With five rounds having now been played and all clubs – except Essendon and Melbourne – having played five matches, a clearer picture of the likely makeup of the final eight has emerged.
Club traumas, injuries to last year’s finalists and significant improvement among the clubs that finished outside the eight last year are all part of the variables each year. However, every year since 2015 (and possibly earlier) three new teams have made the eight each year, meaning three teams from the previous year have missed out.
As the ladder stands at the moment, the three new teams would be Port Adelaide, St Kilda and Gold Coast and the three teams to miss out would be Richmond, Collingwood and West Coast.
However, when you consider these three teams finished third, fourth and fifth at the end of the 2019 home-and-away season, it seems highly unlikely that they all will miss out and further investigation is needed. Collingwood and Richmond drew in Round 2 and for this reason they are currently two points (half a win) outside the top eight. Collingwood – the club facing the most trauma and loss of key players – has had two impressive wins so far, but have lost three games out of the five played by an average margin of fewer than six points.
This means they have an impressive percentage, which is basically useless unless there is another draw or they are in a two-way battle with Richmond for a final eight spot. It remains to be seen if the Magpies can lift themselves back up of the floor after the mainly self-inflicted blows they have received over the past two weeks, but they do have the advantage: in this season where there is only one game against each opposition club and it is likely to be played in neutral territory, they have already played four of last year’s finalists.
Most of the current top-eight clubs have only played one of last year’s finalists except for GWS, who have played three and Bulldogs with two. This week sees Geelong (third) play Brisbane (second) and Port Adelaide (first) play GWS (seventh) in the only two games where top-eight teams play each other.
The Power and Brisbane currently have a one-game buffer over the next seven clubs but should they lose and other results go as expected, all current top-eight teams would be on 16 points, separated only by percentage.
The three featuring clubs not in the top eight are expected to be won by Collingwood, Richmond and West Coast Eagles which would place these three teams and Hawthorn only one game away from a finals berth. It all points to a very tight race for the eight, with only 11 rounds remaining after this weekend.
Should they all be available and picked to play, congratulations to the following players: Jarrod Harbrow (Suns) 250 AFL games, Toby Greene (GWS) 150 AFL and club games, Lachie Plowman (Carlton) 100 AFL games, Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong) 100 club games and Bayley Fritsch (Melbourne), Brayden Fiorini (Gold Coast) and Cam McCarty (Fremantle) who will all achieve 50 club games.
Congratulations should also go to Brett Ratten, who will equal the coaching tally of Joe Kelly, who coached both (then) Footscray and South Melbourne for four years, starting in 1937 and is a member of the exclusive AFL top 100 ‘club’.
Amongst the umpires, if selected to officiate six top 100 umpires will all achieve minor historical milestones this weekend: Jacob Mollison, Jeff Dalgleish, Leigh Fisher, Nick Foot, Craig Fleer and Rob O’Gorman.