High-flying Hawks on shaky AFL ground

The AFL’s chasing pack has smelled blood and they’re coming.

Sides are lining up to replace Hawthorn on top of the ladder after the three-time reigning premiers were humbled by Melbourne on Saturday.

The next four clubs – Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong and Greater Western Sydney – each recorded their 14th win of the season at the weekend as the finals race explodes.

As it stands, every prize remains up for grabs – the minor premiership, the home qualifying final and the double chance of finishing in the top four.

The Western Bulldogs, a win further back, aren’t out of the equation, either, after their defeat of North Melbourne.

The Hawks are a game clear on top but have the worst percentage in the top five, meaning another loss will send them south.

The second-placed Swans are best poised to pounce after a 67-point win over Port Adelaide.

Midfielder Luke Parker said Sydney’s rise had everything to do with their depth.

“If I’m having a bit of off game then Hanners (Dan Hannebery) and Joey (Kennedy) and Kieren Jack will stand up,” he said.

“If they’re having an off game then blokes like Tommy Mitchell and even the young boys pick up the slack.

“It’s comforting to know that I can play with my confidence but knowing if I’m off then someone else can do the work.”

The Swans will only get stronger with the return of key man Kurt Tippett, who Parker had slated for a for a round 22 return.

“Last week he was doing some pretty heavy running load and running a pretty good pace,” Parker told the Nine Network.

“Hopefully he gets two games under his belt and he’s right to slot straight back in for finals and be back to his best.”

The Giants survived a scare against lowly Gold Coast, winning by eight at Metricon Stadium, while Hawthorn’s other rivals did it easily.

Geelong eased to a 66-point win over bottom side Essendon on Sunday, while Adelaide boosted their percentage with a 138-point mauling of Brisbane Lions.

Crows coach Don Pyke called it a professional showing. In truth, it was terrifying.

The league’s best scorers look unstoppable on their day and only play sides below them in a soft run-in.

At the bottom end of the top eight, North Melbourne missed a good chance to lock up a slice of September action by losing to the Bulldogs by 14 points.

With matches against Hawthorn, GWS and Sydney to come, the unthinkable is still a possibility for Brad Scott’s side, which started with nine straight wins.

Three sides could yet replace North in the finals series.

St Kilda, which belted Carlton by 71 points on Sunday, Port Adelaide and Melbourne.

The Power and Demons meet next Saturday night in a clash that will end one of their hopes for 2016.

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