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The Demons are back in the finals.

With just one round to be played before the finals series begins, the top eight is finally taking shape, but there is still plenty to be decided with some big match-ups in the final round. The big winner out of round 22 was Melbourne, which finished strongly against the West Coast Eagles in Perth to book their first finals appearance in 12 seasons, much to the relief of Coach Simon Goodwin. Last year the Demons crashed out of the race late in 2017. Collingwood strengthened its hold on a top four finish with a big win over Port Adelaide at the MCG, effectively ending Port’s finals campaign in the process. 

Richmond sewed up the minor premiership with an uninspiring win over Essendon on Friday night. The Bomber’s slim hopes of a finals appearance snuffed out as the undermanned Tigers took care of business for their 20th win in a row at the MCG. Geelong booted an incredible 23 unanswered goals against a hapless Fremantle at Kardinia Park, all but sealing a finals berth unless the unthinkable happens against the struggling Gold Coast suns this weekend.

Lance Franklin took advantage of a Phil Davis injury to turn on an amazing second half for the Sydney Swans as they overran the fancied GWS Giants at Spotless Stadium, incredibly setting up the chance of a top four finish should the Swans finish the minor round with a home win against Hawthorn on Saturday night. The Hawks got a scare against the Saints at Etihad on Saturday night, but held them off to sneak back into the top four. A win over Sydney next week will keep them there.

Other winners over the weekend were Adelaide, Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs.

Next week I will preview the finals series as eight teams pack up their gear and head home for their early off-season. Until then, here is the final AFANA Power Poll for 2018!

1.    Richmond Tigers (Last Time: 1) 
Coach Damian Hardwick “rested” Captain Trent Cotchin, midfielder Dion Prestia and key backman David Astbury against an Essendon team that needed to win to stay in the finals race. Despite a late scare the Tigers ran out winners to notch their 20th win in a row at the MCG. Richmond will head into the finals in very good shape.

2.    Collingwood Magpies (4) 
In form ruckman Brodie Grundy once again led from the front as Collingwood staved off a third quarter Port Adelaide challenge to run out comfortable victors. With a top four spot all but locked up, Nathan Buckley’s men are primed for a deep run into the finals.

3.    Sydney Swans (6) 
Sydney is the prime mover in the Power Poll this week after yet another come from behind victory, this time over crosstown rival Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium. Full forward Lance “Buddy” Franklin was simply amazing after half time, while Kieren Jack and Luke Parker led the way in the midfield. It is hard to believe this team lost to the Gold Coast Suns just a few rounds ago.

4.    Greater Western Sydney Giants (2) 
The Giants were unlucky to lose full back Phil Davis to injury in the second quarter, having to play him forward in the second half as he struggled for mobility. Sydney’s Franklin took over after Davis’ demise, finishing with five goals as the Giants were overrun by 20 points. Leon Cameron’s men will now have to plan their finals assault from outside the top four, a tough assignment for the young franchise.

5.    Hawthorn Hawks (5) 
Hawthorn had a mighty scare against the Saints yet managed to secure their 5th win in a row, propelling the Hawks into fourth position on the ladder and in contention for the all-important finals double-chance. Jack Gunston was on fire for the Hawks while veteran Shaun Burgoyne continues to defy father time, putting in yet another fine all-round performance.

6.    Melbourne Demons (7) 
Melbourne picked the perfect time to defeat a top eight team for the first time this season, coming from behind to defeat the Eagles in Perth. In a wonderful game of football that had a finals like atmosphere, the Demons finished strong to take the game by 17 points and propel them into the finals for the first time since 2006. Jake Melksham and Mitch Hannan booted seven goals between them in the absence of injured spearhead Jesse Hogan.

7.    West Coast Eagles (3) 
The Eagles fought hard after losing key forward Jack Darling to concussion early in their match against Melbourne on Sunday. In what was a great game of footy, Willie Rioli, Dom Sheed and Chris Masten worked overtime to get the Eagles back in the match after Melbourne jumped out of the blocks kicking the first four goals of the game. West Coast hit the front in the final quarter, but couldn’t hang on; leaving them vulnerable to drop out of the top four should they succumb to Brisbane in round 23.

8.    Geelong Cats (8)
Geelong bounced back from two losses to obliterate Fremantle, sending the Cats back into the top eight, presumably to stay with only a home game against the lowly Gold Coast to come. Incredibly, the Cats reeled off 23 unanswered goals in less than ideal conditions, completely embarrassing a diabolical Fremantle in the process. 

9.    Essendon Bombers (9) 
For Essendon, the equation was simple. Defeat the reigning premiers at the MCG on Friday night to keep the finals dream alive, or start preparing for 2019. A late charge against the Tigers gave Essendon a glimmer of hope, but it wasn’t to be as Richmond once again proved too strong. The Bombers finished the season as one of the better performed teams of the second half in 2018, and will be squarely eyeing off a finals berth next season.

10.    Port Adelaide Power (10) 
Port hung with Collingwood for two and a half quarters on Saturday, but an undisciplined hit from Steven Motlop handed the Magpies an easy goal from a 50 meter penalty. From there, Collingwood steamrolled the Power, effectively ending Port’s finals hopes barring a minor miracle in round 23. Port went from an 11-4 record and a top four chance to 12-9 and season over with a horror six week stretch of poor football and some big injuries. 

11.  Adelaide Crows (12) 
A nine point victory over North Melbourne at Adelaide Oval gave Crows fans something to cheer about in a season that has given them mainly misery. From losing Grand Final favorites in 2017 to missing the finals, 2018 has been an unmitigated disaster for Adelaide. Soft tissue injuries, a lack of spark and questions about the off-season preparation will all be closely scrutinized as the Crows lick their collective wounds and look toward 2019.

12.    North Melbourne Kangaroos (11) 
Back to back losses to the Bulldogs and the Crows snuffed out the flickering finals flame for Brad Scott’s Kangaroos, in a season that surprised many pundits who expected them to finish well down the table. A speedy midfielder will be on the radar in the off-season to complement the Kangaroos group of blue-collar inside midfielders.

13.    Brisbane Lions (13) 
A spiteful “Q” clash between both Queensland based teams was a surprisingly good contest, with an injury hit Gold Coast challenging the Lions right up to the final siren. The Lions prevailed by four points in winning their 5th game of the season. Their age and talent profile should see the Lions make significant progress next season.

14.    Western Bulldogs (14) 
The young Bulldogs notched their third win in a row in defeating Carlton by 17 points at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. They face league leaders Richmond next week, not as daunting task as you would expect given the Bulldogs have won the last five matches between the two teams and Richmond is likely to rest key players in the run up to finals.

15.    St Kilda Saints (16) 
It was a much improved Saint Kilda that pushed Hawthorn all the way at Etihad Stadium, going down by just four points while having more inside 50 entries than the Hawks. Seb Ross was sensational for the Saints, while Jack Steele did a superb lock down role on Hawk possession machine Tom Mitchell.

16.    Fremantle Dockers (15) 
Fremantle was absolutely terrible in losing to Geelong by a whopping 133 points on Saturday. Ross Lyon has plenty of work to do in the off-season.

17.    Gold Coast Suns (17) 
The Suns made a good account of itself against Brisbane despite the narrow loss, fielding one of their youngest teams for the season as they look forward to a continued rebuild in 2019.

18.    Carlton Blues (18) 
While the Blues put up a better showing than in previous weeks, they still lost to a team in the Bulldogs that fielded a younger squad. Simply an ugly season for Carlton and its army of disgruntled supporters.
 

Article last changed on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 3:55 PM EDT


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