Several footy analysts have claimed that the top eight is set in stone and has been for a while.
"The ladder has been set since round 7 and it's going to stay set!" Montagna said on Fox Footy's First Crack.
David King believes there's more to play out before claiming the eight is set.
"Do I think it's set? I don't think it's set. I'm not going to give up on the fact that there will be some movement. There are some significant games to come," he said.
As it sits, both the Giants and Bombers are placed outside the eight in 9th and 10th respectively. Both are in raring form, taking some big scalps and winning key games in the last month and a half.
After their draw to the last-placed Kangaroos in Round 13, the Giants may be forced to rue their missed opportunity come the end of the season.
The Giants look the most likely of the two sides to potentially sneak their way into the eight, but that's not to count out the Bombers who have shown their potential to compete with any team in the competition.
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With that being said, further exploration into how the eight will shape at the conclusion of the home and away season is warranted. And there's no better way to do so than jumping on the AFL's ladder predictor. With some in-depth looks into the games of the round, here is how my top eight looks using the AFL's ladder predictor:
*NOTE: All predictions have been made with a winning margin of 20 points*
A round bookended with massive games opens with the third placed Cats travelling to the Gabba to take on the fourth placed Lions in a Thursday night blockbuster.
The Lions come off a hard-fought win against the improving Kangaroos, but will look to bounce back to their best form against a scary Cats outfit. The Cats sunk their claws into the Dogs at home with a crazy finish seeing Gary Rohan kick the winner after the siren.
With both teams looking to prove themselves against the competitions best, this contest looks to be a big one. The Cats backline, led by a brilliant Tom Stewart (27 disposals, 10 intercept marks), were able to control an undermanned Bulldogs last round, but will not have the same luxury against the Lions who have one of the most potent forward lines in the competition.
With the matchup on the other end of the ground being relatively even considering how damaging the Cats' big three forwards can be, the battle within the Lions forward 50 is likely where the game will be won or loss.
The Bulldogs will be subdued and heartbroken as they fly out west to take on the well-rested Eagles. The Eagles enjoyed a well earned break after gritting their teeth and winning two games fielding heavily undermanned sides against the Blues and Tigers.
After correctly predicting the Eagles vs Tigers game as a game of the season, I see this game as another Sunday blockbuster that has big implications.
A West Coast win can set the Eagles up for a potential top four push, whilst a loss will help keep the Dogs within arms reach to the red hot Demons on the top of the ladder. Two exciting games to glue fans to their screens this weekend.
In a game that looks unassuming and straight forward from afar, the Demons will require a continuation of their best to hold off a GWS team hellbent on making the finals.
After tripping up after their bye with a disappointing draw against the Kangaroos, the Giants were able to bounce back with a convincing win over the Blues. Their eyes are well and truly set on finals and will be determined to make an example of the competitions best team.
In what turned into a runaway win for the Demons when the two sides matched up in round 3, the Giants will have learnt a lot since then, as well as welcoming back some key players.
Another monster clash filled with massive repercussions is the Swans hosting the Eagles at the SCG. The Swans will be desperate to take advantage of the Eagles inability to win away from home as the pointy end of the season fast approaches.
With the Swans likely to lose against Port Adelaide (Round 15) and Western Bulldogs (Round 17), they will be desperate to secure their only home game within a tough three game stretch to avoid a four game game losing streak heading to toward the end of the season.
A win for the Swans will likely spell finals security, a loss leaves them to be the sole team vulnerable of missing the finals. After a hugely disappointing loss to the Hawks before the bye, they will hate to look back at that game as the beginning of the end of a second-half collapse.
Port Adelaide have something to prove. All season the Power have successfully dispatched the bad teams convincingly, but have struggled to prove themselves as legitimate contenders due to their inability to compete with the top teams.
There is no better stage for them to prove themselves to the rest of the competition than an opportunity to host the Demons on their home track.
The Demons will be faced with a lot of tough matchups on their run home. Likely to drop a couple of games toward the finals, pinching the four points against Port will be massive in not only their endeavours of a home final but also keeping their spot firmly within the top four. This big game will shape the landscape of the top eight as the season starts to tighten up.
With exclusion of their loss to Melbourne in Round 12, the Lions have been on an absolute tear over the last two months. Winning eight of their last nine games leading up to Round 15, the Lions are roaring into the second half of their season. Within that stretch included a huge win at home against the reigning premiers.
Richmond have a soft run home toward the finals, but if they want to push for a potential second chance opportunity, they will need to secure this clash against the Lions.
The other game that has a huge amount of implications is the Sydney derby. The Swans will have come out of the past month battered and bruised from likely defeats against top teams. The Giants will be rolling with predicted wins in 4 of their last five games following their draw against the Kangaroos.
The equation for this game is simple. Win and you make finals. Lose and you can plan your off season trip in September.
The Winners list: Carlton, GWS, Geelong, Brisbane, Western Bulldogs, Sydney, Melbourne, Port Adelaide, West Coast.
In what was the must watch game of round 8, Geelong brutally dismantled a stunned Tigers side to the tune of 63 points. A shock to the competition, this win set Geelong up to become the team they are now, with many believing they are equal premiership favourites alongside Melbourne.
Although likely not in the same fashion as their past meeting, Geelong will likely dominate once again as they are one of the most in form side of the competition.
But as many have made the mistake of doing in the past, you would be silly to think the Tigers haven't been looking forward to their opportunity of redemption against the side that they beat in the 2020 grand final.
With a lot on the line for both teams in regard to home finals and second chances, this game will likely be the one to watch in round 19.
The Winners list: Brisbane, West Coast, Sydney, Western Bulldogs, Geelong, St.Kilda, GWS, Adelaide, Richmond.
The Demons proved to be too strong for the Dogs when the sides met in round 11. In what was an eery Friday night blockbuster due to a lack of crowds at the start of yet another strict Covid lockdown, this top of the table clash will once again promise a brilliant game of footy.
The Bulldogs would have learnt from their first clash, which not only saw them play their first game without star recruit Adam Treloar, but also see Tom Liberatore receive his first 'tag', negating him from his regular presence in the heart of the contest.
After receiving similar attention from teams who learnt from the Demons, Libba has been able to adjust and still make his regular impact on the game.
The Dogs will be keen to get their chance to topple the competitions best side, who have already firmly places themselves as second chance recipients.
The other game of the round looks towards the other end of the top eight. Whilst the Demons and Bulldogs will be battling for top position, Port and GWS will be fighting for the scraps as each look at this matchup as a pivotal must win game.
The Giants will be looking to take this game in order to win their spot in finals, whilst Port will be desperate to take a winnable game to help them secure a home final.
Port haven't been the most reliable side against quality opposition. And with these two sides being even in quality around the ground, it is an opportunity for both to take advantage in a relatively 50/50 game.
Game of the Round: West Coast Eagles vs Melbourne Demons
At the pointy end of the season, the only time you can be proud of being named "flat track bullies" is when you have a must-win game...at home...against the competitions top side...with a home final at stake.
A blockbuster clash that will have Optus Stadium rocking will give the Eagles every chance to be able to take down the on fire Demons.
Mouth-watering matchups all over the ground will set the stage for not only one of the most exciting games of the round, but of the season. Nic Nat vs Gawn. Kennedy and Darling vs May and Lever. Oliver and Petracca vs Yeo and Gaff. Get ready for a game that will have Optus stadium buzzing like we saw in round 13.
The Winners list: Brisbane, Geelong, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Sydney, Essendon, Richmond, Port Adelaide, West Coast.
Game of the Round: GWS Giants vs Richmond Tigers
A game between 7th and 8th that will ultimately shape who sits atop the other. The winner will likely finish 7th whilst the loser will be in 8th. Both will face away finals and a tough task trying to run deep into September, with the only question of who they will face in their Elimination Final games at stake.
Nonetheless, an exciting game will be on the menu, with the Giants looking to take a scalp any which way they can, whilst the Tigers keen to run into finals with a streak of wins that will worry any first round opponent. Both teams will likely reach full strength with each well and truly getting key ins back into the side, so a high class battle will likely ensue.
The Winners list: Brisbane, GWS, Essendon, Geelong, Richmond, St.Kilda, Western Bulldogs, Sydney, Adelaide.
Games of the Round: Brisbane Lions vs West Coast Eagles and Geelong Cats vs Melbourne Demons
Let me pitch to you a (very very unlikely) hypothetical. If all of my previous predictions were to be correct AND the following were to happen:
Port to beat the Bulldogs.
Eagles to beat the Lions.
Cats to win against the Demons.
...the 2021 home and away season will finish with five teams on top of the ladder on 17 wins, with only percentage separating them. FIVE!
But let's face it, something as magical and amazing is merely impossible... right?
On to the must watch clashes, the AFL has done a great job of fixturing all nine games in round 23 to be competitive, with all but a couple set to be an exciting contest.
The features of said games will be the Lions taking on the Eagles and the Cats vs the Demons, with the results of each likely to have huge implications for ladder placements of all teams involved.
The top eight will be set, but where each team will fall will come solely on the final game of the season.
After completing my ladder predictor, it is likely that the top eight is in fact not set. I have the current 9th placed Giants leap frogging their way into the eight at the expense of their cross town rivals Sydney who face a tough run home.
At the completion of the season, there will be some exciting first round matchups to start the 2021 finals series:
Qualifying Final 1: Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne Demons
Qualifying Final 2: Brisbane Lions vs Geelong Cats
Elimination Final 1: West Coast Eagles vs GWS Giants
Elimination Final 2: Port Adelaide Power vs Richmond Tigers
What do you think of my final top eight? Who would win the premiership from here? Be sure to let me know in the comments.