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Premiership Season 2016 - Round 21 Review

Total Crowd 272,374 (Avg 30,264)

With two rounds of the 2016 season remaining the door into the top eight remains ajar and, while this time last week it was St Kilda that appeared the most likely team to sneak through the opening, it is now Melbourne that looms as the one to snatch the last spot in the finals after the Demons impressively dispatched Port Adelaide from contention at the Adelaide Oval, and Hawthorn defeated North Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday.

In a weekend of close matches, which saw a record five games decided by a goal or less, a last-minute snap from Nic Naitanui kept the Eagles' top-four chances alive and severely dented those of GWS, while Geelong and the Western Bulldogs had narrow escapes against Richmond and Collingwood respectively. 

The spate of close matches began on Friday night at Docklands when the Western Bulldogs hosted Collingwood. The Dogs started favourites and appeared headed for a comfortable victory when the led by three goals half way through the second term but a Magpie burst saw Collingwood leading by the same margin a quarter later. Young Bulldog gun Marcus Bontempelli then came to the fore and his great second half saw the Dogs eke out a three-point win, their first Friday night success since 2011, and guarantee their place in the finals.

Saturday at the Gabba saw Brisbane run away from Carlton for two and a half quarters after the Blues kick two early goals. The Lions led the Blues by as much as 41 points early in the third term but Carlton stormed home to get within five points with plenty of time remaining but was unable to land a killer blow and Brisbane held on to win by four points to keep the wolves from coach Justin Leppitsch's door, at least for the moment.

The third match of the round between Hawthorn and North Melbourne had the potential to be another close one but the Hawks very quickly did their best to make sure it wouldn't be, kicking the first seven goals of he match to lead by 46 points at quarter time. The Kangaroos recovered to get within 13 points in the third term but ran out of steam as Hawthorn powered away to win by 39 points and maintain a one-game break at the head of the ladder. 

Saturday's twilight match returned us to "thriller" mode as GWS and the West Coast Eagles fought out an epic battle. The more favoured Giants led for most of the much and always looked the likely winners but a late surge from West Coast saw GWS's lead cut back to five points with moments remaining, and a last-second snap from Nic Naitanui saw the Eagles snatch a famous one-point victory.

The two Saturday night games gave fans a breather from heart-stopping finishes. At Docklands, St Kilda came into its match against Sydney knowing that North's loss had left the door to the top eight open. The Saints accordingly took it right up to the Swans in the first half, trailing by just five points at the long break but, with Buddy Franklin on fire, Sydney blew them away in the third and fourth terms to win in a canter.

While the Saints were dropping out of contention at Docklands, Port Adelaide and Melbourne met at the Adelaide Oval knowing that the winner would remain in the finals hunt. Given that fact, the Power put in a largely insipid performance, with Melbourne very much keeping its hopes alive with a solid 40-point win. 

Sunday took as back to "thriller" mode in Melbourne, first at Docklands and then at the MCG. Essendon looked to be on track to record its first win since round two when it controlled and led for much of the first half against the Suns but Gold Coast rallied in the third term and seemed set to continue the woe for Dons' fans, leading by 13 points late in the third quarter. The Bombers came again, though and a run of five goals in a row was enough to see them hang on and win by a goal.

Across town at the MCG, an upset loomed for much of the afternoon, with Richmond outplaying Geelong for three quarters. The Tigers were 35 points clear at orange time but a last-quarter blitz from the Cats saw them turn that deficit into a nine-point lead before a goal from Ty Vickery gave Richmond one last chance. It was a chance it very nearly took, with Jack Riewoldt just failing to hold on to a mark that would have given him a post-siren shot to win the match, and the Cats prevailed by four points.

There was never any chance of a close finish in the last match of the round at Subiaco. The Fremantle Dockers showed glimpses of good form at times in their match against Adelaide but a rampaging Crows forward line, led by Eddie Betts and Josh Jenkins, ensured the visitors were never threatened, Adelaide going on to win by 72 points.

As we head into the pointy end of the season, round 22 will provide us with two crucial matches pitting top-eight sides against each other, the first on Friday night between West Coast and Hawthorn at Subiaco, and the second the next day in Hobart between North Melbourne and Sydney. If the Kangaroos go down and Melbourne can defeat Carlton on Sunday, the battle for eighth place on the ladder will not be decided until round 23, an unthinkable prospect only a month ago when the finalists appeared to be set in stone.

Leading goalkickers after round 21

70 - Josh Kennedy, WCo (3)
67 - Lance Franklin, Syd (6)
63 - Tom Lynch, GCo (2)
60 - Eddie Betts, Adel (6)
57 - Josh Jenkins, Adel (5)
46 - Jack Riewoldt, Rich (1)
45 - Jack Gunston, Haw (1), Jeremy Cameron, GWS (1)
44 - Tom Hawkins, Geel (1)
41 - Taylor Walker, Adel (1), Cyril Rioli, Haw (3)

Footnotes

Video sourced from YouTube, courtesy of the AFL.

R-21, Ladder

Team GP PTS %
HAW 20 64 122.42
SYD 20 60 146.94
ADEL 20 60 143.85
GEEL 20 60 135.39
GWS 20 56 137.62
WCE 20 56 129.16
WBULL 20 56 115.33
NTH 20 48 108.54
MELB 20 40 104.78
STK 20 40 91.81
PORT 20 36 106.12
COLL 20 32 91.41
RICH 20 32 83.47
SUNS 20 24 80.59
CARL 20 24 77.66
FREO 20 12 75.63
BRIS 20 12 61.89
ESS 20 8 58.65

Footnotes

* Behinds calculated from the 1965 season on.
+ Score at the end of extra time.