The biggest shock came on Saturday with Adelaide at home to West Coast. The Crows’ last six games had seen them win four, three of which were against top eight teams, and lose close ones against Hawthorn and Essendon. The Eagles had lost their last four matches. The game should’ve been an opportunity for the Crows to cement their place in the eight.
Instead, West Coast beat a team above them on the ladder for the first time this year. Not only did it severely dent Adelaide’s chances, it also meant Gold Coast and Collingwood were able to leapfrog the Crows with their wins.
The wider ramifications make for interesting reading, too. The Eagles win means they are now just two wins off eighth spot, as are Richmond. Yes, Richmond. The team that looked six weeks ago like they couldn’t win to save themselves have now strung together five in a row.
While West Coast and Richmond supporters may have a spring in their step, they would be wise not to get ahead of themselves. With only four rounds to go, two games is a lot of ground to make up.
Both these teams are in the unenviable position of having to rely on other teams losing for them to make it. In that respect the draw actually works in their favour.
Richmond face Essendon and Adelaide in the next two weeks, while the West Coast have Collingwood, Essendon and Gold Coast among their remaining opponents. For the Eagles and the Tigers, their fate is entirely in their hands.
While Adelaide gave up their spot in the eight, all is not lost. They still have games against Brisbane and St. Kilda to come, as well as North Melbourne and the aforementioned Richmond. On recent form they should win three of those, if not four.
Then again, with the way this season has gone they could lose all four. Brisbane has had five of their six wins in the last nine rounds and, whether it was an aberration or not, St. Kilda gave Fremantle a hiding only two weeks ago. These days no one in the competition is an easybeat.
The game that was always going to have a huge bearing on the makeup of the top eight was between Collingwood and Port Adelaide on Sunday evening. Collingwood needed to win to keep their finals chances alive, Port needed to win to keep touch with the top eight.
Both teams were completely out of form and to a certain extent the game was played that way. The Magpies managed to grind out the win they so desperately needed while the Power were left to lick their wounds.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Port are in free fall. After Round 12 they looked almost assured of a top two spot. Since then they have won only two games. Only Melbourne and St. Kilda have won less games in that period. It is not beyond reason, although it is unlikely, that they miss the top eight entirely. If they do make it they could be ripe for a first week exit.
So here we sit, with only four rounds left of the home and away season and it’s anyone’s guess how the top eight will look. Only three teams, Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong, are assured of a finals spot. Barring something totally extraordinary, Fremantle and Port Adelaide should also be there.
The other three places could go to any of seven teams, all of whom play at least one of the others in the run home. Like a great match, this season is set up beautifully and it will go right down to the wire.