The AFL’s top eight is set, but the finalists are no closer to knowing their finishing position or first finals opponent in a show-stopping finish to the season.
A solitary win separates league leaders Sydney and seventh-placed Western Bulldogs, with North Melbourne limping across the line in eighth place.
It’s a historically close fight for the minor premiership, top two and top four, and could three-time premiers Hawthorn be the big losers and slip down to seventh?
The Hawks led all comers for the past eight rounds, enjoying a two-game buffer on top of the AFL ladder as recently as earlier in August.
Their 25-point loss to West Coast dropped Alastair Clarkson’s side from first to fourth.
They face a final-day meeting with Collingwood, knowing a loss could result in them slipping to seventh.
Should Greater Western Sydney defeat North Melbourne and West Coast continue their hot streak to knock off Adelaide, they’ll start the match in sixth position, with Western Bulldogs fancied to beat Fremantle later that day.
It’s a doomsday scenario for Clarkson’s side, and opposing coach Nathan Buckley has promised them no favours in round 23.
“We’ll pick the best side to get the job done next week,” Buckley said.
“They want to win clearly (and) they get the week off on the other side.
“We’ll be planning to win that game of footy and finish our season off well.”
Collingwood have shown good late-season form and demolished a woeful Gold Coast by 71 points on Saturday night.
Hawthorn can look back on an eight-game winning streak over Buckley’s side, and if they prevail they’ll assure themselves a top-four finish.
Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong – who, like the Hawks, have 16 wins – can also guarantee themselves the double chance with victories in their final matches.
The Swans, fresh from a nine-point defeat of the Kangaroos that put them on top of the ladder, face Richmond on Saturday afternoon.
Friday night’s match will set the tone for the weekend, with Adelaide facing red-hot West Coast.
Both were round 22 winners, with Adelaide edging a hot Showdown over Port Adelaide by nine points.
The third-placed Cats did what was required on the road, claiming a 60-point win over Brisbane.
Fifth-placed Greater Western Sydney also returned to the winners list by defeating Fremantle by 92 points.
In Sunday’s late game, the Bulldogs consolidated seventh place by beating Essendon by 40 points at Etihad Stadium.
The Kangaroos will finish eighth, although St Kilda can join them in finishing with 12 wins should they beat Brisbane and the Kangaroos lose to the Giants.
The Saints edged a low-scoring affair at the MCG on Saturday, defeating Richmond by nine points.
North’s percentage (115.3 per cent) compared with the Saints (92.5 per cent) means only an unprecedented and unbelievable pair of thumpings would switch eighth position.
On Sunday, Melbourne wrote themselves out of finals calculations with a lacklustre 20-point defeat to Carlton.