A slew of tight, tense contests throughout round eighteen of the 2021 AFL season was a welcome change from the raft of blowouts that we experienced last weekend. The top of the table tightened up considerably, as did the race for the coveted 8th place on the ladder as six teams – separated by only a game – battle for the last spot in the finals.

Here at Vendetta Sports Media we’ll be covering the entire AFL season for you. In case you missed it, all our team previews, and this writers ladder predictions, are located here.

Match of the Week: Melbourne Demons vs Hawthorn Hawks

In theory.

It’s a funny old phrase, isn’t it. There are so many things that should happen ‘in theory’. One of those is that the top of the table Demons – in theory – should dismantle the 2nd to last Hawks. In theory.

In reality, the Hawks scratched and clawed their way back into a contest that ultimately saw them snatch a last minute draw, thanks to a sharp snap from veteran sharpshooter Luke Breust.

It’s the first time that the two clubs, who first met back in 1925, have played out a draw, which was made all the more eerie by the lack of a crowd due to Melbourne’s recent COVID lock down. It’s not often that the margin of a game perfectly matches the crowd attendance!

On the back of their announcement that four time premiership winning coach Alistair Clarkson would step aside at the end of the 2022 season, to be replaced by former captain Sam Mitchell, the Hawks start was going to prove interesting. Would they come out flat from the news? Would they emerge breathing fire in honour of their mentor?

The Demons had the run of play early, but were unable to capitalise, kicking three behinds before Jayden Hunt stepped up from half back, sold some candy, and opened the scoring.

The Hawks reply was almost immediate as they broke from the centre bounce and Daniel Howe snapped truly.

Melbourne’s finally capitalised on their ascendancy through the impressive Charlie Spargo, before a goal from nothing by Ben Brown and a set shot from Alex Neal-Bullen saw the Dees lead at quarter time by 28 points to eight.

That’s not to denigrate the Hawks effort – they were hard at the football and lead the tackle count 19 to 12 at the first break. Rather it was a lack of polish that was holding Hawthorn back, consistently unable to find targets coming out of defense.

After the inaccurate kicking of the opening term, both teams found their radar in the 2nd, though opportunities were limited. Bayley Fritsch kicked a pair for Melbourne through a mark and then a clever snap, separated by a goal to Hawks captain Ben McEvoy.

With the Demons looking increasingly in control, they started to relax right as the Hawks found another gear late in the 2nd quarter. Jacob Koschitzke kicked truly before Tom Phillips scored a beauty on the run. Finally, the Hawks bull-rushed the ball forward as a chain of handballs found Breust, whose classy snap from the pocket cut the lead to just nine points.

Melbourne had the chance to push the lead back to double figures before half time, but Spargo and Brown both missed set shots at goal.

James Worpel got the scoring underway in the 3rd period, benefiting from a contentious 50 metre penalty against Demons skipper Max Gawn. Tom McDonald replied quickly for Melbourne before Breust kicked his 2nd major.

The Hawks pressure all around the ground was stifling the Demons usually efficient movement of the ball. The turnovers they created combined with Hawthorn’s concerted effort to bring the ball wide, thus avoiding Melbourne’s defensive pillars in Steven May and Jake Lever, were causing all sorts of problems for the Dees, who were only saved by Hawthorn’s continued inability to hit targets when going forward.

Angus Brayshaw and Kysaiah Pickett kicked steadying goals for Melbourne, but the Hawks were able to answer through Dylan Moore and Mitch Lewis. When ball magnet Tom Mitchell snapped a left footer after his Hawks teammates forward pressure caused a turnover, Hawthorn were within a point with a quarter left to play.

Less than a minute into the last term, the Hawks took their first lead of the night when Lewis steered home a tight angle set shot. Hawthorn could have extended their lead but for misses by Koschitzke and Tyler Brockman.

Melbourne finally ratcheted up their own pressure as they began to regain the ascendancy. Fritsch slotted through his 3rd and when Pickett kicked a fantastic goal on the turn to restore the Demons lead, it looked as through the top of the table Demons would find a way to hold on.

Both sides had chances to sneak a late goal but a mix of poor shooting and defensive pressure saw the sides exchanging behinds, leaving each team still in the hunt.

With less than a minute remaining, the Dees leading by a goal and the ball on centre wing, all Melbourne needed to do was tie the ball up. But it was that man Tom Mitchell who managed to clear the ball to Kyle Hartigan. His long bomb into the forward line found it’s way to Moore, who’s quick hands moved the ball to Breust; the sharpshooter doing the rest.

With 40 seconds remaining for either side to steal a win, neither could create a centre clearances as time expired, and a draw that must have felt like a win for the lowly Hawks, ensued.

Mitchell was incredible for Hawthorn, picking up 39 possessions along with six tackles and a goal. As it usually is, he was the driving force behind most of the good things that the Hawks did on the night.

Credit must go to the Hawks big forwards in Breust, Koschitzke and Lewis who made a concerted effort to lay a body on Lever and May, disrupting their usual intercepting game.

Christian Petracca had 20 of his 33 possessions at the half for Melbourne, though his influence waned as the game went on. His running mate Clayton Oliver was the opposite: the bulk of his 35 disposals coming after half time. Jack Viney played his best game for the season with 32 touches.

Whilst the draw doesn’t move the Hawks from 17th on the ladder, it importantly puts a full game between them and the bottom placed North Melbourne, with a far superior percentage to boot.

Melbourne will feel like this is a blown opportunity. Their recent form is worrying, with only their dominant win over the Power in Adelaide last week resembling anything like their best form over the past six weeks.

Weirdly, all of the Demons losses (and a draw, in this case) have come against lowly opposition. Their three losses coming against the sides currently ranked 12th, 15th and 16th. Whilst that ability to apparently turn it on against the bigger boys is somewhat comforting for long suffering Demons fans, they’ll want to see their side start to put away the teams that they’re supposed to, starting with next week’s match against the Gold Coast.

Hawthorn take on the Lions, smarting from their loss to Richmond.

Melbourne Demons: 11 goals, 13 behinds (79)

Hawthorn Hawks: 12 goals, 7 behinds (79)

Goals

Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Pickett 2, Brayshaw, Brown, Hunt, McDonald, Spargo, Neal-Bullen

Hawthorn: Breust 3, Lewis 2, Howe, Mitchell, McEvoy, Koschitzke, Moore, Phillips, Worpel

Best

Melbourne: Oliver, Viney, Petracca, Jordan, Fritsch, Gawn

Hawthorn: Mitchell, Breust, O’Meara, Worpel, McEvoy

Onto the other games of round eighteen of the AFL season.

Fremantle Dockers 3 goals, 13 behinds (31) lost to Geelong Cats 14 goals, 16 behinds (100)

Goals

Fremantle: Brayshaw, Walters, Colyer

Geelong: Hawkins 4, Dangerfield 3, Menegola, Narkle, Selwood, Miers, Dahlhaus, Close, Ratugolea

Best

Fremantle: Ryan, Darcy, Brayshaw, Switkowski

Geelong: Menegola, Guthrie, Dangerfield, Hawkins, Narkle, Tuohy

The upstart young Dockers were put firmly back in the place by Geelong in a brutal reminder of the premiership credentials of the beaten 2020 grand finalist. After a tepid opening in which it took the best part of 19 minutes for Cat Brad Close to kick the opening goal, the Cats put the foot down in the 2nd term putting away five unanswered goals to take a 43 point lead into half time. Travis Colyer and Michael Walters kicked back to back goals as the Dockers looked to mount a comeback in the 3rd quarter, but the dominant Tom Hawkins put that to bed. In a contest where Geelong really only needed to get out of a canter on occasion, it was fitting that a three goal in five minute run in the final quarter put the exclamation on a most comfortable 69 point win. Cam Guthrie (35 disposals) was one of seven Cats to have more of the ball than the most prolific Docker, Andy Brayshaw (21 touches). Hawkins was exemplary up forward with four goals, with Patrick Dangerfield kicking three as a resting forward.

Richmond Tigers 16 goals, 10 behinds (106) defeated Brisbane Lions 13 goals, 8 behinds (86)

Goals

Richmond: Riewoldt 6, Chol 4, Graham 2, Lynch 2, Bolton, Martin

Brisbane: Daniher 3, Bailey 2, Cameron 2, McStay 2, McCarthy 2, McCluggage, Robinson

Best

Richmond: Riewoldt, Chol, Short, Bolton, Cotchin, Baker

Brisbane: Lyons, McCluggage, Bailey, Neale, Robinson

Report of the champions demise may have been greatly exaggerated (including by this writer). Richmond put in a commanding performance to take down the Lions in a football match of the highest quality. In a bizarre occurrence, the match was delayed by 15 minutes as both teams were delayed in their arrival to the stadium through a traffic jam. Richmond came out hot with Tom Lynch and Dustin Martin kicking truly before the Lions had scored. They were able to get a foothold in the game as the teams traded goals until the Lions scored three in five four minutes – including a pair to Joe Daniher – saw the Lions take back the lead. When Zac Bailey opened the scoring in the 3rd term, it looked as through the Lions were about to take control. But, as they say, never doubt the heart of a champion. Riewoldt helped himself to three goals as Richmond kicked five unanswered to snatch back the momentum and an 11 point lead at the final change. A see-sawing final term saw the Lions push but prove unable to make inroads as Riewoldt kicked his 6th to seal a vital 20 point win, breaking the Tigers four match slump. In his 300th match, veteran full forward Riewoldt was the star, though a hat tip must go to Mabior Chol. The utility man played perhaps his best game in league football, kicking four goals as he benefited from the return of 1st choice ruck man Toby Nankervis. The win was marred by the news that superstar Dustin Martin would be lost for the season due to a kidney injury sustained during the match.

St Kilda Saints 8 goals, 13 behinds (61) lost to Port Adelaide Power 10 goals, 14 behinds (74)

Goals

St Kilda: Marshall 2, Steele, Butler, Ryder, Webster, Hill, King

Port Adelaide: Georgiades 4, Amon 2, Woodcock, Wines, Mayes, Dixon

Best

St Kilda: Steele, Crouch, Marshall, Hill, Dunstan

Port Adelaide: Wines, Amon, McKenzie, Amon, Lycett

A brave Saints outfit gave all they had, but didn’t quite the class to overtake the Power, who moved back into the top four with a hard fought 13 point victory. A high pressure opening term saw both teams struggle to find forward targets before Saints captain Jack Steele took matters into his own hands with a classy running goal. The Saints took a 14 point 2nd term lead after former Power ruck Paddy Ryder goaled, though a pair of Karl Amon goals and a late major to Mitch Georgiades saw Port Adelaide take a narrow seven point lead into the main break. The 3rd quarter was an arm wrestle until Georgiades and Ollie Wines kicked the Power to a 20 point lead in a low scoring contest. The Saints, however, answered through Jimmy Webster and Max King. When Rohan Marshall scored early in the 4th, the Saints were just a point down, though the Power were able to steady to claim a tight 13 point win. Wines and Steele was an epic midfield contest, with both kicking a goal and amassing big (36 and 37 respectively) possession numbers. Georgiades led the line for Port with four goals.

Collingwood Magpies 9 goals, 8 behinds (62) lost to Carlton Blues 13 goals, 13 behinds (91)

Goals

Collingwood: Henry 3, Hoskin-Elliott, Mihocek, Sidebottom, Cameron, Bianco

Carlton: McKay 4, Betts 2, Martin, Stocker, Silvagni, Kennedy, Williams, De Koning, Walsh

Best

Collingwood: Noble, Henry, Mayne, Crisp, De Goey

Carlton: Walsh, Kennedy, Dow, Martin, Silvagni, McKay, Stocker

Carlton staged a stirring comeback to overcome their old rival and keep their faint finals hopes alive. Collingwood owned the opening term, kicking three goals before Jack Martin finally got the Blues on the board right on the quarter time siren. The Magpies opened the 2nd with quick goals to Will Hoskin-Elliott and Brody Mihocek as they looked to bury a listless Carlton outfit. But when Jack Silvagni kicked truly – pointing to the sky to honour his grandfather and club legend Sergio who passed away earlier in the week – the Blues seemed to break out of their stupor. Veteran Eddie Betts goaled to cut the lead to just 10 points at the half. A 3rd quarter arm wrestle was the teams trade goals, with Tom De Koning kicking the last of the term for Carlton, a goal that started an avalanche. The Blues lit up the MCG in the final term, kicking a further six goals against a mere three Collingwood behinds to take the lead fore the first time and then run away with a 29 point win. Yet again, Sam Walsh was the star for Carlton, amassing 38 disposals, five clearances and five tackles in another best on ground performance. In just his 5th senior game, teenager Ollie Henry kicked three for the Magpies.

Gold Coast Suns 11 goals, 13 behinds (79) lost to Western Bulldogs 14 goals, 6 behinds (90)

Goals

Gold Coast: Sexton 3, Ainsworth 3, Holman 3, King 2

Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan 3, Johannisen 2, Macrae 2, Weightman 2, Bruce, Daniel, English

Best

Gold Coast: Miller, Sharp, Holman, Fiorini, Ainsworth, Collins

Bulldogs: Bontompelli, Smith, Daniel, Dale, Macrae, English

After an inauspicious debut last week, 1st overall pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan came up big with three goals in an unconvincing Bulldogs win. The Suns came out blazing, Nick Holman kicking two of three Suns majors before the Dogs got on the board Lachlan McNeil. Ugle-Hagan then kicked his first AFL goal with a long set shot and was mobbed by his teammates. Caleb Daniel’s goal on the siren was the first of five straight Bulldog goals as the premiership fancies started to flex their muscles. The 2nd half was a nip and tuck affair as neither team could gain a significant advantage over the other, though the Bulldogs 2nd quarter run saw them build up enough of a margin to hold onto to an 11 point win. The Dogs received balanced contributions Marcus Bontompelli, Jack Macrae, Bailey’s Dale and Smith all garnering 30+ possessions. Touk Miller (38 disposals) was again immense and must surely be an outside Brownlow medal chance despite the Suns poor record, given his consistent ability to rack up huge statistical contributions. Jeremy Sharp, with 30 touches, had perhaps the best game of his young career.

North Melbourne Kangaroos 11 goals, 8 behinds (74) lost to Essendon Bombers 13 goals, 14 behinds (92)

Goals

North Melbourne: Larkey 3, Taylor 2, Scott, Thomas, Lazzaro, Mahony, Xerri, Zurhaar

Essendon: Stringer 4, Wright 3, Guelfi, Perkins, Heppell, Smith, Ham, Hooker

Best

North Melbourne: Simpkin, Tomas, McDonald, Davies-Unaicke, Hall

Essendon: Stringer, Parish, Merrett, Heppell, Draper

The Bombers continued their resurgence, moving back into the top eight with a hard earned triumph over a resilient North Melbourne. A wild opening term saw the Roos bounce out of the gates with a pair of goals inside four minutes, though Essendon responded swiftly with a pair of their own. The Kangaroos jumped out to a 15 point lead when Nick Larkey kicked his 2nd goal, though a period of sustained pressure from the Bombers should have seen them retake the lead, but of five shots at goal only skipper Dyson Heppell was able to guide one through. From the start of the 3rd term to the early stages of the 4th, the Bombers took flight, kicking six goals to one to open up the contest. Then Jake Stringer, who kicked two of those either side of three quarter time, took over. He personally kicked four of Essendon’s final six majors to lead his side home by 18 points. The past few months have perhaps been Stringer’s best run of form since his days in Bulldog blue. A mercurial talent who is capable of genius but also liable to disappear, the 27 year old has finally found some consistency to couple with his undoubted brilliance. Darcy Parish continued his breakout campaign for the Bombers with another 34 touches. Teammate Zach Merrett had a game high 39.

Adelaide Crows 8 goals, 8 behinds (56) lost to West Coast Eagles 14 goals, 14 behinds (98)

Goals

Adelaide: Fogarty 2, Keays 2, Lynch, Walker, Himmelberg, Schoenberg

West Coast: Cripps 5, Ryan 3, Petrucelle 2, Darling, Yeo, Allen, Williams

Best

Adelaide: Keays, Laird, Seedsman, Lynch, Kelly, Schoenberg

West Coast: Cripps, Yeo, Naitanui, Kelly, Gaff, Hurn

It wasn’t a vintage performance, by any means, but the Eagles picked up a much needed win over Adelaide, halting their losing streak at three games. A turgid opening term saw Crows forward Taylor Walker kick the only goal of the quarter in the 24th minute. It gave no indication of the relative goal rush of the 2nd term, as a classy Jack Darling snap and a pair of Jamie Cripps majors over the course of three minutes saw the Eagles click into gear. The Crows came back to trail by only two points at the main change. The Eagles opened the 3rd quarter as they did the 2nd, with two more to Cripps and another to Jack Petrucelle easing the lead out before the teams settled into a my goal-your goal pattern. It was another Eagles mini run that finally saw the Crows off. Cripps again involved as the Eagles put away three quick majors midway through the final term as they ran out convincing – in margin if not performance – 42 point winners. Cripps kicked a career high five goals on the day, whilst Andrew Gaff claimed 34 disposals. Rory Laird (34 touches) and Ben Keays (30) were the Crows best.

GWS Giants 11 goals, 6 behinds (72) lost to Sydney Swans 15 goals, 8 behinds (98)

Goals

GWS: Himmelberg 3, Hogan 2, Lloyd 2, Bruhn, Kennedy, Perryman, Finlayson

Sydney: Papley 4, Franklin 4, McInerney 2, Wicks 2, Parker, Hickey, Hayward

Best

GWS: Taranto, Hopper, Perryman, Kelly, Coniglio, Himmelberg

Sydney: Kennedy, Parker, Hewett, Papley, Franklin, McInerney, Hickey

The Sydney derby was a genuine Game of Two Halves, as the Giants dominated early, only to stop to a crawl as the Swans overwhelmed them late. After tricky Swans forward Tom Papley opened the scoring, the Giants slammed on six straight to take a commanding 29 point quarter time lead. Long time Swans coach John Longmire roasted his team at the first change and his chargers responded by first getting a foothold in the game as the teams traded goals. Daniel Lloyd and the much maligned Jesse Hogan each added to their 1st term goals for GWS. Papley had another for the Swans, Justin McInerney claiming a pair. McInerney’s 2nd major was the spark as the Swans erupted. A 3rd to Papley and a late goal to Luke Parker before half time reduced the Giants lead to 16 points, but it was just a taste of what was to come. Sydney piled on six unanswered 3rd term goals – Buddy Franklin helping himself to three of those – to swing the match in their favour. Though Jeremy Finlayson kicked the 1st of the final term for GWS, another three Swans goals, including 4th goals to Papley and Franklin, pushed the lead out to an unassailable 31 points.

Coleman Medal leader board

Harry McKay (Carlton) – 52 (4 goals this week)

Taylor Walker (Adelaide) – 42 goals (1)

Jack Riewoldt (Richmond) – 42 (6)

Josh Bruce (Bulldogs) – 41 (1)

Tom Hawkins (Geelong) – 41 (4)

Ben King (Suns) – 40 (2)

Lance Franklin (Swans) – 37 (4)

Toby Greene (Giants) – 35 (-)

Bayley Fritsch (Demons) – 35 (3)

Aaron Naughton (Bulldogs ) – 34 (1)

#ClubMPts%ForAgtThis WeekProjectedNext
1Melbourne1754127.8 %14381125Drew vs Haw
79 – 79
2nd: 66 pts, 127 %Saturday
@ G.C.
2W Bulldogs1752140.4 %16191153Won @ G.C.
90 – 79
3rd: 64+ pts, 137 %Sunday
vs Adel
3Geelong1752130.3 %14611121Won @ Freo
100 – 31
1st: 68 pts, 130 %Sunday
vs Rich
4Port Adel1748119.8 %14261190Won @ St.K
74 – 61
5th: 60 pts, 117 %Friday
vs Coll
5Brisbane1744124.9 %15461238Lost @ Rich
86 – 106
4th: 60 pts, 127 %Saturday
@ Haw
6Sydney1744116.5 %14881277Won @ GWS
98 – 72
6th: 56 pts, 114 %Saturday
vs Freo
7WC Eagles173698.0 %13991428Won @ Adel
98 – 56
12th: 40 pts, 92 %Saturday
vs St.K
8Essendon1732104.5 %15011437Won @ N.M.
92 – 74
7th: 44 pts, 104 %Saturday
vs GWS
9Richmond1732100.8 %13961385Won vs B.L.
106 – 86
8th: 44 pts, 103 %Sunday
@ Geel
10Fremantle173292.5 %12831387Lost vs Geel
31 – 100
11th: 40 pts, 93 %Saturday
@ Syd
11St Kilda173286.6 %12061392Lost vs P.A.
61 – 74
9th: 44 pts, 90 %Saturday
@ WCE
12GWS Giants173095.5 %13501413Lost vs Syd
72 – 98
13th: 38 pts, 93 %Saturday
@ Ess
13Carlton172893.9 %13801470Won @ Coll
91 – 62
10th: 40 pts, 98 %Sunday
vs N.M.
14Gold Coast172488.7 %11741324Lost vs W.B.
79 – 90
14th: 32 pts, 88 %Saturday
vs Melb
15Collingwood172089.8 %11991335Lost vs Carl
62 – 91
15th: 28 pts, 91 %Friday
@ P.A.
16Adelaide172079.4 %12461570Lost vs WCE
56 – 98
16th: 28 pts, 81 %Sunday
@ W.B.
17Hawthorn171879.0 %12101532Drew @ Melb
79 – 79
17th: 22+ pts, 79 %Saturday
vs B.L.
18North Melb171467.1 %11131658Lost vs Ess
74 – 92
18th: 18 pts, 69 %Sunday
@ Carl