All of it comes right down to this.

After 22 rounds, the race for the finals is right down to 9 – however should you’re a Carlton or Western Bulldogs fan, you’re in for a nervous week.

However Spherical 22 wasn’t only a set-up for the insane finale that’s to return. From Derby drama, to Kysaiah Pickett’s left boot, to a Sydney masterclass at SCG, there are storylines in all places to make this September completely compelling, irrespective of who makes it.

So, for the second-last time this 12 months, let’s dive in!

1. Strap yourselves in for the most effective home-and-away finale ever

There has by no means been an ending to a season fairly like this.

Six groups vying for 4 top-four spots. One other two desperately hoping to squeeze into eighth. Hardly a lifeless rubber in between all of it.

It’s all going to be completely compelling.

The headline act, after all, is Sunday afternoon on the MCG. Even with post-COVID crowds, certainly 90,000 get there to see Carlton face Collingwood (if 60,000 can get to the ‘G for Richmond-Hawthorn, then that may find yourself a conservative determine).

The Blues simply want a win to scrape into eighth – perhaps even seventh, if Richmond have an surprising stumble towards Essendon on Saturday night time. For a facet that has spent 22 of 22 rounds contained in the eight, it might be a devastating blow to overlook September but once more. The stakes couldn’t be greater.

For Collingwood, the rewards are simply as bountiful. Having fallen to fifth with their loss to Sydney, they’re assured prime 4 if they’ll beat the Blues, with one of many Dees and Lions having to lose. Making issues worse, although, defeat would probably see them drop to sixth, and face a crunch elimination remaining towards an in-form Richmond – the toughest job for any facet in week one of many finals.

Remarkably, that may solely be the second most necessary sport of the weekend. The season is on the road for Brisbane and Melbourne on Friday night time on the Gabba: until different outcomes go haywire (and you may’t rule that out this season), then the distinction between victory and defeat may very well be as huge as second versus sixth.

Win, and it’s a assured qualifying remaining – second if Sydney lose or tank their share, third if not. Lose? Properly, it may very well be sixth if the Pies and Fremantle each get the job executed, which suggests… yep, these Tigers once more.

It’s fairly actually season on the road for 2 of the largest contenders all season lengthy.

Add to {that a} Showdown, with the Crows seeking to tie on premiership factors with an in-form Energy and greatest their rivals for the second time this season, and there’s the spice issue too. We noticed with the Derby this week how intense these cross-town battles will be – the Showdown traditionally brings with it an epic match as properly.

Sydney and Fremantle each simply must get the job executed on the street towards difficult opponents St Kilda and GWS. Neither desires to be this 12 months’s West Coast of 2019, and flush an amazing season down the bathroom with a final-round shocker. The strains are so tight {that a} loss for both of them, particularly the Swans, in all probability means bye-bye prime 4.

Then there’s Geelong, who get to have a coaching run in preparation for the finals with the minor premiership sewn up towards, drum roll please… West Coast. Yeah. That’ll be value watching, however solely to see if the Cats can rack up a cricket rating and smash some information so as to add to their dominant-looking season.

Remaining rounds often characteristic lifeless rubbers aplenty and groups going via the motions till finals. This one has all the things you can hope for.

It’s going to be EPIC.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues avoids a tackle by Brayden Maynard of the Magpies

(Picture by Quinn Rooney/Getty Pictures)

2. Time for Saints to swallow their delight with Max King

Following his wayward, essential 0.5 on Friday night time in St Kilda’s slim loss to Brisbane, Max King now has 47 targets and 41 behinds for the 2022 season.

Good on Brett Ratten for backing his coaches – most clearly Jarryd Roughead – to get the job executed in the long term, however the reality is that after 18 months’ value of repeat unhealthy circumstances of the yips, one thing has to provide.

“He received’t be seeing anybody outdoors the membership, he doesn’t must,” Ratten stated after the defeat, which formally put a line via the Saints’ finals hopes.

“We’ve received folks with the ability set to maintain working there. It’s not simply all in regards to the technical side, there’s a psychological side as properly.

“With goalkicking, it’s a closed ability and there’s completely different components to it. It’s not simply, we deliver somebody in and so they repair up the ball drop or one thing like that.”

Ratten is right that there are extra elements to goalkicking than simply fixing up method – however the strangest a part of all of it is that King himself is in little doubt as to the person he desires, or a minimum of needed, to assist him flip issues round.

Halfway via final 12 months, following a equally errant few nights in entrance of the massive sticks, King sought out Matthew Lloyd, his previous coach at Haileybury, eager on a session or two. However the Saints, both involved about him being injured away from the membership or simply plain reluctant to outsource the job, turned him down.

For what it’s value, Lloyd’s evaluation of the problems with King’s set pictures on The Sunday Footy Present is properly value a watch. The whole lot from the run-in, to the ball-drop, to the follow-through, isn’t working for the Saint, and Lloyd identifies and picks aside all of it with the data solely a former participant of his standing might present.

Think about what different, extra minute, issues a person who kicked 926 targets on the third-most correct charge of anybody with greater than 300 (behind Tony Lockett and Peter Hudson, for these taking part in at dwelling) might choose up with some shut one-on-one classes.

Even when, as Ratten steered, the issue is extra psychological than technical, then certainly Lloyd could be of assist. King, in any case, did have the assumption final 12 months that his previous mentor might assist out; the additional dose of perception he’d get strolling in to purpose having spent just a few weeks working with one of many sport’s best sharpshooters couldn’t damage issues.

It’s not like errant kicking can’t be mounted up, both. King solely wants to take a look at Aaron Naughton; who after beginning the 12 months with an 8.Eight file after 4 rounds after a 47.40 2021, has since improved to be 40.22 for the remainder of the season.

Because it stands, King may need price the Saints finals, and himself a Coleman Medal, together with his errant kicking. For his sake, the membership can’t stand in his means, and should let him do no matter it takes to unravel it.

There isn’t any disgrace in asking for outdoor assist; however there’s in refusing to handle completely one thing that’s clearly damaged.

Max King of the Saints celebrates a goal.

Max King of the Saints celebrates a purpose. (Picture by Michael Willson/AFL Photographs through Getty Pictures)

3. 2022’s worst dive have to be named and shamed

Rightly misplaced within the unbelievable end that was Melbourne’s win over Carlton was this from Mitch McGovern.

McGovern had an amazing match, and will Carlton find yourself making the finals, shall be an important asset for the Blues as an intercepting third tall. However this blatant stage off the softest of affection faucets from Jake Melksham is a horrendous search for him.

For starters, McGovern, pissed off at discovering contemporary air together with his tried spoil, grabs maintain of Melksham, presumably to try to eat some seconds off the clock. Aggravated, Melksham provides him a clip to get him off, and McGovern goes down as if somebody from Bay 13 had one way or the other smuggled a sniper rifle into the MCG.

Umpires have been seemingly militant on off-the-ball contact throughout this week, which is ok: Clayton Oliver received executed a number of occasions in the identical quarter for some ridiculously dumb stuff.

However gamers shouldn’t be searching for any excuse to go to floor; thank goodness the umpire wasn’t having a bar of McGovern’s antics.

There have been requires stagers to cop huge fines, and even get suspended. I’m nowhere close to as harsh on it as that, however there’s no denying stuff like that may be a horrendous search for the sport.

One of the best course may not be so as to add any additional punishment than the present gentle effective McGovern will certainly get, however as a substitute to verify Ethan Meldrum makes everybody that does it an prompt meme.

No stress, then.

4. Don’t sleep on the Swans’ stellar surge

Geelong and Collingwood have taken all of the headlines with their 11-game successful streaks – the Cats at the moment are as much as 12 – however matching them each in simply abut each respect of late has been Sydney.

Extremely slick with ball in hand, properly arrange with out it, and with weapons in all places you look, final 12 months’s ‘Cygnets’ are a pressure to be reckoned with this 12 months.

Aesthetically, they’re a delight to look at, which isn’t at all times a assure of facet however seemingly is in 2022. They appear to maneuver the ball rapidly and exactly from finish to finish, operating in crimson waves and delivering to their smorgasbord of ahead choices.

Then, if Lance Franklin, Logan McDonald, Sam Reid and Isaac Heeney don’t mark, out come Tom Papley, or Will Hayward, or Errol Gulden, or Heeney once more to make floor stage simply as harmful for the opposition.

Within the midfield, Luke Parker and Callum Mills have successfully made Josh Kennedy surplus to necessities this 12 months even when match; then on the skin, the scary pace of Chad Warner and the grunt work of James Rowbottom makes for a fearsome mixture. It’s each bit the equal of any facet within the competitors.

Defence was the problem with the Swans at their worst, however they’ve discovered a strategy to work collectively within the later phases of the 12 months. The important thing appears to be stress on the ball service, forcing excessive balls in that Paddy and Tom McCartin can learn within the air for intercepts reasonably than needing to fret a couple of charging opponent. Then, as soon as they win it again, Jake Lloyd and Nick Blakey’s elite kicking expertise make it tough to get it again off them.

Final 12 months, they have been a staff 99 on model, however with work to do on substance. Stuff like this from Dane Rampe proves they’ve received the latter in spades now.

Some previous canine have been taught new tips this 12 months; Sam Reid was a washed-up key ahead two months in the past, and now appears to be like a sprightly 25-year previous once more, roaming the bottom taking marks, dropping behind the ball when required and dealing as a more-than-capable pinch-hitting ruckman. Papley has break up his time between the midfield and ahead strains and misplaced none of his effectiveness; the Swans’ skill to persuade him to remain in late 2019 when he was seemingly destined for Carlton is the mark of a incredible membership.

Ryan Clarke is an incredible story of perseverance; introduced in from the blue in Spherical 15 towards St Kilda particularly to close down Jack Sinclair, he did such job that he made himself indispensable. Since then, he has nullified Bailey Dale, Jordan Dawson, Harry Himmelberg and now Nick Daicos, about whom you can say for just about the primary time all 12 months that he did pad his stats with kick-ins.

Collectively, all of them dismantled Collingwood on Sunday on the SCG, ending the Pies’ outstanding run, and within the course of placing themselves within the field seat for prime 4. Play their playing cards proper towards St Kilda subsequent week, and a house remaining is properly and really on the playing cards – it’ll be a battle of share between the Swans and whoever wins out of Brisbane and Melbourne for that coveted dwelling remaining.

That the Swans at the moment are equal for wins with their 2021 season with a sport to play is extra reflective of how top-notch final 12 months was; however there’s no query that this 12 months they’re even higher.

They’ve now knocked over 5 of the opposite sides within the prime seven this 12 months – Brisbane the one exception – and took care of the Dees and Fremantle on their dwelling turf.

There aren’t any ensures on this sport, however the Swans appear destined to win a premiership with this group – the one query is whether or not it’s as early as this 12 months.

Tom Papley of the Swans celebrates a goal.

Tom Papley of the Swans celebrates a purpose. (Picture by Michael Willson/AFL Photographs through Getty Pictures)

5. Cunnington returns to a brilliant North future

There aren’t any phrases to explain Ben Cunnington’s inspirational return on Saturday, after giving most cancers considered one of his well-known ‘don’t argues’.

However let that take a again seat for only one second. As a result of it was clear all day on the Adelaide Oval that the Kangaroos not depend on the veteran as closely as they’ve previously few seasons.

The underside fell out of North spectacularly when he suffered a sequence of accidents in 2020; then, in 2021, his career-best mid-season kind coincided with a Roos spike.

Issues have been powerful for the membership in Cunnington’s absence this 12 months, however out of the gloom have emerged two younger stars who’ve taken full management of the on-ball brigade: Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin.

Davies-Uniacke’s second half of the 12 months has been awe-inspiring; he very practically dragged the Roos kicking and screaming over the road towards Collingwood, has been superb to nice in just about each different match, and was gargantuan once more towards the Crows.

With 37 disposals, a purpose and 11 clearances, he’s principally taking part in the Cunnington function… with an additional yard of tempo and the physique of a Patrick Cripps or Marcus Bontempelli.

Simpkin is extra of an accumulator, however appears zippier across the contest than a Tom Mitchell, and works exhausting into house, significantly at half-back to provide his staff choices popping out of defence. He, too, had it 30 occasions, with 10 clearances.

Between the 2, that they had greater than half the Roos’ complete clearances, with nobody else managing greater than three. Yep, that was Cunnington.

With these two main from the entrance now, Cunnington was capable of take a again seat function and ease again into footy. Like Charlie Curnow in late 2021, he’ll certainly been higher in 2023 for this late run.

With Tom Powell and Will Phillips amongst these ready within the wings at North for extra midfield alternatives, the long run is brighter than the just about sure 2-20 season they’re about to finish. Cunnington could have a task to play – however no extra is he the be all and finish all.

6. The Bulldogs don’t should play finals

Whether or not the Bulldogs squeak into finals at Carlton’s expense or not, the soccer the reigning runners-up are taking part in in the mean time is just not worthy of September motion.

Most of my criticism of the Canine this 12 months has been primarily based on the various, many issues they’re doing barely worse than they have been of their outstanding run to the grand remaining final 12 months.

Within the final fortnight, although, they’ve been completely dismal. I noticed each minute of their win over GWS on Saturday and am nonetheless completely baffled as to how they emerged with the 4 factors they wanted to maintain their hopes of sliding into eighth alive.

Giving up 165 marks to a Giants outfit taking part in solely for delight, and lacking plenty of stars together with Toby Greene, was a humiliation. Contemporary off the heels of permitting Fremantle to rack up 140, the Bulldogs are both structurally flawed in how they arrange with out the ball, or not ready to work exhausting sufficient individually to fill areas.

With the ball, the Canine often panicked below minimal GWS stress, conceding dodgy handballs, operating themselves into bother and dumping panicky lengthy balls on the heads of their outmatched forwards, letting in Nick Haynes for intercept mark after intercept mark.

If that form of stuff isn’t reducing the mustard towards a bottom-four facet with a second-string 22, it’s going to be even uglier towards an truly good staff.

Distinction that to Carlton, who towards all the percentages, have been magnificent in practically pulling off considered one of their best wins in 20 years towards Melbourne. With equally excessive stakes, the undermanned Blues’ midfield fought and scrapped and nearly matched it with the Demons’ star-studded on ball brigade, and have been one dodgy remaining minute away from sealing their spot in September.

If the Canine find yourself in eighth, certainly nothing apart from a thrashing – by the hands of just about definitely Fremantle once more – will are available in week one of many finals. In distinction, Carlton would a minimum of ask a critical query of whoever results in fifth.

However you don’t at all times get what you’ve earned in footy – the Canine in all probability deserved a top-four spot final 12 months, but have been pressured to do it the exhausting means from fifth. In sport, luck tends to even out over time. With all roads resulting in Sunday afternoon, will Luke Beveridge’s staff have the chips fall their means?

Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs celebrates a goal.

(Picture by Dylan Burns/AFL Photographs through Getty Pictures)

Random ideas

– Selecting Stefan Martin at 1,000,000 years previous after which solely taking part in him for 59 per cent sport time is perhaps Luke Beveridge’s most Bevo choice transfer ever.

– Talking of ruckmen, huge Sean Darcy is one respectable pre-season away from being the most effective huge man within the sport.

– Can’t wait to see Cam Rayner this finals sequence. Man is about three millimetres away from correctly breaking out.

– Wrote just a few weeks in the past that Port’s Jeremy Finlayson-Charlie Dixon ruck name would chew them within the arse. I’ve received to place my hand up and say that I received that horrendously improper.

– Whoever will get Tom Lynch within the elimination remaining goes to have a night. He appears to be like nigh on unstoppable if he will get going.

– Alwyn Davey Jr appears to be like a ripper. Take pleasure in, Bombers followers.

By 24H

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