Marcus Bontempelli during the 2022 AFL Round 1 match between Melbourne and Western Bulldogs (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Zero Digital Media)

The final round of the home and away season is upon us, with seven of the top eight sides locked in, however, the order in which each side will finish is still unclear. The minor premiership is up for grabs after Collingwood fell to the Brisbane Lions last week, but it would take a huge upset on Friday night against Essendon for the Magpies to give up first place.

Melbourne will be hoping that results play out in their favour, with it looking likely that they'll play Collingwood in a blockbuster qualifying final at the MCG. However if Collingwood do lose to Essendon and Brisbane defeats St Kilda, they'll be headed for a tough challenge at the Gabba.

Sunday afternoon looms as a blockbuster day, with the AFL scheduling three back-to-back matches starting from 12:00pm (AEST). The last match of the home and away season, Carlton vs GWS, looms with big repercussions for the top eight and could determine whether it's GWS or the Western Bulldogs who cement eighth spot and will likely play Carlton in week one of the finals.

For the teams from 10th to 18th on the ladder, it's a chance to play one final game and cause a few upsets before they head off for the year. West Coast will be hoping to upset Adelaide and send off their favourite sons Shannon Hurn and Luke Shuey in style, whilst North Melbourne might hold some hope they can win their first game since Round 2.

It's going to be one big weekend to mark the end of the home and away season, and these are the players we're keeping an eye on.

Luke Shuey

The West Coast Eagles captain will play his farewell game this weekend alongside premiership teammate Shannon Hurn. After what has been a tough year for the club, they pulled off one of the upsets of the year against the Western Bulldogs last weekend and will be riding on the momentum coming into the game.

When West Coast host Adelaide on Saturday night, they'll be looking to pull off another upset to ease the pressure on coach Adam Simpson and farewell two of their best players in an appropriate fashion.

Shuey was a crucial part of the Eagles' 2018 premiership side, winning the Norm Smith Medal off the back of a 34-disposal, nine-clearance and eight-tackle performance. Shuey has struggled to play consistent games this year due to a hamstring injury, with Saturday to be his first game since Round 19 and only his tenth for the year.

However, Shuey has still played to the best of his capabilities this year, recording over 20 disposals on five occasions. No doubt the fan favourite will come out and give his all for his team one final time.

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Jeremy Howe

With injuries to key defenders Darcy Moore and now Nathan Murphy, Howe will inevitably return to the backline this weekend after spending the last three weeks up forward.

However, Howe has proven to Craig McRae that he can be thrown forward when needed, kicking seven goals in the last few weeks, including a bag of three in the final quarter against Carlton.

Peter Wright and Jake Stringer loom as likely outs for Essendon this weekend, so Howe won't have his hands too full down back with the help of Billy Frampton. Instead, he will be more crucial in correcting Collingwood's defensive blip.

Over the last six weeks, the Magpies have been in the bottom four for points against, opposition scores per inside 50, points against from turnovers and clearances and inside 50s. Howe's run off half-back and aerial defence will be needed this weekend to slow the run of scoring that the Magpies have experienced recently, having let their opposition score over 100 points the last three weeks.

Whilst they've secured a home final at the MCG and the double chance, Collingwood will want to correct their form to head into September with momentum.

Marcus Bontempelli

The Bulldogs have finals on the line this weekend. They'll have to beat Geelong at GMHBA Stadium for the first time since 2003 and hope that GWS lose to Carlton to secure eighth spot after blowing a massive chance for a percentage-boosting win against West Coast last weekend.

It was also a game where Marcus Bontempelli could've secured three Brownlow votes to close the gap in the Brownlow race, but it looks unlikely that he will poll from that game, making for an even more enticing finish at the Brownlow Medal count.

When the two teams played in Round 12, inaccuracy cost the Bulldogs greatly, kicking 15 behinds to Geelong's seven. Bontempelli was a contributor to that inaccuracy, kicking two behinds as his team went down by 22 points.

Usually a consistent performer against the Cats, the 'Bont' had 23 disposals, eight tackles, and four clearances.

With Brownlow votes and a finals appearance on the line on Saturday night, Bontempelli will undoubtedly put in a true captain's performance, but a loss on Saturday night would make for a wasted season for the Bulldogs, who have been so up and down all year.

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Nick Larkey

North Melbourne seem set for the wooden spoon this season after West Coast beat the Bulldogs last weekend, having not won since Round 2 and unable to secure wins in emotional farewell games for Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell or for caretaker coach Brett Ratten over recent weeks.

Whilst they have come close on numerous occasions, it hasn't quite been close enough.

If they are to pull off an upset this weekend over Gold Coast in Tasmania, Nick Larkey will be a key figure in doing so. Larkey will likely finish third in the Coleman Medal race, having kicked 62 goals for the season so far. Larkey's credentials have grown more in recent weeks, kicking bags of five and six goals, and he has not been held goalless since Round 4 against Carlton.

Larkey's last three games against Gold Coast have been particularly quiet, scoring one goal in each of them. The last time they played, earlier in the year in Round 6, was one of Larkey's worst games for the season, having only four disposals, two marks and a goal.

Having been one of the best on ground last weekend, Larkey will head into this game full of confidence and momentum.

Christian Petracca

Melbourne could be hoping to stay in fourth spot and play Collingwood at the MCG in week one of finals, with the potential of having to go to the Gabba to play Brisbane depending on results this weekend. A tough game against Sydney at the SCG looms on Sunday afternoon and whilst it won't impact the eight too heavily, it should be a sneak peek at the standard to expect for finals football this season.

Petracca is another one who is in the running to take out individual accolades at the end of the season. He was down on his usual standards last weekend against Hawthorn, with 22 disposals, two tackles and a goal. Petracca's last two weeks have been his quietest of the season, for his standards, with his game against Carlton still impressive after collecting 24 disposals and booting 2.2.

Petracca's inaccuracy in front of goal has at times hurt the Demons, particularly when he kicked four behinds against GWS. There'll be no room for error this weekend, as a fired-up and in-form Swans team looks to capitalise on any missed opportunities.

Expect Petracca to put in a big game.

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