So here we are, two games each to go in a season squeezed within an inch of its life but very much still alive.
The AFL’s newfound power to schedule its fixture on the fly hasn’t always worked out the way it may have liked, but one way or another we have ended up with a pretty tasty run in to the finals, with a number of clubs having plenty to play for.
After Brisbane and Gold Coast do their Q-Clash thing tonight, all teams will have played 15 games and will know the lay of the land ahead of their final two.
Basically everything that is worth anything on the AFL ladder is still to be decided — top two, top four, top eight, the lot — and a few key games will go most of the way to determining how things shake out after round 18.
Clear your schedules for these ones. They could go a long way to deciding who wins the 2020 premiership.
St Kilda v West Coast — Thursday, September 10
The first game of round 16 is a huge one for two teams that, only a few weeks ago, were both looking pretty good for a top-four finish.
Now the Saints’ hold on a finals spot is somewhat precarious, while the Eagles seem to be set for a fifth or sixth-place finish and the home elimination final that would bring. But the fortunes of either team could begin to swing with a win in this one.
A West Coast win would put the Eagles right back in the top-four mix again, albeit relying on other results to go their way, with only a seemingly favourable round 18 game against North Melbourne to come.
St Kilda would all but ensure a finals spot with a win and could even leave itself with an outside top four chance. More realistically, it would be a decent scalp for a Saints side desperate to rediscover the momentum that had built earlier in its breakthrough season.
Both teams are coming off four-day breaks, but the game probably comes at a better time for the Saints, who will likely welcome back Max King and Tim Membrey and could recall Jake Carlisle. The Eagles, meanwhile, will be without Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden, Dom Sheed and Mark Hutchings in midfield alone.
Geelong v Richmond — Friday, September 11
Grand final preview? We’ve had a few of those already in the past month or so, but it’s not hard to imagine the Cats and Tigers lining up on that sticky Brisbane night in October.
The stakes are high for both teams, with Geelong harbouring hopes of a top-two spot or even a minor premiership if Port slips up, while Richmond’s recent move into the top four could yet come undone.
At the very least, a Geelong win confirms a top-four finish for the Cats. A Richmond win basically does the same for the Tigers, considering their last game is against the admittedly in form — well, you know — Adelaide Crows.
If nothing else, this should be a damn good game between two good teams with contrasting styles. A lovely little pre-finals taste test.
GWS v Melbourne — Saturday, September 12
Loser won’t play finals, simple as that.
Well, there is probably a mathematical way that the loser of this game could still make the eight, but it’s unlikely and way more fun to treat this as a good old-fashioned, do-or-die eight-pointer.
The Giants currently sit in eighth place on 32 points, but are in atrocious form. The Demons are only a game behind them in 10th on 28 points, but are in atrocious form.
Now, that may not sound particularly appetising on paper, but with the stakes as high as they are and the generally unpredictable nature of this season, this should be a game worth watching.
Melbourne has generally played its best footy as an underdog, and on their day there is no team the Giants can’t knock off. It could be the mother of all fizzers, or it could be a sneaky little Saturday night classic.
Brisbane v Carlton — Saturday, September 19
Fast-forwarding a week to round 18, there ought to be a fair bit on the line for both the Lions and Blues at this point.
We’re making some assumptions here, but provided Brisbane accounts for the Suns and Swans (certainly no guarantee) and Carlton beats Adelaide (more likely) then top two and the finals will be in play respectively.
The Lions are one of the few teams for which a top-two finish would actually be really important, as getting a home final actually means playing a final at home. In the Lions’ hands could be the chance to set up at the Gabba until the cup is lifted, which is a fair carrot indeed.
For Carlton, the lure of making finals speaks for itself. It would be a momentous milestone for the club, and if it is even a possibility going into that final home and away game, the occasion would be significant.
Collingwood v Port Adelaide — Monday, September 21
The final game of the home and away season could see the Pies playing for a finals spot and the Power looking to secure the minor premiership.
Port has been remarkably consistent all season and has been good value for that top spot, but the Lions and Cats are lurking in anticipation of a slip-up, the latter with a percentage that could make your head spin.
On the other hand, Collingwood has generally been all over the place but remains in a good position to make a top-eight spot its own. The congestion in the middle of the ladder, though, means this game could become a must-win, should results not fall the Pies’ way.
There’s a lot to play out before we get to this one, but just keep it pencilled in your diary. Depending on your feelings toward Collingwood, this looms as potential cause for great celebration or even greater schadenfreude.