02/03/2024

A returning Tom Lynch will be crucial to Richmond's finals push. (Photo: Richmond FC)

With the top seven teams now separating themselves from the rest of the league, three teams are preparing to battle for the last spot in the eight.

We have witnessed one of the most competitive AFL seasons in recent times, with ten teams still realistically a premiership chance.

Three of those will contest for the final spot in the eight as the league prepares for an enthralling final four rounds.

The Inner Sanctum has analysed the three teams and their remaining fixture.

Western Bulldogs – 8th (10-8 W/L, 111.9%)

The Bulldogs made a big move last weekend, knocking off the Demons after some scratchy form so far this season. Given their grand final appearance last season, and a talented list with perhaps the best midfield in the league, it’s been an underwhelming season to date.

Luke Beveridge’s men have an issue with their defensive consistency, often conceding goals in a rush that practically puts them out of the contest. Ranking 12th in points against isn’t a great recipe for success.

After conquering the Demons, they’ll now face further tests against Geelong and Fremantle in the next fortnight before concluding with Greater Western Sydney and Hawthorn.

Win the next two and Bulldogs fans will be daring to dream of similar finals runs than that of last year, and of course, their historic premiership in 2016.

St Kilda – 9th (10-8 W/L, 103.6%)

After beginning the season 8-3, the Saints have fallen to an average, middle of the road team fighting to make the eight. Despite the excitement of emerging forward Max King, St Kilda’s ball movement and scoring has come into genuine question over the last month.

They rank 12th in scoring this season, with Brett Ratten’s system becoming a concerning factor despite a recent contract extension. The gap between their best and worst might be one of the most startling in the league, an aspect that will probably come back to cost them at season’s end.

They did what they had to do over in Perth against West Coast on Sunday, with their clash against Hawthorn this weekend simply another ‘must win’. They conclude the year with difficult games against Geelong, Brisbane and Sydney, giving them the toughest remaining draw of these three teams.

The Saints are capable of hitting their straps and making finals, yet their complete lack of consistency doesn’t provide much faith in that occurring.

Max King continues to bring excitement to Saints fans. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

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Richmond – 10th (9-8-1 W/L/D, 114.5%)

As referenced by coach Damien Hardwick himself, the Tigers themselves are shooting themselves in the foot. If scenarios played out differently, we could be evaluating them as one of, if not the best team in the league.

Over the past three weeks, Richmond has conceded a 40-point lead to Gold Coast, inexplicably lost to North Melbourne, then missed late opportunities in a draw with Fremantle.

The Tigers rank third in scoring this season, but are ranked 10th in points against. Opposing teams have been able to take advantage of momentum and reel in large margins, evident in multiple fourth quarter fade-outs this season.

They have another massive clash this weekend against Brisbane, before finishing with Port Adelaide, Hawthorn and Essendon.

Anything could happen in that stanza of games, but don’t be surprised if the Tigers find a rhythm and win all four of them. Given their experience and recent successes, this is not a team the opposition will want to face in the first week of finals.

What’s the outcome?

St Kilda’s tough fixture makes things incredibly difficult for them, leaving the spot to either the Tigers or Bulldogs. Richmond’s draw against Fremantle means percentage is unlikely to play a factor.

The Bulldogs’ next two games might prove the difference either way, while the Tigers, despite their poor recent form, could foreseeably go in as favourites in all four of their matches.

For this reason, and given their premiership experience, expect Richmond to have one more finals campaign in it despite its position below the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda currently.

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