The last time the Cats and the Giants met it was a draw. This time it could determine a top-two finish.
By LAURENCE ROSEN
There’s just 18 games left for the 2017 AFL season, but five stand out. In a season as even as this, these five matchups will largely shape the makeup of the eight.
#5 Richmond v St Kilda – Round 23
In what is likely to be Nick Riewoldt’s final game, the ramifications for St Kilda’s opponents could be stark on the final day of the regular season. The Saints are all but out of the finals race after losing to the Dees in round 21, but for the Tigers, the stakes could not be higher. With the Power and Swans close behind and the Cats barely ahead, it’s imperative for the Tigers to win both this weekend’s match against Fremantle and the final-round Saints matchup. If they do, a top-four spot beckons and a chance to break their 16-year drought without a finals win.
#4 West Coast v Adelaide – Round 23
Adelaide blew their top-four chances on the last weekend of season 2016 by losing to the Eagles, but in 2017, it’s the Crows who are safely entrenched in the top two, while West Coast are still scrapping for a spot in the finals. West Coast face the Giants this weekend ahead of a last-round clash against the Crows, which will decide their fate. This is a match that goes a long way towards deciding the final two finals spots. And if the Eagles lose, it will be the final AFL match at Domain Stadium before it is replaced by a 60,000-seat arena on the banks of the Swan River in 2018.
Rory Sloane v Josh Kennedy makes for a match that’s not to be missed.
#3 Adelaide vs Sydney – Round 22
Could this be a grand final preview? In any case, it’s a must-watch on the penultimate Friday night of the regular season. Their 2016 meeting was arguably the best match of that season, but there’s every chance this match could be even better. Adelaide are all but locked into a top-two position but will be keen to land the first blow in what could be a precursor to a week one finals matchup. As for the Swans, they need to keep winning to shore up a home elimination final. Add in the Sloane v Kennedy battle in midfield and it’s a match not to be missed.
#2 Western Bulldogs vs Port Adelaide – Round 23
MARS Stadium in Ballarat makes its AFL debut and, for both these sides, there’s a hell of a lot to play for. In what is no doubt one of the biggest matches left in the season, a loss for the Dogs essentially means their premiership defence is over. As for the Power, it presents an opportunity to silence the doubters and take a scalp – albeit one currently outside the eight – and lock in a home elimination final. The 11,000-capacity stadium will be full in what will be a marquee occasion in Ballarat, but with so much at stake for both sides, expect fireworks in a game that could single-handedly decide eighth spot on the ladder.
#1 Geelong v GWS – Round 23
Simonds Stadium has hosted some big games this year but none will be bigger than on the final Saturday night of the home-and-away season. In what looms as the highest-stakes match of the last round, this clash is likely going to be a straight shootout for a top-two finish and home qualifying final. Their last matchup just seven weeks ago produced a draw – highlighting how close the respective sides are. The Giants have since welcomed back Brett Deledio and Stephen Coniglio from injury, so they’ll fancy their chances at a ground where they have never won.
Settle in, because it’s the biggest match left this season.