The AFL top eight was locked in, finished, confirmed. September travel plans could be booked. No one was meant to crash the party.
Nor was anyone supposed to leave it.
But North Melbourne’s five consecutive losses have thrown what we thought to be a set-in-stone top eight into doubt. Perhaps the Kangas may miss out.
Port Adelaide, who scored an impressive road win against the Roos at the weekend, could be the beneficiaries, but St Kilda also put their hand up.
Those clubs are next in line in terms of ladder position, both on eight wins, but Melbourne or Collingwood may have what it takes to shake things up.
Instinct in these situations would suggest North’s two-game buffer is cause not to overreact.
But if you take a look at their draw (see the North write-up below) that reaction is instantly forgotten. Eighth is very much up for grabs.
So who will rise to the opportunity?
Port Adelaide haven’t been perfect this year, dropping games to teams a finals aspirant shouldn’t lose to. However, taking out two particular shockers, their past three months of footy really hasn’t been too far off the pace.
The likes of Robbie Gray, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak are playing consistent, good footy. Chad Wingard impressed against the Roos. These are the names that are going to drive a finals push.
The Power, it would seem, are well placed to become gatecrashers.
No change // Ladder: 2nd (12W, 4L)
That’s now eight wins in a row and all by more than 20 points. The question is how long it can continue. Next week’s opponent, Geelong, aren’t bringing enough to the table right now to warrant the tip, even if it is at Simonds Stadium. After that, a fairly light run awaits, with Essendon, Brisbane and Fremantle in consecutive weeks.
+4 // Ladder: 1st (13W, 3L)
Some would have liked to see the Hawks up this high earlier, but when you look at the current form of the teams they’ve beaten during their win streak, it’s clear the last two weeks were the most impressive and noteworthy. Match winners came to the fore against the Swans.
-1 // Ladder: 5th (11W, 5L)
You can’t take too much away from Sydney for that performance, though it’s probably fair they vacate the top two after two home losses in the space of three weeks.
No change // Ladder: 4th (11W, 5L)
The Giants joined the list of teams to have handed the Brisbane Lions an embarrassing loss this season, which also means they’ve now knocked off each of the bottom three sides interstate. Their only other genuine interstate win (we’ll remove Canberra from this discussion) was against St Kilda. Port Adelaide next week could be credential-enhancing.
-2 // Ladder: 6th (11W, 5L)
Another unconvincing display interstate for the Eagles, this time against Carlton. Starting to seem like a home final will be a requirement for this team if they are to have an impact in September.
-1 // Ladder: 3rd (12W, 4L)
The Dogs have the second-lowest percentage out of the top seven (Hawthorn have the lowest), so they may feel some disappointment they weren’t able to kick away further in the second half against Gold Coast. For now, the win-loss record keeps them third on the ladder.
No change // Ladder: 7th (11W, 5L)
Take out Patrick Dangerfield and Fremantle would’ve been pretty well placed to knock off the Cats at the weekend. Current form doesn’t paint a great picture for Geelong and it seems likely the Crows will make them pay.
No change // Ladder: 9th (8W, 8L)
Port finally have a top-eight scalp, so we can move on from that discussion, at least temporarily. GWS visit Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
No change // Ladder: 12th (7W, 9L)
The Pies had a loss but suddenly we can’t discount them from the top eight discussion. A win over North Melbourne on Friday would add plenty of spice to the race for eighth spot.
No change // Ladder: 8th (10W, 6L)
Don’t look at the draw if you’re a North fan. Collingwood and St Kilda await in the next fortnight, but that’s just the light part of their run home. It’s Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn, Sydney and GWS after that.
No change // Ladder: 11th (7W, 9L)
Poor records against St Kilda and at Etihad Stadium continued. That’s now 14 losses in a row against the Saints. They’re 1-24 in their last 25 matches at Etihad.
+2 // Ladder: 10th (8W, 8L)
On a weekend when eighth spot started to look as available as it’s been in months, the Saints not only moved a game closer, but also put away a fellow Bradbury candidate. They don’t travel outside Melbourne for the rest of the home-and-away season, which may help their cause.
-1 // Ladder: 13th (7W, 9L)
“Three votes, Richmond, D Martin.” Perhaps the most exciting thing about Richmond’s season from here out will be how often those words are said on Brownlow night. He’d have to be in with a chance, surely?
-1 // Ladder: 14th (6W, 10L)
The Blues came back hard late against West Coast and showed some positive signs. Sam Docherty was impressive, with 32 disposals at 94 per cent efficiency.
+1 // Ladder: 16th (3W, 13L)
The Dockers this year are a little better than their win-loss record has let on, so seeing them push the Cats wasn’t surprising. We just don’t always see that form carried over to winnable games. A trip to the Gold Coast this week is a chance for that to happen.
-1 // Ladder: 15th (5W, 11L)
The Suns have bounced back from their worst but still aren’t that great. They had 126 fewer disposals than the Western Bulldogs in Cairns. Tough to get anywhere near victory with that stat.
No change // Ladder: 17th (1W, 15L)
The biggest gap between teams in these rankings is between 16th and 17th. The bottom two are just on an island of their own. As for the Lions, a disappointing record low Gabba crowd sadly illustrated where they’re at.
No change // Ladder: 18th (1W, 15L)
Mighty unlucky not to leapfrog the Lions, the Bombers gave Richmond a run for their money. That said, the ultimate proving ground will be Sunday at Etihad Stadium. Which of the cellar dwellars will prevail? Will it be a draw?