20 rounds have been won and run with just three weeks left until finals kick off.
With the finish line nearing, here’s what we learned from the weekend’s ladder-shaping results.
Carlton’s inconsistency looks set to cost them a flag tilt
Carlton’s loss to Adelaide has probably cost them a top-four place.
With 12 wins to their name, the Blues would probably need to win all three of their remaining games to have a chance of earning a double-chance finish.
That’s easier said than done, particularly with Brisbane (away), Melbourne and Collingwood to come.
While we’re still expecting the Blues to play in September, from here it looks likely that they’ll have to do it the hard way and run the gauntlet, a journey only the Bulldogs in 2016 successfully navigated.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for the Blues, as it is losses to St Kilda, Richmond and Adelaide (teams they’re higher on the ladder than) since the bye which looks set to cost them.
They without a doubt have enough A-grade talent to compete with any team, but it looks like 2022 won’t be their year considering where they’ll have to come from.
While they can still turn things around and secure themselves a top-four finish, on current form, they’d have to find something out of the ordinary to get there.
Let’s see if that can start next Sunday against the Lions.
Geelong’s bottom half has never been stronger
Geelong’s long been a perennial contender with such a bevy of stars in their line-up, but they look an even better side in 2022 getting an even contribution across their entire squad.
While the A-grade talent is still performing to a high level, improvement from the likes of Brad Close, Tom Atkins, Jack Henry, Tyson Stengle, Sam De Koning and Zach Guthrie among others is helping propel the side to new heights.
With Chris Scott’s system and structure stacking up, Geelong no longer needs to rely on monster games from their biggest names to get them over the line against quality outfits, something that couldn’t be said in previous years.
With three rounds remaining and a minor premiership at their mercy, the Cats have never been primed more to win it all since 2011, a remarkable thought considering how often they’ve found themselves near the top of the ladder in the last decade.
While their stars will no doubt steal headlines, if the script goes to plan in September, the difference will be how even this side has become.
Away from home win could kickstart Melbourne’s run
Just as we were beginning to question Melbourne’s credentials, they come out and flex with a 46-point win away from home against Fremantle, proving that their best is near on impossible to stop.
While they’ve gone 4-5 from their last nine games, premierships aren’t won in July and the Demons will be hoping their form builds now through September.
With three rounds left and a top-two spot still looking like their destiny, Friday’s win could well be the turning point that sees Simon Goodwin’s side charge from here and go back-to-back in 2022.
We’ve seen in recent years how important the last month of the home and away season is for reigning premieres, and the Demons may have timed their run perfectly.
Look out if they can keep this going across the next seven weeks.
The Magpies are in it to win it with top-four push
Collingwood fans have been expecting a loss to come for some time now, but with 10 wins in a row, they genuinely find themselves as contenders.
It’s something that feels strange to even ponder given where they’ve come from, but there’s no arguing against the ladder and their win-loss record is as good as any bar Geelong.
While there’s still a long way to go for Craig McRae’s side, the return of Jordan De Goey and the pending comeback of Brodie Grundy will have this playing group brimming with even more confidence.
Some may point to the fact that the Pies’ recent run has come against non-finals opponents but taking a closer look at their results you can see that their game plan stacks up against any.
Of fellow top-eight sides, the Pies have beaten Melbourne, Fremantle, Carlton and St Kilda, while they only narrowly lost games to Geelong and Brisbane.
Considering that’s who’ll they’ll be playing in September, who’s saying this side can’t make a tilt at a premiership? Particularly if they make the top four.
They probably need at least one or two more wins from their last three games to get there, and while they don’t have the easiest run home, it’d take a brave punter to bet against Fly’s Magpies at the moment.
Brisbane’s MCG hoodoo is real
This was the game Brisbane would’ve had circled on their calendar to try and prove the naysayers wrong, but in defeat, only more doubt has been cast over their credentials.
Up by 42 points midway through the second term, it looked like Brisbane would finally put their MCG hoodoo to bed and win at the venue for the first time since 2014, but alas, they again failed to get the job done.
In fairness, Richmond is a far better side than their ladder position and record suggest, but there’s no excuse for coughing up a lead like that when you consider yourself to contend.
If they are to win it all they’ll have to do it at the MCG and with where they’re headed, they could find themselves at the home of football in week one or two of the finals series.
There’d be no better time to snap the hoodoo in September, but there’s got to be genuine concerns at Brisbane whether they can do it on the biggest stage.
It’s another hurdle that this side has failed to jump.
It’s a big week for Fremantle
Just as they looked destined to finish the season strong, Fremantle had had three poor weeks to almost cost them a top-four spot.
With losses to Sydney and Melbourne plus a draw with Richmond, the Dockers sit half a game or a game and a half outside the double chance slots with just three weeks left.
To finish inside the top four Justin Longmuir’s side will probably have to be flawless from here, and that starts with a huge game against the Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
Win that, and they’ll go in favorites against the Eagles and Giants in the last fortnight with 15 wins well and truly within their reach.
Lose, and they’ll almost certainly be consigned to an elimination final finish which would be disappointing considering how well they were traveling just one month ago.
It’s a huge clash for both teams, the AFL world will be anticipating that result with bated breath.