Faltering North Melbourne have inadvertently breathed life into the AFL finals race.
Less than two months ago, the Kangaroos sat proudly atop the table, having won their opening nine games.
But they have since plummeted all the way to eighth having lost six of their past seven matches, with Saturday evening’s 28-point defeat at the hands of Port Adelaide potentially the most costly of all.
The ninth-placed Power and St Kilda (8-8 and 32 points) are eight points adrift of North Melbourne and shape as the only teams capable of displacing the Kangaroos from the finals equation.
The Roos’ last four home and away matches are against teams certain to feature in the post-season action.
But before they turn their attention to the tough run home, North simply need to find a way back onto the winners’ track, starting with Friday night’s clash against improving Collingwood.
“Anyone can do it when you’re 9-0 and cruising – now’s the time we have to stand up and right the ship, get back on course,” said coach Brad Scott.
“I still have great faith and confidence in us as a football club.”
It was Port’s first win this year against a top-eight side but coach Ken Hinkley was quick to shift his focus to what happens next in round 18 against GWS.
“Right now, we just can’t afford to go anywhere but next week,” he said.
St Kilda are level on points with Port, but they have a much worse percentage.
The Saints started slowly against Melbourne on Sunday but still found a way to record a 14th straight victory over the Demons, 15.20 (110) to 11.8 (74).
West Coast stayed in the hunt for the coveted double chance in the finals after just withstanding a late rally by Carlton to record a seven-point victory at the MCG on Sunday.
Greater Western Sydney are already in the top four, having belted the hapless Brisbane Lions by a percentage-boosting 79 points to vault into fourth spot.
The Lions must now try and find a way to regroup ahead of the wooden-spoon decider against Essendon next weekend.
Hawthorn (52 points) sit a game clear atop the table after Cyril Rioli kicked a clutch final-minute goal to seal a five-point win over fifth-placed Sydney.
Adelaide moved into second spot on 48 points – ahead of the Western Bulldogs on percentage – by celebrating Scott Thompson’s 300th game in style with a 14.13 (97) to 10.9 (69) victory over Collingwood.
Geelong did enough to down Fremantle 11.12 (78) to 9.7 (61) at Domain Stadium.
Only 4.3 per cent separates the fourth-placed Giants from the seventh-ranked Cats in a top-eight logjam.