As the regular season continues its creep towards closure, wins and losses in the race for a September spot have begun to feel as though they mean more.
Though the likes of Geelong, Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, Collingwood, Sydney and Carlton appear certain to vie for the flag later this year, the small matter of who will join them is still up for debate.
With losses across the weekend, each of the Tigers, Saints and Suns relinquished ground to the Dogs. But with a month and change still yet to play out, the eight is far from set.
Heading into Round 19, here is how we see the lay of the AFL land.
1. Geelong (-)
After swatting off yet another top-six contender in successive weeks, whether anxious Cats fans are willing to hear it or not, your side is the current clubhouse leader in the race for premiership glory.
Against the Blues on Saturday night, it was a case of no Stewart, no worries, Geelong’s back six combined for 17 intercept marks and keeping Carlton’s twin towers, Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, to just three majors.
With clashes against Port Adelaide (A), Western Bulldogs (H), St Kilda (H), Gold Coast (A) and West Coast (H) to round out their schedule, there remains a very real chance of the Pivot City team entering finals on a 13-game winning streak.
2. Melbourne (-)
Though the lofty heights of the first half of the season are yet to be matched, Melbourne added to their win tally on Sunday after pulling the plug on the Power in Alice Springs.
In spite of their three-win and four-loss record across the course of the past seven weeks, the reigning premiers are sitting just percentage behind the Cats with a month and change left to run.
As proven last season, Simon Goodwin’s side has the goods to claim premiership glory, but with injuries and brouhaha arising of late, it will take a reconcentrated effort to taste September success a second time around.
3. Fremantle (-)
Despite being chin-checked on their home deck by fellow top-four contenders Sydney last Saturday, the Dockers’ form of late has seen them remain on our third rung.
Though the 27-point loss before their home fans will have left Justin Longmuir with plenty to ponder, the Wharfies’ ability to bank early wins has them standing in good stead.
Still, with dates against the Tigers, Demons and Bulldogs on the horizon, the Dockers will need to return to winning ways to consolidate their earlier form.
4. Brisbane (-)
While the Lions were able to jump back onto the winner’s list over the weekend, Chris Fagan’s pride round out our stationary top-four.
5. Collingwood (+1)
Saturday, May 13th. 67 days ago. This was the last time Craig McRae’s Pies tasted defeat.
And with the Woods’ claiming the scalps of Fremantle, Carlton and Melbourne, their recent run hasn’t been a total walk in the park either.
Given their ability to remain perfect throughout their series of heartstoppers, the Magpies have swooped into our top five, and with dates against the Dons and Power over the next fortnight, the possibility of a 10-game winning streak for the first time since 2012 is, well and truly, alive.
6. Sydney (+1)
Crossing the Nullarbor and coming home with the points is never an easy task, but while the Dockers provided John Longmire’s flight with a rough task on paper, the Swans stole home with relative ease.
With wins over the likes of the Dogs and Dees, but losses to the Dons and Power, Sydney’s form has been about as consistent as dial-up internet connection. But their percentage of 120.8 and current perch just outside the four, all of the Swans’ sins will be forgiven if they can up the ante before September.
7. Carlton (-2)
The Blues’ dip down from fifth may appear harsh on paper, but with the Pies and Swans taking care of business and Michael Voss’ side being taught a lesson by the Cats in primetime, it’s all relative.
A defeat at the hands of Chris Scott’s clowder is nothing to fly off the handle over, however, if blips against either the Giants or Crows come to fruition, Carlton’s slimming dreams of a double chance will officially be up in smoke.
8. Western Bulldogs (+1)
While still outside of the eight in reality, the Dogs’ Friday night demolition of the dismal Saints provided their record-breaking pack of members with a reminder of what they are capable of.
Although their route back to September is rigor mortis stiff, Richmond’s bottle job against North Melbourne on Saturday afternoon will have whet the Whitten Oval side’s appetite for a come from the clouds entry.
Still, Luke Beveridge’s men will need to bring their A-game across a schedule that sees them faceoff against Melbourne, Geelong and Fremantle in the next three weeks.
9. Richmond (-1)
After a fortnight that saw them set late against the Suns and kick themselves out of a steadier against the Roos, even though the Tigers are still inside the eight, their hold is far from a strong one.
Akin to Richmond sides of yesteryear, Damien Hardwick’s ambush have found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But as they are still fixtured to face Port Adelaide, Hawthorn and Essendon along the straight to September, the Punt Roaders remain to side most likely to snag eighth place.
Poaching a win against either Fremantle or Brisbane within the next fortnight should all but kill off the resistance from most of the competition’s also-rans.
10. St Kilda (-)
Though Brett Ratten’s listless list probably deserves to plummet down our standings after their most recent showing, the Saints have earned a reprieve for the minute.
While optimists and diehards attached to the Moorabbin men will still be pushing their side’s case for a September berth, the fact remains that St Kilda can’t afford any more losses on their run home.
And with fixtures against the Cats, Lions and Swans await, any dreams of a drought-breaking flag should be all but dead.
11. Port Adelaide (+1)
Despite failing to leave the Northern Territory with the four points on Sunday, the Power’s ability to stick with the Demons for three quarters requires a modicum of praise.
Having claimed wins over the Swans, Suns and Giants across the past month and change, the Alberton crowd has been given a chance to roar since starting the season at 0-5.
Still, with little more up their sleeves than an opportunity to help shape the eight from here on in, 2022 will be seen as a season of waste by those in the waterside suburb.
12. Gold Coast (-1)
Riding a wave of emotion and goodwill heading into their date against the Dons on Sunday, Stuart Dew’s side let it all slip about as quickly as they had commanded it.
With plenty of talking heads pushing Gold Coast as a genuine finals fancy heading into Round 18, the Carrara Kid’s inability to even offer a whimper saw their dreams of a September debut all but dry up.
And for the optimists that are still willing to back one last charge from the Glitter Strip side, keep in mind that they will need to remain perfect against each of the Lions, Eagles, Hawks, Cats and Roos.
13. Hawthorn (-)
With back-to-back wins for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season, Sam Mitchell’s side gave their fans something to cheer about on a day where they farewelled Norm Smith medallist, Paul Dear.
Though their victories over the Crows and Eagles have come off-Broadway and at the end of the season, the efforts showed by youngsters on their list prove the rebuild is on the right track.
While the future remains the key at Waverley, further opportunities for more joy are on offer during their fixtures against the Roos, Saints and Suns along the run home.
14. Essendon (+1)
Fourteenth may seem a low slot for a side that has trumped the Saints, Swans, Lions and Suns across the last five weeks, it is worth remembering just what the Dons dished up ahead of mid-June.
While a return to the finals was dead and buried months ago, Essendon’s ability to all but end Gold Coast’s chances brought joy to red and black backers the globe over.
Like their mulleted big man’s gallop to goal on Sunday, little looks like it will stop the Dons at the present, but again, it is just too little, too late.
15. GWS (-1)
After their pitiful showing against Port Adelaide in Round 17, the Giants backed up with another loss on Saturday.
Though dropping points to the Lions has seen the boys from Homebush slide down in our estimations, GWS’ inability to win back-to-back games this season should have probably seen them dip earlier.
Scan the remainder of the Orange Tsunami’s fixture, and you’ll find that across their dates with the Blues, Swans, Dons, Dogs and Dockers, Mark McVeigh will be doing well to taste victory again this year.
16. Adelaide (-)
Without a win across the course of July, the sunlight that poked through after the Crows’ Showdown win in April has, well and truly, been lost to cloud coverage.
Though finding the mettle to run the Pies close on Saturday afternoon, Matthew Nicks’ murder was found wanting for the twelfth time this season when the final siren sounded.
17. North Melbourne (+1)
While curmudgeons may claim that should Richmond have kicked straighter, the win would have been theirs, begrudging a youthful Roos’ side who learned their lesson from last week requires a jaded soul.
And with clashes against Hawthorn, Essendon, Adelaide and Gold Coast on the horizon, one final win before summer rolls around may just come to fruition.
18. West Coast (-1)
At the tail end of what will likely be their worst on record, the Eagles have dropped back down into our cellar.
And with St Kilda, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Fremantle and Geelong looming before the completion of their campaign, Adam Simpson’s side should be setting themselves for further pain.