Richmond might well have stumbled upon fool’s gold. But the fact is the loveable, baffling Tigers are in the AFL’s top eight after an eighth consecutive win, this time over St Kilda.
Their mission is simple, in theory. If they can topple the Goliath that is Sydney at Homebush next Saturday, Richmond will take an improbable spot in the finals in a season when its record at one point was 3-10.
Notwithstanding an 8-0 run, it is highly unlikely.
Sydney schooled Western Bulldogs, with Lance Franklin kicking another six goals, around the same time the Tigers had to struggle at times to beat an injury-riddled St Kilda by 27 points at the MCG.
Even if they made September, the Tigers are off the pace. But one thing that cannot be denied is that they are good for the competition; as they sung the song in the rooms you could sense the rising of the supporters who will send the bandwagon up the Hume Highway this week, and hope that John Longmire chooses to rest one or two sore players (Franklin would be a nice starting point!) to help the Richmond cause.
Eleven teams can play finals with a round to go, albeit that a few will be making up the numbers.
Five have to be squeezed into the top four and the double chance, with Port Adelaide and Fremantle left with a straight playoff for fourth and in Perth.
Sydney has all but bolted down the minor premiership for the first time since 1996 and only the eighth time in the club’s history; the Swans remain the team to catch.
Hawks, Cats to do it all again
Hawthorn’s triumph over Geelong guarantees the double chance and a home final, likely against Geelong, in a fortnight.
This was an odd game, with Geelong five goals ahead at half-time but overwhelmed from then. The Hawks, always explosive, kicked 10 consecutive goals in 33 minutes of football to blow the game away, but coach Al Clarkson acknowledged that even the Hawks could not afford to play only a half in the finals.
A high was the game-breaking performance of Will Langford in midfield, where he has previously been noted as a tagger. More recently, son-of-a-gun Langford is emerging as a serious on-baller.
Pies falling like flies
Collingwood clung to its chance of September action when it is quite plain that their injury list is already too long to compete with the big teams.
The Magpies spent Saturday night in the top eight after just getting over Greater Western Sydney Giants, despite Dane Swan and Clint Young going down with soft tissue injuries and tagger Brent Macaffer wrecking a knee.
Nathan Buckley rated it one of the club’s best wins all season. Ten points down at the last change and with fewer rotations to use, the Magpies found something to sneak home, with Josh Thomas instrumental in the turn-around.
But Collingwood will not play finals unless they can beat Hawthorn next weekend.
Encore for Cox?
Remarkably, 10th-placed West Coast has an excellent chance of playing finals, after doing what it needed to do against Melbourne, the competition’s roadkill recently.
The Eagles are only a game out of the top eight and will sneak in if they beat Gold Coast at Carrara next weekend and other results fall their way.
Dean Cox, the great ruckman, was chaired from the field after playing what was thought to be for the last time at Subiaco. The irony is that if the Eagles do sneak into the finals, and Fremantle slide from fourth to fifth, he will have another game to play at ‘Subi’ anyway.
Suns drop out of race
Gold Coast was the one team to drop out of the race, but only just. The Suns’ game against Essendon at the Docklands was one of the contests of the year, with Guy McKenna’s team throwing everything at the Bombers.
The Suns hit the front early in the final quarter and seemed headed for a huge upset. Then a few senior Bombers, headed by Michael Hurley, who swung forward, and Brendon Goddard exerted their influence.
The Bombers are a resilient bunch, continuing to play under the cloud of the ASADA investigation. “They’ve been dealt a hand that’s awful,” said coach Mark Thompson, who has his team in the finals for the first time since 2011.
Roos step up
North Melbourne staved off Adelaide in Hobart behind Jack Ziebell’s big four-goal game, and Andrew Swallow’s bulldozing in the middle. It was a topsy-turvy game for big stakes, and the lead changed six times.
North’s five last-quarter goals ensured the Roos can play next weekend in the knowledge that they will reach the finals.
Much criticised for flakiness, Brad Scott’s team will likely finish sixth with 14 wins, and that is an unequivocal step forward from last year.
Here is how the dramatic final week of the home-and-away series shapes up:
1. SYDNEY (v Richmond, Homebush)
Guaranteed of the double chance and a home final. Will finish on top for the first time since 1996 if it beats Richmond. If the Swans lose, will hold top spot ahead of Hawthorn provided the combined margin (Sydney’s defeat, Hawthorn’s win) is less than about 90 points. Likely qualifying final opponent is Fremantle.
2. HAWTHORN (v Collingwood, MCG)
Should finish second if it wins, but can reach top spot if Sydney loses and the combined margins are big enough to lift the percentage above Sydney’s. If it loses, Hawthorn can slide to third assuming that Geelong wins at home, but the qualifying final matchup would remain the same. Likely qualifying final opponent is Geelong.
3. GEELONG (v Brisbane, Kardinia Park)
Can only reach second with a win, and a Hawthorn defeat. An unlikely loss would see them slump to fourth if Fremantle beats Port Adelaide. Likely qualifying final opponent is Hawthorn, but a defeat at home could see them travelling to Sydney in week one of the finals.
4. FREMANTLE (v Port Adelaide, Subiaco)
Will hold fourth and play the top team with the double chance if it wins. Can also climb to third if the Lions shock Geelong. If the Dockers lose, they will slip to fifth, and host a knockout final v eighth team. Likely qualifying final opponent is Sydney.
5. PORT ADELAIDE (v Fremantle, Subiaco)
Will seize fourth place, with the double chance, if it wins. If it loses, will likely stay fifth and host a knockout final v eighth team. Likely elimination final opponent is West Coast, but it could be Richmond, Adelaide or Collingwood.
6. NORTH MELBOURNE (v Melbourne, Docklands)
Virtually guaranteed to finish sixth regardless of the result, although it is vaguely possible for them to jump a spot if they can blow out Melbourne. Likely elimination final opponent is Essendon.
7. ESSENDON (v Carlton, MCG)
Technically it is possible for the Bombers to miss the finals if they lose, but it would take a string of huge blowouts. Almost certainly they will finish seventh (if they beat Carlton) but they could slip to eighth (if they lose to Carlton) and Richmond defeats Sydney. Likely elimination final opponent is North Melbourne.
8. RICHMOND (v Sydney, Homebush)
Will play finals if it wins in Sydney, finishing either seventh or eighth. Theoretically could lose and still play finals, but would need Collingwood, Adelaide and West Coast all to lose as well. If it makes it, likely elimination final opponent is Port Adelaide, in Adelaide.
9. COLLINGWOOD (v Hawthorn MCG)
Must beat Hawthorn on Friday night to reach the finals. If the Magpies win that game, will watch and hope that Richmond loses to Sydney, in which case they would slip into eighth spot. However with a glut of injuries it seems improbable.
10. WEST COAST (v Gold Coast, Carrara)
Must defeat the Suns to have a chance of playing finals. If the Eagles get the money, they also need Richmond to lose in Sydney, and have to retain their percentage advantage over Adelaide. At the moment, this is just four percentage points. A huge chance of qualifying.
11. ADELAIDE (v St Kilda, Adelaide Oval)
Must beat St Kilda, and possibly by a big margin. The Crows would need Richmond, Collingwood and the Eagles all to lose. Still hanging in with a chance.
THE NEW DAILY’S LIKELY FINALS LINE-UPS
Qualifying final: Sydney (1) v Fremantle (4) at Homebush
Qualifying final: Hawthorn (2) v Geelong (3) at the MCG
Elimination final: Port Adelaide (5) v West Coast (8) at Adelaide Oval
Elimination final: North Melbourne (6) v Essendon (7) at the MCG