WITH round 16 now in the books we have a clear premiership favourite, a new genuine contender and a preliminary finalist from last year making a late charge to force their way back into the eight.
The Hawks put on a master-class against the Swans, the Eagles inserted themselves into the premiership frame while the Cats, Kangaroos and Giants kept their finals aspirations alive with spirited wins.
Let’s take a look at how it all played out and how the matches affected the all-important betting markets.
Round 16 review – a finals picture begins to take shape
The round kicked off on Friday night with North Melbourne hosting Essendon at Etihad Stadium, with the Roos outlasting a plucky Dons outfit to win by 25 points.
Both teams looked subdued in the opening quarter with just three goals between the two sides, but it was the Bombers who took control in the second quarter, kicking five majors to lead the match by nine points at half time.
From then on the Kangaroos asserted their dominance, led by their ruckman Todd Goldstein who was dominant against a helpless Essendon ruck brigade.
Goldstein is clearly the best big man in the competition right now, and has been wound in by WilliamHill.com to be third favourite for the Brownlow medal at $13.
The Roo ruckman’s output has been at a consistently high level throughout the entire season, and looks an enticing prospect at $7 with WilliamHill to be the highest vote collator in the market that doesn’t include Brownlow favourite Nate Fyfe.
The win also places the Roos right back into finals contention, with WilliamHill now placing the Roos as short as $1.35 to make a late season charge for the top eight.
With a smooth run over the next five weeks which sees North playing no teams inside the top eight, it is not inconceivable to see the Kangaroos chalk up seven on the trot.
Saturday saw the Cats keep their slim September hopes alive with a stirring eight point win over fellow finals aspirants the Western Bulldogs at Simmons Stadium.
Geelong led from start to finish, but the fact the Cats maintained a lead throughout the duration of the match belied a terrific contest in which the match was not decided up until the final siren.
Mitch Duncan was brilliant in his return from a foot injury and had an immediate impact, which alleviated a lot of the pressure that came with the loss of captain Joel Selwood to suspension.
The win places the Cats outside the top eight, but with an inferior percentage to the teams currently above them winning games now becomes imperative as making up percentage points late in the season is a futile exercise.
Geelong plays GWS this week in what will be a vitally important game for both sides. A loss to either side just about spells the end of their finals campaigns.
Sportsbet has Geelong at $2.50 and GWS at $2.35 to play finals in 2015.
The only game in Melbourne on Saturday saw the Eagles win the battle of the birds with the Magpies, prevailing by 31 points at Etihad Stadium.
West Coast were in control for the majority of the match, with the loss of Travis Cloke to a calf injury midway through the first quarter leaving the Magpies with no genuine match-winner in the forward half.
The win was the first for the Eagles since 2003 against Collingwood in Melbourne, overcoming another hurdle and continuing to answer all the questions the critics have levelled at the Western Australians.
The Eagles are now fourth favourites for the flag with Sportsbet, with the $6.50 quote on the second placed West Coast the shortest they have been all year.
The loss now places great pressure on Collingwood to secure a finals berth, with the Pies slipping outside the top eight, compound that with the loss of Travis Cloke for potentially a month, the prospect of playing finals looks grimmer by the round.
The $2.35 on Collingwood to miss the finals by Sportsbet is something every serious punter should look at, as the Pies are no lock to make the eight this season.
Saturday night saw a changing of the guard at the top of the table, with the Hawks absolutely dismantling crushing the Swans by 89 points at ANZ Stadium.
The Hawks kept the Swans goalless in the opening term while piling on six goals of their own, completely putting the home side on the back foot and allowing Hawthorn to assert their dominance for the rest of the match.
The Swans were absolutely exposed up forward, with Lance Franklin the only multiple goal kicker with three majors.
The rest of the remaining four Swan goals came from midfielders.
The win places Hawthorn as $2.35 favourites for the flag with Sportsbet – the shortest any team has been this year – and puts the Swans at $5.50.
Important Fremantle small forward Hayden Ballantyne could potentially miss the remainder of the AFL season with a pectoral injury sustained in Saturday night’s big win over Carlton.
Ballanyne will miss at least eight to ten weeks of football, with the Dockers facing a big decision if they progress deep into this year’s finals series as to whether they would risk taking in the small forward given he will have missed a big chunk of the season.
Collingwood forward Travis Cloke will miss at best two weeks after sustaining a calf injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to the Eagles.
The Magpie full forward limped off the ground and did not return, but with scans revealing it is only a straight forward tear, the important Pie may only miss two to three weeks rather than spending an extended stint on the sidelines.
The Sydney Swans are expected to be without Kurt Tippett for at least a month after scans revealed the forward broke his hand in Saturday night’s loss to the Hawks.
Tippett had a plate inserted into his hand on Monday and will likely return with a protective glove once he makes his way back onto the field.