Monday 19 March 2018 / 06:02 AM


Usually by the time we enter July, the AFL finals composition is almost set. Perhaps there is a tweak here and there but few major surprises ensue. Of course, amid this insanely drunk season, you can throw rationale out the window. With just eight rounds remaining until finals, the league excitedly feels like a mishmash.

It is almost impossible to predict with certainty what’s going to happen from here but I’ve taken out my crystal ball in an attempt to make some sense of it all.

Teams 15th-18th: Season Over

Collingwood; Carlton; North Melbourne, Brisbane  

The four bottom teams should be – if they haven’t already – looking ahead to 2018. Before their bye, a highly competitive Collingwood appeared to be making a run at the finals but have disappointingly struggled in the past fortnight to now sit three games out of the top 8.

However, unlike most seasons, the dregs have been competitive with even last-placed Brisbane showing considerable improvement in recent weeks, highlighted by a stunning upset over Essendon in Melbourne in round 15.

You feel these four teams could help shape the finals makeup even if they have no shot of making the top 8.

Teams 11th-14: Almost cooked 

Essendon; Gold Coast; Hawthorn, Fremantle

These teams sit two games and, Essendon aside, sizeable percentage behind eighth-placed St Kilda. Effectively three games to make up in eight games seems unlikely and, accordingly, you can rule a line through Fremantle, who have lost their last five games and influential ruckman Aaron Sandilands for the remainder of the season.

Gold Coast, despite the continual brilliance of Gary Ablett, are mercurial but just can’t string enough games together to be taken seriously. Hawthorn have risen from the ashes with a couple of grand victories and will still be feared until they are mathematically out of the equation.

The bewildering Bombers have lost a couple of heartbreaking matches on the trot to find themselves delicately perched. However, a percentage of 101.8 – better than St Kilda and marginally short of seventh-placed West Coast – means the Bombers are still afloat. A crunch match against arch-nemesis Collingwood in Round 16 shapes as season-defining.

Teams: 4th-10th: Logjam

Richmond; Port Adelaide; Melbourne; West Coast; St Kilda; Sydney; Western Bulldogs

Now we get into the logjam. Seven teams fighting for five positions. Richmond, who sit 9-5 and have been jarringly consistent, probably should be in the next category but you always feel slightly uneasy having total faith in the temperamental Tigers.

Sydney have been the best team over the past two months to sit just a game out of the 8 with a healthy percentage of 107. It’s unwise prognosticating this season, but – on paper – Sydney have a relatively good draw and should vault into the finals. How high is the great unknown, although don’t be surprised if they make the top 4 – which seemed fantastical after starting 0-6, but makes sense amid this season’s shenanigans.

Port Adelaide, who have become a “flat-track bully”, boast a mammoth percentage of 131.7 – second-highest in the league – which basically gives them another game. However, their flaky form is highly worrying and momentum plays such a key role in their high-voltage game. Personally, I’m expecting the Power to flame out, starting this Sunday in Perth against West Coast, but their sizeable percentage will likely get them into the finals. Ditto for Melbourne.

West Coast have five games remaining at Subiaco Oval, where you would back them to win at least four of those, ensuring they probably finish in the top 6. It all means eighth-placed St Kilda – one game ahead of Sydney but 10 percent adrift – feels the most vulnerable and likely to make way for the surging Swans.

Western Bulldogs, the reigning premiers, are set to miss the eight in the ultimate premiership hangover. In recent times, only the hazy Hawks circa 2009 suffered similar ignominy. Their season-long patchy form appears unlikely to change; I doubt the Bulldogs can just flick the switch like they magically did last September.

Teams: 1st-3rd: Finals Certainties

GWS; Adelaide; Geelong

The top three teams on the ladder should all make finals, at the very least. Of course, the trio will have their sights on locking up a top-4 berth and lustily dreaming of a coveted top-2 finish. GWS appear the safest bet to finish as minor premiers although a heavy injury toll is dogging them.

The Crows have been mediocre for the last two months and need to improve quickly as they face a tough run home. However, a league-leading percentage of 135 gives the Crows some wiggle room and anything other than a top-4 finish would be a disaster for a team that started the season white hot.

Geelong’s draw against GWS gave them a handy two points – even though they led for most of the match – but their top-4 hopes will be decided in the last month of the season. The Cats face the Swans, Tigers and GWS in August but, importantly, all of the matches will be played at their Simonds Stadium fortress.

Top 8 prediction: 1) GWS 2) Geelong 3) Adelaide 4) Richmond 5) Sydney 6) West Coast 7) Port Adelaide 8) Melbourne



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About the author

Tristan Lavalette

Tristan is a freelance journalist based in Perth. He has written for The Guardian, ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Previously he was a newspaper journalist for almost a decade.

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