Well, we're almost there, folks.

The mornings are becoming lighter, the firewood stocks have dwindled and the finest waft of pollen is in the air as spring readies itself to spring, once again.

With just one last weekend of action left on the agenda before the business end arrives, even though only a select collective of clubs afford to have finals on their mind just yet, each and every one of them has something to play for before the curtain closes and September dawns.

Though Geelong's coast to victory over the Suns last Saturday saw the Cats sew up their latest minor premiership, three spots in the final four still remain up for grabs.

And with Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Collingwood and Fremantle all vying for these final three passes for a double chance, the ultimate makeup of the ladder's upper echelon is unlikely to be known until sunset on Sunday.

For fans that pray at alters located in Moorabbin, Footscray or on Royal Parade, hearts will be in mouths and the rosary beads in rotation, as each of the Saints, Dogs and Blues battle it out for the final finals invitation.

For those at the southern end of the spectrum, eyes have turned to the draft as the magnets of key backs magically begin appearing in the centre of the ground and vertically challenged forwards begin jumping at stoppages.

Ahead of what is set to be a chaotic and, for some, heartbreaking cessation to a spectacular season, take a gander at where we have every combatant before many of their final bouts.

1. Geelong (-)

Having locked away the McClelland Trophy with a game to spare, it would prove an impossible task to place the Cats anywhere else but first, even for Richmond fanatics.

Though the Suns provided little resistance as Chris Scott's clowder stormed home for their 17th win for the season, the Pivot City side's perfection throughout their past 12 starts has all rivals wary ahead of the business end.

While the comparative age of Geelong's roster, as well as their recent finals follies, have been used as ammunition against them, the team touting the league's most lethal offence and defence remain the odds on favourite to claim their first flag since 2011.

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2. Melbourne (-) 

It may have taken until moments before the final bell to topple a courageous Carlton outfit, but Kysaiah Pickett's deft snap has seen the Dees retain their place near the summit with the deadline in sight.

Irrespective of the fact that Simon Goodwin's charges have tasted defeat in 6 of their past 11 outings, Melbourne's ability to burst their drought last season will be enough to have opponents spry in September.

Still, with an all-important battle yet to be won against Brisbane this weekend, the devil will be in the detail as to who the Demons actually play in the first week of finals.

3. Sydney (+3) 

Before their third-largest attendance ever since shifting to the Harbour City in the early-80s, the Swans' premiership hopes received a double-dosed shot to the arm after cruising past Collingwood on Sunday afternoon.

Currently positioned on the ladder's second rung ahead of a final-day date with the so-so Saints, John Longmire's mixture of cygnets and cobs have certainly begun peaking at the perfect time.

Though still rated on the third line of betting in the mad dash for the flag, this dark horse status is sure to suit a Sydney side that has long marched to the beat of their own drum.

4. Collingwood (-1) 

With the manic nature of football in mind, as well as the unbeaten law of averages, the Pies' perfect run since mid-May had to come to an end eventually.

And though a five-goal loss to the Swans will have taken some air from Craig McRae's black and white balloon, Collingwood's fortunes still lie in their own hands.

However, with old enemy Carlton looming menacingly on the horizon, the Woodmens won't be afforded long to rue their Harbourside humbling.

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5. Fremantle(-) 

Though a healthy win over their arch-rival should be enough to earn a raise, the Dockers have held firm on the fifth rung of our standings.

However, with only the Giants left to face before their first finals appearance since 2015, Fremantle's status outside of the four may prove to be short-lived.

As is the case for many of their rivals around them, a litany of results will be on their radar before the cessation of the home-and-away season. Still, if Justin Longmuir's lumpers can win, and win well, against the league's youngest side, a second chance in September should be theirs for the taking.

6. Brisbane (-2) 

While the Lions' nasty habit of coughing up leads continued on in earnest, St Kilda's wayward forward line did everything in their power to see the Sunshine Staters fly home with the four points.

With their current record of 15-6, Brisbane remains entrenched in the eight, however, their hopes of obtaining a double chance now rest on a string of other scores.

Though a slide of two spots may seem harsh, if Chris Fagan's pride can produce their best against the travelling Demons, their chances of claiming a fourth-straight top-four finish will be higher than a standard Queenslander house.

7. Richmond (-) 

Unlike the Lions, the mob from Punt Road were able to stamp out their streak of letting opponents loose from the leash.

And with 20 goals from 28 scoring shots on Sunday, the Tigers restated their finals credentials with an almighty roar.

Having ruled the jungle for much of the past decade, you can bet your bottom dollar that nobody will feel comfortable facing Damien Hardwick's ambush at any stage next month.

Tom Lynch during the round 22 AFL match between Richmond and Hawthorn on August 14, 2022 (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Richmond Media)

8. Carlton (+1) 

On the face of things, it may seem odd to promote a side that inched their finals invitation closer to the fire, but with just a brain-fade, or two, between the Blues and victory, their valiant efforts deserve reward.

Still, should Voss and company singe their pass completely with a loss to Collingwood next Sunday, Carlton's pats on the back are sure to morph into facepalms before September starts.

The ramifications of this latest bout between these two storied rivals cannot be overstated.

9. Western Bulldogs (-1) 

Despite finishing Round 21 in the top eight of our rankings before doing just enough to edge out the hated Giants last Saturday, the Dogs have dropped down to ninth after providing very few assurances of their mettle.

Akin to Carlton, a win this weekend over Hawthorn will be almost enough to snare a finals finish. However, if the Blues pip the Pies, the Whitten Oval side will have upheld their unwanted tradition of missing the eight in each and every season that followed a grand final appearance.

Given the potential fallout of what could be their final fixture of the year, it will be far more than just Pups and Hawks fans tuning in to their Apple Isle clash.

10. St Kilda (-) 

Like a bearded Tom Hanks and his spherical mate, Wilson, the Saints are stranded between contention and restructuring on the island of insignificance.

Having traded heavily for seasoned talent in recent off-seasons, the men from Moorabbin have expressed a will to contend for the here and now.

Yet, with so many in a heap, a slump or punchdrunk in front of the sticks, the only certainty from this season is that their tormented fanbase will be sitting several thousand follicles lighter than when it was first set in motion.

Optimists will claim that there is always next year but with the one-flagged club set to toast its 150th anniversary next season, history suggests that little more than heartache will be in the post for their natal celebrations.

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11. Port Adelaide (+1) 

Scan your eyes across Ken Hinkley's roster and there is more than enough talent to be contending, however, after a treacle start and yet another round of prison bar punch-ons, the plot has well and truly been lost.

But while a return to the eight has been off the menu for some time now, the Powers' surge past the Bombers on Sunday will have brightened dials in the port of Adelaide.

Though there remains little more to play for than pride on Saturday night, the Alberton crowd will be hungry for a redemptive strike after being shutdown by a Jordan Dawson drop-punt to end the most recent Showdown.

12. Gold Coast (+1) 

It seems an age ago since Gold Coast was touted as a genuine finals threat, but after being struck down by the Dons, Lions, Hawks and Cats over the course of the last month and change, the sun has set on yet another Suns' season outside of the eight.

But while a debut pass won't be turning up in the mail, there has been plenty to like at Carrara this year, and as plenty of the Suns' little wins have arrived via alternative avenues, 2022 won't be seen as a step in the wrong direction.

The recommitment of Jack Lukosius, the reinforcement of Touk Miller, the rise of Noah Anderson, the ridiculousness of 'Caschoult' and the eventual return of Ben King will have Stuart Dew's cast primed to attack next season with newfound vigour.

A last-ditch win over the lowly Kangaroos is sure to aid this enthusiasm ahead of signing off for the summer.

13. Hawthorn (-2) 

Following the Hawks' handy win over West Coast last month, head coach Sam Mitchell claimed that the wins and losses column was far from the forefront of his mind.

For his sanity, we hope his words were gospel, as his side never looked a chance of toppling the Tigers on Sunday.

Yet, with four wins from their last six starts, cobbled together by the makings of an exciting unit, there is plenty for Mitchell to work with ahead of his sophomore season at Bungil Bagora.

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14. Adelaide (-) 

Though West Coast was all too happy to add further chop to the Crows' current storm, the West Lakes club proved able to jump back on the winner's list, steering themselves past the Roos on Saturday afternoon.

Due to the prospect of yet another off-season spent tinkering and tailoring ahead, Matthew Nicks' murder is far from any port of safety, but with Darcy Fogarty adding another baby bag to his tally and Jake Soligo going from strength to strength, at least some of the clouds have cleared.

A few rays of sunlight might even peek through the gloom if Adelaide can edge out Port in the Showdown this Saturday night.

15. GWS (-) 

Despite a resounding win over the Dons, followed solid effort on Saturday against the Dogs, the Giants have remained motionless on our rankings, with their deeds coming too little and too late.

With reports of off-field clashes between staff and no word yet on who will take over Leon Cameron's reins on a full-time basis, the orange team have appeared rudderless for the vast majority of the year.

Given the likelihood that so many integral cogs look set to opt out come the trade period, the club's powerbrokers may best be suited to hiring a mechanic as head coach.

16. Essendon (-) 

The ancient proverb claims that a tree falling in the woods makes no sound, but what then of a football team getting smoked out at home before a sparse crowd?

In front of just 20,568 diehards - their lowest home attendance of the season - Essendon were outwitted and outclassed by Port, eventually exiting the arena 84 points in arrears of their guests.

While a modicum of goodwill was built up after wins over St Kilda, Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast, the Bombers have nosedived in the past fortnight, sending the blood pressure of their backers skyrocketing.

Though few will be backing Ben Rutten's fleet to fell the Tigers on Saturday night, at least the sweet release of the off-season will be found with the final siren.

17. West Coast (-) 

If you can't beat them, bash them.

If that was Adam Simpson's message to his troops ahead of the Western Derby, who can blame him after the season he has commandeered?

While competitive for a half, the Dockers eventually set about plucking feathers at will, consigning the Eagles to their third successive derby defeat.

Like many other sides dwelling in the cellars, key heads within the Eagles' nest are sure to have already begun planning for the pre-season ahead.

18. North Melbourne (-) 

Although Saturday afternoon ended in defeat for the 19th time this season, the result was irrelevant the moment that a teary-eyed Ben Cunnington broke through the banner with his three children.

It has been a year from hell for everyone lodging at Arden Street, so sinking the boot in any further would be beyond unnecessary.

Instead, here's a picture of the Cunnington's celebrating an achievement that goes well beyond the scoreboard's tally and far further towards the heart of our game.

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