Josh Bruce makes his much-anticipated return for the Bulldogs on Friday night. (Photo: AFL)

With just over a month to go, the regular season's end is fast approaching and the ladder is far from set. This time of year, four points are so valuable, especially with so many teams still in the running.

With just over a month to go, the regular season’s end is fast approaching and the ladder is far from set. This time of year, four points are so valuable, especially with so many teams still in the running.

These are the five things to look out for in Round 18

Friday night blockbuster, loser is out of the race

The clash between the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda looms as an early elimination final for the two sides nipping on the heels of the top eight.

Both teams have quite a difficult run home, making every game from here more and more crucial for their finals aspirations.

The Saints and Bulldogs face off in a must-win game. (Image: St Kilda FC)

While St Kilda only sits percentage outside of the eighth position, its percentage is quite poor, meaning it will need to finish a win ahead of their closest rivals to play in September.

Teams around them on the ladder also have quite a smooth run home, further adding to the importance of this game for the Saints.

As for the Bulldogs, they sit a win behind their opposition and will replace them in ninth position with a win on Friday night.

To support them, Josh Bruce makes his highly anticipated return to football after a year on the sidelines with an ACL injury. He will only lift the Bulldogs hopes of taking the four points and keeping their slim finals hopes alive.

This clash is season defining. It’s as simple as the loser is not mathematically out of the finals race, but certainly increasingly unlikely to feature in September. It’s a must win for both teams.

Legend of the game reaches 350

It takes a special player to reach such a prestigious milestone, and Scott Pendlebury is exactly that. The Pies legend takes to the field for the 350th time this weekend against the Crows on Saturday

Pendlebury has seen some of the best footy of his beloved Collingwood winning the 2010 flag, and almost again in 2011 and 2018.

Scott Pendlebury plays game 350 this weekend. (Image: Collingwood FC)

Pendlebury becomes just the 20th player in the game history to reach the milestone and the first from the Collingwood Football Club. In the 16 seasons he has played at the elite level (currently 17th season), Pendlebury has been in the top three in the best and fairest on thirteen occasions.

Additionally, Pendlebury is one of just four players in AFL/VFL history to have over 9000 possessions. The three other players in this club include Robert Harvey, Brent Harvey and Kevin Bartlett.

Pendlebury looks as though he has the ability to potentially crack 400, although this would require another two full seasons.

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How can North finish the season without David Noble?

North Melbourne has been in the spotlight this week after senior coach David Noble resigned from the position. Noble could only lead North Melbourne to five wins in his year and a half in the top job.

For the remainder of the season, Leigh Adams will step in as the interim coach until a suitable new senior coach is appointed.

North Melbourne interim coach, Leigh Adams. (Image: NMFC)

There will be some high spirits at Arden Street after a highly impressive performance at the MCG last week against the Pies. If the Kangaroos can deliver the same performance this week, there may be a chance for an upset against Richmond.

Players like Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin, Nick Larkey and Ben McKay were influential in their last outing. In their remaining six games, they will more than likely be the reason that the Kangaroos might notch up four points.

The Kangaroos can certainly make a consolation statment in the remaining five games of 2022, but would also be very happy to remain at the bottom of the ladder and secure the number 1 pick in this year’s national draft.

The comp’s two best forward duos, head to head

Saturday night is going to be huge, as not only are two of Victoria’s biggest and best teams facing each other, but arguably the four best key forwards in the game will be locking horns too.

Carlton’s Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow will have Geelong’s Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron at the other end of the ground in what shapes as a massive match-up that determines where each team could finish at the end of the year.

You only need to look as far as the stats to see these four players’ dominance this season. In terms of goals per game across the competition, Curnow ranks first, Cameron third, McKay fifth and Hawkins sixth.

Four of the top six in the league will be on display in a single game which can only lead to an entertaining contest.

Defenders at each end of the ground will certainly have their work cut out for them. Geelong will utilise the young and rising Sam De Koning, who fittingly will line-up against his brother for the first time, with Mark Blicavs likely as the other tall in the Cats defence.

Carlton will most certainly look to shut down the Geelong duo with Jacob Weitering and Lewis Young, who has been a surprise packet for the Blues after being traded for just a third round pick last off season.

Tom Hawkins will likely be matched by Jacob Weitering. (Image: Carlton FC)

Footy is back in Alice

Sunday will mark 687 days since the last AFL match at TIO Traeger Park. It is often a special occasion for the game, but more so for Alice Springs, which rarely gets to experience AFL level football.

The Demons will face a hungry Power lineup who are desperate to make a late charge for September and will have to do so in the hot and humid Alice Springs conditions.

Melbourne will host Port Adelaide in the NT this week. (Image: Melbourne FC)

The Demons will be without Brownlow Medal fancy Clayton Oliver after having surgery on his thumb. His absence breaks a 99 game streak where Oliver and teammate Christian Petracca have lined-up together.

Port Adelaide will warmly welcome back Riley Bonner after a stint on the sidelines with a fractured cheekbone. Scott Lycett is still a week away, and will play another week in the reserves before proving his fitness at the elite level.

A victory for the Demons will further push their minor premiership credentials and could see them regain top spot given other games go their way. As for Port Adelaide, a win could see it jump to as high as ninth and within striking distance of the top eight.

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