Eagles soar as AFL finals race gets tight

The potential list of AFL finalists has shortened to nine but their order is anyone’s guess after a tumultuous round.

League leaders Fremantle and flag favourites Hawthorn both lost, while West Coast remain in the hunt for a most unlikely minor premiership after another thumping win.

Welcome to the closest AFL season in years.

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott said on Saturday that this could be the season a side from outside the top four finally salutes.

On Sunday his side showed why that could be the case with an 11-point victory over the Dockers.

Just three wins separate Fremantle and the seventh-placed Kangaroos and after their seventh-straight win, Scott gave an insight into the club’s growing ambition.

“I’m still confident we’ll get better,” he said.

“We’ve come up against a really good opponent and prevailed, so that gives us some confidence and self-belief.”

Coach Ross Lyon took the blame for Fremantle’s loss, their second in as many weeks, saying improvement was needed if they are to win the club’s first flag.

“The buck stops with me – we should be playing with composure when we need it, so I’m happy to take the hit,” he said.

“But failure is feedback – we need to get better.”

The Eagles continued their charge to September with a 77-point humbling of the Western Bulldogs.

Adam Simpson’s side can lock in a top-two finish with victory against Adelaide next weekend, who themselves are on song.

Taylor Walker kicked seven goals in a 87-point demolition of Brisbane, the Crows fifth win from six matches.

While Hawthorn were humbled by Port Adelaide on Friday night, the team just below them on the ladder were convincing winners.

Sydney powered to another derby victory and ended the Giants’ finals aspirations with an 89-point thumping and Richmond cut off Collingwood’s September dreams with a runaway 91-point win.

With just two rounds remaining, Geelong are the only team outside the eight with their September ambitions still alive, and those are fading fast after they drew with an inspired St Kilda side on Saturday night.

While the Cats host eighth-placed Adelaide in the final round, it will be a dead rubber unless the Crows stumble when they host West Coast in a marquee match next Sunday.

Geelong coach Chris Scott said the two points for the draw could still prove pivotal.

“Adelaide winning by so much tonight means that the percentage was always going to be very, very difficult if not impossible to catch,” he said.

“The plan for us in the next fortnight really is exactly as it was for us pre-game: do everything we can to win those two games and hope everything falls our way.”

At the bottom end of the ladder, Carlton survived a tepid Melbourne comeback to run out 23-point winners and seemingly spare themselves the indignity of finishing last.

The post-James Hird era began at Essendon with a more spirited showing but a tight 2-point defeat on the Gold Coast.

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