the next week, especially with Nic Naitanui missing through injury.

VERDICT: Hawthorn by 1-39 points

Melbourne v Port Adelaide, Traeger Park, 1.20pm

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin is about to enter foreign territory — and not because the Demons are tackling Port Adelaide in Alice Springs. Rather, he is about to coach a Melbourne side minus Clayton Oliver for the first time.

The unavailability of Oliver (broken thumb) will be felt in a Demons midfield that has thrived on continuity and work-rate. The Power have added depth to their own on-ball brigade this year with the injection of Connor Rozee, who is enjoying a rich vein of form.

There is no denying Melbourne need to find some form and quickly. But their overall body of work is still sound, especially behind the ball with Steven May back in the line-up.

VERDICT: Melbourne by 1-24 points

Essendon v Gold Coast, Marvel Stadium, 2.40pm

Essendon have proven a difficult team to get a handle on during Ben Rutten’s reign, but to be fair, their past month has been very sound. Wins over St Kilda, Sydney and Brisbane cancel out the loss in WA to West Coast.

Their good recent form will receive a true test in this clash against Gold Coast, who revived their finals aspirations last Saturday night thanks to a stirring come-from-behind win over Richmond. It was the type of victory that could propel the Suns’ self-belief into the stratosphere.

The return of Izak Rankine from the league’s health and safety protocols is timely for Gold Coast, who pay more attention to the defensive side of the game than Essendon.

VERDICT: Gold Coast by 1-24 points

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