Six AFL finals-deciding matches


Six of the AFL round 23 matches will have a direct bearing on who qualifies for the finals and which team snares fourth spot and the resultant double chance.

In order of importance and interest, they are:

Sydney v Richmond at ANZ Stadium, Saturday, 4.40pm

In the space of two months, Richmond have gone all the way from rubbish to rampaging. Riding an eight-game winning streak – the best since their most recent premiership year of 1980 – the Tigers will seal the most unlikely of finals berths if they can beat Sydney. But it’s a pretty big if. Buddy Franklin has the Coleman Medal in the bag and is even being spoken of as a Brownlow Medal smokey. The Swans’ midfield is as potent as ever and they boast the stingiest defence in the competition. But Richmond have momentum to burn and will welcome back explosive midfielder-forward Dustin Martin. Playing at the spacious ANZ Stadium rather than the confined SCG could also play into the Tigers’ hands.

Fremantle v Port Adelaide at Patersons Stadium, Saturday, 3.10pm AEST

Although both teams secured a spot in the finals several weeks ago, the prize here is arguably even bigger. It’s fiendishly difficult to win a flag without the benefit of the double chance – and the winner of this one will lock down fourth spot. Home-ground advantage will favour the Dockers who will welcome back Matthew Pavlich after the skipper sat out the round 22 win over Brisbane with a sore quad. But the Power will travel without fear, having continued to impress under coach Ken Hinkley.

Gold Coast v West Coast at Metricon Stadium, Sunday, 1.10pm

The Suns have fallen all the way out of finals contention since losing skipper Gary Ablett to a shoulder injury in July. Boasting an identical 10-11 win-loss record, the Eagles only remain in the hunt for September action by virtue of a percentage of 114.7 – easily the best of those teams still fighting for eighth spot. If Richmond have beaten Sydney a day earlier, the Eagles will have nothing much to play for. But if the Swans get up, it’s very much game on.

Adelaide v St Kilda at Adelaide Oval, Sunday 3.20pm AEST

Having come up short in “must-win” matches against Richmond and North Melbourne in the past two weeks, it’s remarkable that the disappointing Crows are still in the finals race. But if other results fall their way, Brenton Sanderson’s men will take to the field at Adelaide Oval on Sunday knowing exactly what they have to do to sneak into eighth place. Opponents St Kilda are almost certain to finish last and earn the top pick in the national draft.

Hawthorn v Collingwood at the MCG, Friday, 7.50pm

When the draw was released last year, the AFL and broadcasters would have pencilled this one in as a prime-time ratings bonanza between two premiership contenders in front of a massive crowd. The second-placed Hawks have held up their end of the bargain, but the Magpies are teetering on the edge of finals elimination. Collingwood have been in ordinary form for several weeks now and have been hammered by a string of season-ending injuries to a host of their very best players including Travis Cloke, Dane Swan, Ben Reid and Dayne Beams. Even if the Magpies can somehow conjure a victory against all odds, it still probably won’t be enough to extend their string of finals appearances to nine straight years.

Carlton v Essendon at the MCG, Saturday, 1.45pm

It would take a stunning combination of results in other matches to see seventh-placed Essendon pitched out of the top eight, even if they lost this one against arch-rivals Carlton. But the Blues would still love nothing better than to end a very ordinary 2014 campaign on a high with victory against the Bombers. A last-start 103-point hammering at the hands of Port Adelaide suggest this is very unlikely.