JUST when you think you can predict some of the outcomes of AFL football, some unlikely results get thrown your way to remind you how fickle the game is – and that is precisely what happened over the past weekend.
The Power – who seemingly had nothing to play for – shocked the Hawks on Friday night with a stirring display, while the Saints and the Cats played out a draw.
The Swans also ended the Giants chance of a maiden finals berth with a host of stars missing, significantly boosting their top-four chances in the process.
Plenty to get through in this round’s recap, so let’s take a look at the matches that mattered.
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The round began on Friday night with the Power stunning the Hawks at Etihad Stadium, upsetting the premiership favourites by 22 points.
Other than the opening point kicked by Hawk Jack Gunstan, the visiting Power led for the entirety of the night and looked in complete control in the final term, kicking five goals to two.
Port Adelaide were led brilliantly by talismanic midfielder Robbie Gray, who ended the game with 34-disposals, while Chad Wingard was unstoppable up forward, kicking four goals.
The loss was a savage blow to Hawthorn’s top-two chances, with the Hawks now six points adrift of the second placed West Coast.
Despite having a favourable run home which sees them hosting both the Lions and the Blues in the final two rounds, it is unlikely they will be able to go past the Eagles.
The Eagles would only have to win one of their remaining two games – away this week against the Crows and home in the final round the Saints – to maintain second position ahead of the Hawks.
The Hawks will also have to do it without their inspirational skipper Luke Hodge, who was suspended for two weeks for a head-high hit on Port’s Chad Wingard.
Saturday in Sydney saw the Swans all but lock down their position in the top-four, ending the finals aspirations of cross-town rivals GWS in the process with a comprehensive 89-point victory at Spotless Stadium.
It loomed as a danger game for the Swans, who had host of big names out including Luke Parker, Tom Mitchell, Lance Franklin and Gary Rohan.
The fears of a lacklustre display were allayed early in the game, however, when Sydney limited their opponents to just three goals while kicking seven of their own.
If Kurt Tippett was feeling the weight of expectation without Lance Franklin in the team he did not show it, with a dominant display up forward and in the ruck, kicking five goals and amassing 20 hitouts.
With a run home that includes matches against St Kilda and the Gold Coast – both of which the Swans will go into as overwhelming favourites – a top-four finish seems to be within their grasp.
The Swans are at $1.20 with William Hill to retain their place inside the top-four.
Saturday night saw one of the most pulsating matches of the season, with the Saints and the Cats playing out a thrilling draw at Etihad Stadium, severely denting the Geelong finals push in the process.
The Saints skipped out to a five-goal lead early in the game, shocking the Cats with a fierce brand of football that they were not anticipating.
Geelong was able to fight back in the second quarter to take a one-point advantage into the second half.
The second half looked like it could break open at any moment, with the Cats looking to secure their spot in the finals and the Saints merely playing for pride.
It looked like it would be a walkover in the second half when the Cats took a seven advantage into the final term.
A stunning Saints fight back eventuated in the final quarter, leading by a goal for the majority of the match until the Cats surpassed their total with some Steven Motlop magic.
The Cats were unable to maintain their slender advantage though with a rushed behind late in the game tying the scores up, where they stayed.
With the Crows being the incumbent holders of eighth position, six points clear of the Cats, percentage is irrelevant – the Cats have to win their remaining two games and hope the Crows lose.
It makes Friday’s game against Collingwood that much more important for the Cats, who will be hoping for a win and praying that the travelling West Coast can defeat the Crows at Adelaide Oval.
If that scenario eventuates it sets up a fascinating final round show down between the Cats and the Crows at Simonds Stadium for the final spot in the eight – it will all be on the line.
Given how poorly Collingwood played last week and how well the Eagles played, it is a very real possibility that will eventuate and the round 23 clash will be a live match for eighth position – a game in which Geelong would have to go in as favourites.
The final match of the round saw the Eagles making an emphatic statement, smashing the Western Bulldogs by 77-points at Domain Stadium.
Despite a brilliant five goal performance from young gun Jake Stringer up forward for the Dogs, the Eagles had all the answers, kicking 25 goals for the match.
The game marked the return of ruckman Nic Naitanui – who missed the previous fortnight of football through bereavement leave – who was simply outstanding, amassing 48-hitouts on his way to a best on ground performance.
The win places the Eagles into outright second in the premiership betting, with William Hill offering $3.75 for the team that failed to make the finals last season to win the 2015 premiership.
The loss all but ends the Dogs hopes of a fairy-tale top-four finish, with their previously healthy percentage taking a savage hit in the process.
With two tough games against the in-form North Melbourne Kangaroos and a final round match up against the Lions at the GABBA, it will be hard for the Dogs to win both games in the run home.
The Dogs would have to win both and rely on the Swans to lose to either the Saints or the Suns, something that in unlikely to happen.
The Dogs have blown out to $12 outsiders with Crownbet to force their way back into the top-four.
Bad news for the Dogs out of the loss to the Eagles on the injury front with veteran defender Dale Morris subbed out of the game at three-quarter time with achilles tightness.
The Dogs are hopeful Morris will be able to take to the field in the vital match up against North Melbourne, but it is likely the former All-Australian will miss at least one week.
The injury Morris suffered is the same one that kept Docker skipper Matthew Pavlich out of Sunday’s loss to the Kangaroos, and he is no certainty to play in round 22.
Pavlich will be given right up until the teams are announced to prove his fitness.
In better news for the Sydney Swans, superstar forward Lance Franklin should be given the all clear to play this weekend after taking an additional week off after suffering back tightness.
The Swan has missed the last three weeks with the injury, but was given last week off as a precaution rather than a hindering affliction to make sure he is fully fit for the finals.
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