They say winners are grinners, but the reward of losing could prove hard to resist when Essendon and Fremantle lock horns in Saturday night’s AFP wooden-spoon showdown at Domain Stadium.
The Dockers sit in last spot on the table following their disastrous 0-10 start to the season, while Essendon have snared one win after being crippled by doping bans handed out to 12 of their stars.
Brisbane (1-9) are also in the wooden-spoon mix, leaving an intriguing three-way ‘race’ for last spot and the subsequent No.1 draft pick that goes with it.
Fremantle have fallen off the cliff since snaring last year’s minor premiership.
But the No.1 draft pick could prove crucial in their bid for a swift rebuild, giving them a stronger bargaining position were they to make an audacious play for contracted Melbourne forward Jesse Hogan.
Essendon will be significantly strengthened by the return of their missing stars next season.
And the addition of a No.1 draft pick could boost their premiership hopes in future years if they choose wisely.
Whoever finishes last would also receive the No.1 pick in the pre-season draft.
To put it bluntly, winning on Saturday night could potentially harm that team’s long-term prospects.
Although Essendon have been decimated on the talent front since the doping bans were handed out, Fremantle’s demise has been largely brought on by injuries and a failed new game-plan.
Harley Bennell (calf) was the first big-name player to be cut down by injury, and he was quickly followed by Nat Fyfe (broken leg), Aaron Sandilands (ribs), Michael Johnson (hamstring/knee), and Alex Pearce (broken leg).
AFL great Wayne Carey says Fremantle coach Ross Lyon put the cue in the rack once Fyfe broke his leg in the round-five loss to Carlton.
Since then, regulars such as Michael Barlow and Zac Dawson have been dropped as part of the club’s plan to promote youth.
Fremantle will still start as warm favourites on their home deck on Saturday night.
But Essendon have displayed great spirit under adversity this season, and their makeshift team will be sensing the chance to snare a rare win.
No matter what the result, the game is set to be highly scrutinised for any irregularities.
And there will be one other team eagerly observing the contest – GWS.
The Giants must be kicking themselves after refusing to trade Cam McCarthy to Fremantle last year.
The Dockers offered their first picks of both the 2015 and 2016 drafts for the West Australian.
In hindsight, it’s a deal GWS should have pounced on.
Now they can’t expect much more than a second-round pick for the homesick forward, who has been granted indefinite leave and is currently training with WAFL club South Fremantle.