With Collingwood and West Coast in the top four, the tantalising prospect of an AFL grand final re-match in September remains well and truly alive. And thanks to an assessment of which clubs have the hardest or easiest fixtures over the closing six rounds, the two clubs appear likely to secure the double chance in the finals.
In the run home the Magpies and Eagles will not clash with fellow top-four teams Geelong or Brisbane Lions. Given West Coast only have two matches to go against teams in the top eight – coupled with two games against bottom-four teams – the reigning premiers are deemed to have the third-easiest draw for the final segment of the season.
Which club has the easiest run for the final six rounds? The Champion Data numbers say that distinction falls with St Kilda – hardly any solace to their recently departed coach Alan Richardson. The Saints confront only one top-eight team – seventh-placed Adelaide – during caretaker coach Brett Rattens six-week chance to again prove his wares.
The Champion Data formula to generate the easiest-to-hardest list is multi-layered but takes into account how the opposition is faring, the location of each match (home versus interstate) and how many days break between matches. The higher the score (+5.8 for example), the harder the draw.
Ranking: -5.8 (the easiest draw)
St Kilda have just come off a tough stretch that included Brisbane Lions, Richmond, a resurgent North Melbourne and Geelong at the Cats' fortress down the highway. Unsurprisingly, the Saints have had a 1-5 run since they set off for China and a clash with Port Adelaide. The mid-season stretch of matches sealed Richardson's fate. What will be a break-even result for Ratten? Maybe 3-3. Even though St Kilda's draw is considered the best, the clashes against the teams around the same spot on the ladder – Melbourne, Fremantle, Sydney – will be tough.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Ranking: -4.2 (second)
Most of GWS' opponents (five of six) are outside the top eight, so the Giants could yet push into the top four. But the solitary clash against a top-four outfit comes this week when GWS host Collingwood. There's a decent ray of sunshine in the final round when GWS clash with fellow expansion outfit, lowly Gold Coast. With a percentage of 121.1, don't expect a late-season collapse that will lead to the Giants missing finals.
Ranking: -3.5 (third)
Don't breathe that easy, Collingwood fans. There are four games to come against top eight teams – GWS, Richmond, Adelaide and Essendon (round 23). It just shows how important last Friday night's huge upset against West Coast was. But with matches against Gold Coast and battling Melbourne and the Magpies can still aim for a top-two finish.
Ranking: -3.3 (fourth)
There are potential hurdles aplenty – namely the home clash against Adelaide (round 21), a tricky clash with Carlton at Marvel Stadium one week earlier and Richmond on the road (in round 22). Fortunately, they finish their season at their Optus Stadium against Hawthorn in the final round. But a top-four finish, let alone the right to host a final in week one of the post-season, is far from secure as Richmond loom as the biggest threat to snatch their spot.
Ranking: -2.6 (fifth)
Essendon have four matches against teams below them – Gold Coast, Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs and Fremantle. The most pivotal match will probably be the round 23 return match against Collingwood. The Dons might still lament a missed opportunity against the Magpies on Anzac Day so forfeiting eight points in the same season to their fierce rival will be a horrible outcome. Last weekend's narrow win over the Kangas was an "eight-point game". The same description could be applied to Adelaide on Friday night.
Ranking: -2.2 (sixth)
Things could get dicey for Adelaide, who are in the top eight with a 9-7 record, alongside Greater Western Sydney and Essendon. The Crows clash with Collingwood and West Coast in the final three rounds, with the round 21 match at Perth's Optus Stadium an especially tough assignment. Then there's the road trip to the MCG in round 19 and a date with Carlton. The possibilities are endless.
Ranking: -1.7 (seventh)
This looks like a great draw but, then again, everything looks rosy when you're on top of the perch with a 13-3 record. Geelong only have one match against a club in the top eight – the third-placed Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in round 22. There are also games against Hawthorn, Sydney, Fremantle, Carlton. Really it's surprising that Geelong haven't been ranked better.
Ranking: -1.3 (eighth)
Most games (four out of six) are against teams outside of the top eight, including a fill-up-your-boots match against Gold Coast in round 21. The vastly improved Lions finish their home-and-away campaign with matches against Geelong and Richmond which, depending on your outlook, are either huge threats or perfect opportunities against hardened-opponents on the eve of the finals.
Ranking: -0.3 (ninth)
There's four games against top-eight teams but then there's two matches against fellow bottom-four outfits. Having banked four wins (three under caretaker coach David Teague) there's scope for the Blues to finish with a flourish. This week's match against Gold Coast is the chance to build on momentum. Then there's games against West Coast, Richmond and Geelong. Ouch.
Ranking: +0.7 (10th)
An annus horribilis indeed for the Demons. They will still play West Coast (this weekend), Richmond and Collingwood. That's pretty tough. And the games against St Kilda, Sydney and North Melbourne could all be dropped. Carlton might find a way to finish above last year's preliminary finalists.
Ranking: +1.0 (11th)
All their matches wiRead More – Source