Round 21 was full of excitement, and there proved to be plenty of talking points from the weekend's games.
Here are the 20 thoughts and opinions from Round 21...
1. Collingwood can win the flag
If you still doubted them after their previous 10 games, then you definitely don't doubt them now. Collingwood needed to play their best footy yet on the Friday night stage against the reigning premiers, and boy did they do it in style.
Whilst the Pies were getting demolished on the stats sheet by half-time, they found themselves only 17 points down. From that point on, it was almost always going to look like a Magpie victory as they kicked seven goals to Melbourne's three to run away as seven-point winners and establish themselves as a real premiership chance.
2. Sam De Koning is a real All-Australian chance
The young key defender has become known for locking down key forwards almost all year, and on Saturday night he claimed another big scalp, keeping Max King to just one goal for the whole game.
SDK adds to his collection of key forwards he has kept to minimal influence this year, which includes the likes of Aaron Naughton, Harry McKay and Ben Brown. In fact, the only player to kick more than two goals playing on De Koning is Tom Lynch. After just 19 games of AFL football, he is a real smokey to feature in the All-Australian side by the end of the season.
3. St Kilda are a long way from a finals side
The Saints finals hopes were on the line Saturday night as they faced the tough challenge of premiership favourites Geelong down at the Cattery. They seemed up for the fight in the first half, but as is much of the story of the second half of their season, their pressure and intensity dropped dramatically in the second half and Geelong simply ran over them quite easily.
St Kilda have won just three games since their Round 12 bye, which came against Carlton, West Coast and Hawthorn. They have barely looked competitive in any of their other games, with an average losing margin of 36.8 over their six losses post-bye. It won't get any easier for them either, with top-four contenders Brisbane and Sydney to finish the season. They are a shadow of their form from the first half of the season.
4. Jaidyn Stephenson is not a defender
North Melbourne have tried to reinvent Jaidyn Stephenson as an offensive ball user from the half-back line, and whilst he is proving to be somewhat effective with ball in hand, he cannot do the main thing a defender is tasked to do... defend!
On two separate occasions the former Magpie showed little awareness to his surroundings as Sydney players Errol Gulden and Lance Franklin just ran right by him to put their side further in front. In a game where North showed a lot of promise, their efforts were twice impacted by Jaidyn Stephenson's blunders.
Oh no... no... no... no.
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) August 7, 2022
5. Shai Bolton is a top five player in the competition
A literal freak of nature. He may even be pushing the most damaging player in the competition right now, but Shai Bolton is seriously good. Like top five good. Bolton had yet another four-goal haul for the Tigers on Saturday night as they cruised past Port Adelaide by 38 points.
That takes him to 39 goals for the season, ranked second for small forwards, whilst also averaging 18.4 touches a game and almost 8 score involvements. He has a three-game average of 2.7 goals and 9.3 score involvements, making him a crucial reason for Richmond being in the top 8 coming towards the end of the season.
6. Richmond are a serious finals threat
Speaking of Richmond, they are hitting some serious form right before September. Two massive wins over Brisbane and Port Adelaide in successive weeks puts them in eighth spot, with games against 13th placed Hawthorn and 14th placed Essendon to finish the season.
Whilst it's not often a team wins a flag from seventh or eighth spot, the Tigers have a serious x-factor and plenty of finals experience under their belt to deal with inexperienced sides such as Carlton, Fremantle and Collingwood. With key player Dustin Martin possibly returning before the finals series and their confidence sky high, no team will want to play Richmond in September.
7. McStay would fit perfectly in the Collingwood team in 2023
He's one of the more strongly rumoured trades for the upcoming off-season, and McStay is hitting some form towards the back end of the season, driving his value up. However, he's showed on the weekend what Collingwood have done pretty well over their last 11 matches - turning up in clutch moments.
In what should have been a walk in the park fourth quarter yesterday at the Gabba, Carlton crept slowly back into the game after being as far down as 57 points at three-quarter time. The Lions were crying out for a hero to save them from possible embarrassment, enter Daniel McStay who kicked two crucial goals to settle the nerves around the stadium and lead the Lions to a 33-point win. Pies fans will be licking their lips at the sight of that!
8. Carlton could be on their way out of the 8
Unfortunately for them, the complete opposite happened. Carlton kicked four goals in the first three quarters of the match and saw themselves almost 10 goals down at three quarter time, a margin too big to come back from.
They now sit in seventh spot, only four points away from slipping to ninth with third-placed Melbourne and second-placed Collingwood to come. Failure to win any of those games will likely see Carlton choke what seemed to be a certain finals spot, in what will be a disaster for a season that showed so much promise.
9. Cripps' Brownlow hopes are all but over
In what was a disastrous afternoon for the Blues, skipper Patrick Cripps seems almost certain to receive a suspension from the MRO on Monday night, ending his Brownlow chances and putting a massive dent in his side's finals hopes.
Judging by the footage below, it seems almost certain that Cripps will receive a suspension, whether it be one or two matches is dependent on whether the MRO deems the impact as medium (1 week) or high (2 weeks).
— AFL (@AFL) August 7, 2022
10. Josh Kennedy could be retiring too early
In what was an emotional afternoon at Optus Stadium, Josh Kennedy played his final game in front of the West Coast faithful that have admired him for many years. The man that has brought supporters so much joy rewarded them once again, kicking eight of his side's 13 goals as the Eagles narrowly lost to the Adelaide Crows.
Plenty would be asking the question of whether he is retiring too early as not many players can kick eight at this level at all, let alone a man in his last game. Kennedy's haul sees him sit second for goals kicked in a player's last V/AFL game, only behind Fred Fanning, who kicked 18 goals in his final VFL game in 1947.
11. Ash Johnson is the real deal
What a player Collingwood have found in Ash Johnson! A massive part of their Friday night success, Johnson kicked four majors including two in the final quarter as Collingwood defeated the reigning premiers by seven points on Friday night.
Last year's mid-season draft recruit made his debut against the Adelaide Crows earlier last month, in which he played against his brother Shane McAdam. He has played just the four matches and is averaging 2.5 goals per game in a Collingwood side that does not know how to lose.
12. The Lions may not be able to play four quarters
A new challenge faces the Brisbane Lions as they seem to be struggling to run out games. An issue that can be so costly on the brink of finals time, the Lions have shown vulnerability in the second half of their last two matches against Richmond and Carlton.
The premiership hopefuls were 42 points up against Richmond early in the third quarter in Round 20, then proceeded to capitulate and give up a massive lead and lose by seven points, kicking just three goals in the second half to Richmond's 10.
Fast forward a week later to their match against Carlton, and they held a very comfortable 57-point lead against the Blues at three-quarter time. Carlton then kicked the first six goals of the last quarter to get within 20 points of the Lions, before McStay kicked a settler to put Carlton out of reach.
It's a worrying sign for a side full of quality heading into September, and something Chris Fagan will have to fix as soon as possible in the last two rounds of the season.
13. The reigning premiers may miss the top 4
Melbourne looked unbeatable earlier in the season, however having lost six of their last 10 games, they are now in quite a vulnerable spot leading up to the end of the home and away season.
The Dees are only sitting in the top four on percentage, and a slip up against either Carlton or Brisbane in the last two rounds will likely see them finish the season in fifth place. The reigning premiers must find their pre-bye form as quick as possible if they want to be there on the final day in September.
14. Elijah Hollands is going to be a gun
He was one of the top picks of the 2020 AFL Draft, but Elijah Hollands has had to wait very patiently for his first taste of AFL. Now finally getting his chance, the top 10 pick is flying and had a close to best-on-ground performance on Saturday in a narrow loss to Hawthorn.
In just his third game, Hollands had 23 touches, which included 18 kicks and two goals. The versatile youngster also went at 78% and was fourth highest on ground for metres gained (521). A terrific performance from a player with a very bright future.
15. You can't put Marlion Pickett off his game
One of Richmond's star players this year has once again shown he has ice in his veins after sealing the win on Saturday night against Port Adelaide.
Pickett had marked the ball just inside 50 on a very difficult angle and was subject to some bantering from young port fans in the front row of the crowd. Pickett lined up and slotted it right through the middle and boy did he let the Port Adelaide fans know about it.
Friendly fence-side banter 🤭 pic.twitter.com/CEL5Xo8Dq2
— Richmond FC 🐯 (@Richmond_FC) August 7, 2022
16. Rory Lobb's price rises again
The in-demand key forward has once again shot his market value right up as he seeks a move away from Fremantle at the end of the season. Lobb kicked a bag of four as Fremantle defeated the Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Saturday.
It is rumoured that St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs are leading the race for his services in 2023, however Lobb will not be a cheap acquisition for either club. The 29-year-old is currently on around $750,000 a year and is contracted until the end of next year. It is likely that either club will have to cough up assets to land the forward in 2023.
17. Gunston's best is more than good enough
Gunston has had plenty of injury trouble this year, but has found fitness in recent weeks and been in some stellar form. The veteran has kicked 11 goals in his last three matches but still remains uncontracted beyond 2022.
18. Another Josh Kennedy could head into retirement this year
We saw one Josh Kennedy say farewell to the game on the weekend, and shortly we could see another, but not in the way anyone would have hoped.
Sydney's Josh Kennedy sustained a hamstring injury in the VFL on the weekend, casting immediate doubt over his future as he remains without a contract beyond the 2022 season. Kennedy has struggled to break into the star-studded Swans midfield this year, and a hamstring injury to the 34-year-old could force him into immediate retirement.
Josh Kennedy has suffered another suspected hamstring injury in the VFL today. pic.twitter.com/s304GSbP0f
— 7AFL (@7AFL) August 7, 2022
19. Hannebery's career may be over
Another veteran whose career could be over with an injury is St Kilda's Dan Hannebery. The premiership player's four-year stay at St Kilda has been plagued with injuries, only playing 18 games for the club.
On Saturday night in only his second match for the year, the midfielder succumbed to an ankle injury that forced him out of the game late in the third quarter. Hannebery is without a contract heading into 2023 and it's seeming increasingly likely that 2022 could be his last.
20. Josh Schache can play a crucial role in the Bulldogs finals' push
With the Dogs pushing for a spot in September, a real X-factor type player is needed after Saturday's loss to Fremantle. Key forward Josh Bruce hasn't been hitting the heights prior to his knee injury and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan went goaless on the weekend.
In desperate need of a key forward in some form, Josh Schache could be that man. Schache had a huge game in the VFL on Saturday against Coburg, kicking 7.1 from 23 disposals in a huge win for Footscray. It would be hard for Luke Beveridge to ignore someone in that type of form in an almost do-or-die clash against rivals GWS on Saturday.