Max Gawn is back for a top of the table clash against Geelong. (Image: melbournefc.com.au)

The finals race is heating up, with just two wins separating fifth from 10th. Some teams are in desperate need of a win, while others can't afford to lose.

The finals race is heating up, with just two wins separating fifth from 10th. Some teams are in desperate need of a win, while others can’t afford to lose.

These are the five key storylines to keep an eye on in Round 17.

Dual rucks return for top of the table clash

Melbourne’s dynamic ruck duo of Max Gawn and Luke Jackson are both set to be made available for a crucial top of the table matchup against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Thursday night.

Both Jackson and Gawn are two of the best in the league at the position and return at the perfect time for the Demons in a game that could see them either potentially lose top spot or move two games clear of the competition.

Max Gawn last played a month ago on Queen’s Birthday against the Pies, and was still at his impressive best despite playing through an ankle injury for a large portion of the game. Jackson was forced to pull out of the trip to Adelaide last week after knee soreness leaving Melbourne without a sole ruck.

Gawn and Jackson are as valuable as any player to any team for the Demons, averaging 34.6 disposals, 36 hit outs and 1.4 goals combined per game. Without them last week, the Demons still recorded a strong win indicating with the duo back, things only look positive.

Many will remember Round 23 against Geelong last year, where Gawn kicked a goal after the siren which secured the minor premiership for Melbourne.

Is there a chance history repeats itself? Only time will tell.

Last time they met at GMHBA Stadium, Max Gawn won the game after the siren. (Image: melbournefc.com.au)

Can the Suns respond after a horror fortnight?

The Gold Coast Suns have had their finals dreams crushed after an extremely difficult month, not only on the scoreboard but also on the injury front.

The next few weeks will really be a test of the young Suns’ courage and competitiveness with a depleted list. Facing a tough match against the Tigers this week gives them a great opportunity to prove themselves.

Wil Powell is one of several Suns players who are out for the season. (Image :goldcoastfc.com.au)

In terms of results, the Suns have lost their last two games by just two and five points respectively. Had they won them both, they would be sitting just percentage outside of the top eight and well and truly in the hunt.

Gold Coast’s injuries certainly have not helped its cause. Ben King has been out for the entire year and now additionally season-ending injuries for Lachie Weller, Wil Powell, Joel Jeffrey, and Connor Budarick have really damaged Gold Coast’s season.

If the Suns can in fact overcome all these injuries, it could rejuvenate their unlikely chance of playing in September, but it will be a mighty challenge against an in-form Tigers outfit.

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How big of a loss is Darcy Moore?

The emotions after Collingwood’s fantastic victory up on the Gold Coast were mixed after star defender Darcy Moore went down with what looked to be quite a serious knee hyperextension.

Fortunately for the Magpies, Moore escaped serious damage but will likely miss this week’s game against North Melbourne and is also yet to have a set return date.

With Moore going down, the question being asked is who from the Collingwood defence will take that next step and take the opposition’s best forward until Moore returns?

Comparatively, the Magpies have a smaller-sized defence but they make it work centred around Moore, meaning Jeremy Howe, Brayden Maynard or even Nathan Murphy can now slide into the role and make his absence less felt.

Darcy Moore in the hands of trainers after a nasty landing. (Image: collingwoodfc.com.au)

Collingwood’s backline won’t be overly challenged this weekend when it faces a severely underperforming North Melbourne who has been the centre of attention this week for all the wrong reasons. However, Moore’s absence will be noticeable, and the group shouldn’t underestimate what the likes of Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar can do when they’re on song.

Saints facing do or die clash to save their season

Despite an impressive upset victory over Carlton last week and keeping their season alive, St Kilda still remain outside the top eight. It faces another really tough game this week against Fremantle at Marvel Stadium, which once again proves as a season-defining contest.

Many had written the Saints off after a really disappointing month before the win against the Blues, that being due to their tough run home facing five of the top 10 teams in just seven weeks.

If the Saints lose this clash at home, it might be fair to write them off for sure this time.

What makes this game so interesting is whether the Saints can maintain their form from last week, beat another top-four contender and continue their push for a return to September.

They would be well aware of the difficulties facing a side like the Dockers, but the fans just aren’t sure which Saints team will take to the field that day. A real competitive one or a lacklustre side that doesn’t look like a finals-calibre team.

Jack Billings will also line up in game 150 this weekend, perhaps giving St Kilda that extra motivation for Saturday night’s clash.

Blues injury crisis easing

There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for Carlton with a large influx of players being made available for its trip west to face West Coast.

One of them is vice-captain, Jacob Weitering. Weitering sustained an AC joint injury in Round 11 against the Magpies, requiring surgery which saw him miss the last five weeks.

The incident that injured Weitering. (Image: carltonfc.com.au)

In addition to Jacob Weitering, Blues coach Michael Voss also expects Matt Owies and Jack Martin to return to the side after both facing short stints on the sidelines with leg injuries.

It comes at a perfect time for the Blues as they face the Cats next week, a huge clash that will shape their season. These players will get the chance to have a game under their belt back at the elite level.

Carlton can further secure its finals credentials with a win at the Optus Stadium on Sunday and keep itself within touching distance of the double chance too.

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