MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30: A general view is seen during the 2017 AFL Grand Final match between the Adelaide Crows and the Richmond Tigers at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 30, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Four weeks to shape a season: Every club’s crucial month in 2018

The finals are four weeks long and those four weeks decide which team writes their name into the record books. Taking that same idea, here is every club’s crucial month of 2018.

Adelaide: Round 8-11

Adelaide’s crucial month is between Rounds 8 and 11. In this month they play crosstown rivals Port Adelaide, host the Western Bulldogs and Giants, as well as trip to the red centre to play Melbourne. On last year’s form, the Crows should win all four games, but each of their opponents have the ability to pull out surprise results.

Brisbane: Round 20-23

  • North Melbourne (G)
  • Collingwood (ES)
  • Gold Coast (MS)
  • West Coast (G)

Brisbane will close out the year playing four clubs they are expected to be around next season. Their final month of football is certainly a chance to see where they’re at with the development of their youngsters.

Carlton: Round 8-11

  • Essendon (MCG)
  • Melbourne (MCG)
  • Geelong (GS)
  • Sydney (SCG)

Facing four teams expected to challenge for top eight honours, Carlton will undoubtedly head into their Round 12 bye grateful for the week off. They will head down the highway to play Geelong at Kardinia Park in Round 10, their first game at the ground since 1997 before heading north to play Sydney.

Collingwood: Round 3-6

  • Carlton (MCG)
  • Adelaide (AO)
  • Essendon (MCG)
  • Richmond (MCG)

The Pies will face three of their closest rivals and both 2017 grand finalists in a critical rounds 3 to 6. ANZAC Day in Round 5 will bring out the best of both clubs, but a four-day turnaround before facing Richmond in Round 6 will be a monumental challenge.

Essendon: Round 20-23

  • Hawthorn (MCG)
  • St Kilda (ES)
  • Richmond (MCG)
  • Port Adelaide (AO)

Essendon’s final four weeks before finals comes against opponents fighting for the same places as them. They will face Hawthorn who are an enigma, St Kilda who they pipped to a finals place last year, reigning premiers Richmond and Port Adelaide.

Fremantle: Round 4-7

Fremantle’s relatively straightforward first month of 2018 becomes a much harder second month. Games in the east against premiers Richmond and preliminary finalists GWS, as well as 2016 premiers will be a significant challenge. The first Western Derby at the new stadium will be an equally bruising affair, with both teams unmistakably eager to earn bragging rights over the old enemy.

GWS: Round 12-16

  • Gold Coast (SPO)
  • BYE
  • Brisbane (G)
  • Hawthorn (SPO)
  • West Coast (PS)

GWS will play four teams expected to be several ladder places lower than them through the middle of the year. GWS have historically struggled through the middle of the year as the squad loses form and focus, but there is no time to be complacent with the month bookended by both 2017 grand finalists. A strong month will set them up for yet another finals push.

Geelong: Round 13-17

Geelong will test their premiership credentials two months before September, playing four sides expected to seriously challenge for 2018 honours. An exciting month of football for neutrals awaits, with Geelong’s irresistible midfield coming up against all four grand finalists from the last two years.

Gold Coast: Round 6-9

Gold Coast’s crucial month comes just before their bye, playing four sides expected to be in finals contention. Still playing “away” from their Metricon Stadium home, Gold Coast will rack up the frequent flier miles over the month, with trips to Adelaide, Ballarat and the second China match in Shanghai.

Hawthorn: Round 1-4

  • Collingwood (MCG)
  • Geelong (MCG)
  • Richmond (MCG)
  • Melbourne (MCG)

Hawthorn will kick off their 2018 campaign against three sides expected to be in finals contention and Collingwood, whose form to begin seasons is never clear cut. They will not have to travel far, with all three matches at their MCG home. It will be an early chance for us to see if 2017 was an anomaly or a sign their golden era is well and truly over.

Melbourne: Round 3-6

  • North Melbourne (MCG)
  • Hawthorn (MCG)
  • Richmond (MCG)
  • Essendon (ES)

In Round 3, Melbourne will have an early (and their only) chance to break their 17-game North Melbourne hoodoo when they welcome the Roos to the MCG. Following that, they will have games against Hawthorn and Essendon, two teams expected to be around the same mark as them, and an opportunity to test themselves against 2017’s benchmark in Richmond.

North Melbourne: Round 1-4

  • Gold Coast (C)
  • St Kilda (ES)
  • Melbourne (MCG)
  • Carlton (BA)

North Melbourne will be very happy with their first month of football, playing four very winnable games. A trip to Cairns to play the Suns will be a tough ask before Good Friday, where both the team and fans will be desperate to prove they belong on the big stage. Pride will be on the line in Round 3 when they take on Melbourne, gunning for their 18th win in a row against the Dees.

Port Adelaide: Round 18-21

Port Adelaide have the perfect chance to set themselves up for September, playing sides expected to be shooting for the same ladder spots as them. They will only leave the state once to play the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat, but their games at home will be no cakewalk, facing GWS, West Coast and their fierce crosstown rivals for Showdown 45.

Richmond: Round 13-17

  • Geelong (MCG)
  • BYE
  • Sydney (ES)
  • Adelaide (MCG)
  • GWS (SPO)

Richmond will set up their run home by playing against three of 2017’s preliminary finalists and Sydney (who are no slouches themselves). A strong month will give them the confidence to claim back-to-back titles and it will be a month every footy fan will mark on their calendar.

St Kilda: Round 19-22

A poor end to the season saw St Kilda narrowly miss finals for the second year in a row in 2017. The Saints certainly have the personnel to challenge for September action, but having lost over 600 games of experience with the retirements of Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna, the pressure will be on their young chargers to keep up the pressure and intensity heading into the final few games of the year. Their final month will test themselves against similar opposition, right on the eve of finals.

Sydney: Round 1-4

The Swans will begin 2018 desperate to avoid another 0-6 disaster. Arguably, only their start (and a determined Geelong side) prevented them from top four qualification and an easier path to the grand final. Their first four rounds present four winnable games, with a trip to Perth to open the new stadium and a Round 3 Sydney Derby arguably their toughest fixtures.

West Coast: Round 15-18

West Coast will play two teams expected to be challenging for premiership glory in Rounds 15 and 16. The challenges don’t end there, however, with games against Collingwood in Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, both teams likely to be around the same mark as them.

Western Bulldogs: Round 5-8

  • Fremantle (PS)
  • Carlton (ES)
  • Gold Coast (MSB)
  • Brisbane (ES)

From Rounds 5 to 8, the Western Bulldogs will play four teams they should beat and beat comfortably with the trip to Perth to play the Dockers their biggest hurdle. Four big wins should set up their season and a return to September action, but they won’t want it too easy, with Adelaide waiting in Round 9.

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