AFL Draft Central’s Peter Williams looks at the run home for finals, with the eight teams seemingly comfortable at this stage, but there is still much to play for in the final month of TAC Cup.
1st: Geelong Falcons (11-2) 142 per cent, 44 points
The run home: Gippsland Power (A), Eastern Ranges (A), Calder Cannons (A), Dandenong Stingrays (H).
Geelong is all but destined to finish top two unless something drastic happens in the next three weeks. With Sandringham Dragons close on their tail, the Falcons will look on in earnest at the Dragons/Stingrays match to see who will join them in bridging the gap.
Geelong’s biggest test will come in the final round against the Stingrays, however if they can gain an eight-point gap with a win and a Stingrays loss next round, then they should be right to finish top two – unless Eastern put in a similar performance to the one they did last round.
2nd: Sandringham Dragons (10-2-1) 131 per cent, 42 points
The run home: Dandenong Stingrays (H), Murray Bushrangers (H), Oakleigh Chargers (A), Bendigo Pioneers (H).
Sandringham Dragons are one of the favourites to take out the premiership this year due to their overwhelming depth.
Despite missing their top stars through both representative football and APS football, the Dragons continue to rack up the wins, sitting in second place overall.
They will need to beat Dandenong and Murray the next two rounds to attempt to overtake Geelong, but a top four spot seems all but secure.
However, should they lose both then they will be nervous heading into the final two rounds with North Ballarat Rebels favoured to win their next two matches.
3rd: Dandenong Stingrays (10-3) 131 per cent, 40 points
The run home: Sandringham Dragons (A), Western Jets (H), Murray Bushrangers (H), Geelong Falcons (A).
Dandenong Stingrays are a dark horse in the competition, going along nicely in third spot. They are four points behind Geelong Falcons but have the toughest draw of any team in the last month.
The Stingrays face all other top four sides – a great test ahead of finals – as well as the Western Jets who have shown promise on their day.
They should beat the Jets, but the other three are coin tosses. At full strength, they are arguably the third or fourth best side in it this year.
4th: Murray Bushrangers (9-3-1) 124 per cent, 38 points
The run home: Western Jets (H), Sandringham Dragons (A), Dandenong Stingrays (A), Oakleigh Chargers (A).
Murray Bushrangers are definitely one of the teams to beat when the whips are cracking in September. The age old question over whether travel time will catch up with them is always hovering, but with a full strength squad they look very impressive.
Much like the Stingrays, they will be favoured to beat the Jets, but everyone else is a line-ball call. They will go in favourites against Oakleigh, but the Chargers are capable of anything on their day.
With the Rebels almost certain to win at least three matches, the Bushrangers will need to win at least two, preferably three to lock away a double chance.
5th: North Ballarat Rebels (8-5) 122 per cent, 32 points
The run home: Calder Cannons (H), Bendigo Pioneers (A), Northern Knights (H), Eastern Ranges (H).
North Ballarat Rebels are the side that will probably focus on the other teams’ results more than its peers, given it has the easiest run home of the top eight sides.
The Rebels avoid all the top four teams and play two of the bottom three sides in the last month.
If they can defeat Calder this round, they will lock in a top five spot, with a last round battle against Eastern potentially determining a top whether they can secure a top four spot.
6th: Calder Cannons (7-6) 103 per cent, 28 points
The run home: North Ballarat Rebels (A), Gippsland Power (H), Geelong Falcons (H), Western Jets (H).
Calder Cannons looked gone early in the season and were almost wooden spoon battlers.
A return to form mid-season has seen the Cannons catapult back into finals contention and has all but secured a spot with a few good wins of late.
The Cannons have a mixed bag in the last month, with their fate in their own hands next round against North Ballarat Rebels.
Win, and they suddenly come into contention for fifth, lose and they are back in the pack for the last three spots.
A last round battle with Western could determine where in that bottom of the eight they finish.
7th: Eastern Ranges (5-8) 110 per cent, 20 points
The run home: Northern Knights (A), Geelong Falcons (H), Gippsland Power (A), North Ballarat Rebels (A).
Eastern Ranges are the epitome of a dark horse. Like always, the metro teams are considered a danger in finals because they return to full-strength, whereas the country teams have slogged it out as a team the entire year.
For the Ranges, two matches against the Knights and Power help lock away a top eight spot, with games against the Falcons and Rebels likely to determine whether they finish fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth.
8th: Oakleigh Chargers (5-8) 96 per cent, 16 points
The run home: Bendigo Pioneers (H), Northern Knights (A), Sandringham Dragons (H), Murray Bushrangers (H).
Oakleigh Chargers’ finals chances will be determined in the next fortnight when they take on the Pioneers and the Knights.
If they can win both, then they should secure a top eight spot before tough encounters with the Dragons and Bushrangers.
The only way they could drop out in that scenario is if Western or Bendigo could win all their games.
But lose to the Pioneers this week, and suddenly the Chargers spot is up for grabs.
9th: Western Jets (4-9) 74 per cent, 16 points
The run home: Murray Bushrangers (A), Dandenong Stingrays (A), Bendigo Pioneers (A), Calder Cannons (A).
Western Jets have a tough draw to kick off the last month of the season and will ultimately need an upset to make finals.
If they can knock off one of Murray or Dandenong, then it will be fair game, but lose to both and they will have to rely on Oakleigh dropping an unexpected game to make it.
Not to mention they take on Bendigo and Calder, two sides they could beat, but it will not be easy.
If the Western Jets come to play they are capable of anything, but it will be tough from here to make the top eight.
10th: Bendigo Pioneers (3-10) 76 per cent, 12 points
The run home: Oakleigh Chargers (A), North Ballarat Rebels (H), Western Jets (H), Sandringham Dragons (A).
Everyone loves a good underdog story and for a while it looked like the Pioneers might play their first finals series in more than a decade.
But disappointing back-to-back losses has all but snuffed out their chances, with Bendigo needing to win all their games to realistically make it.
With no games considered locks and tough matches against the Rebels and Dragons, it is hard to see the Pioneers playing in September, but we do bring up the “mathematical possibilities” every now and again.
11th: Northern Knights (3-10) 71 per cent, 12 points
The run home: Eastern Ranges (H), Oakleigh Chargers (H), North Ballarat Rebels (A), Gippsland Power (H).
Northern Knights have strung a couple of wins together mid-season, but will ultimately look to 2017, with a tough draw in the run home.
A battle with Gippsland Power in the final round will be a wooden spoon clash, with the pair likely to meet again the following week in the new bye round that sees ninth play tenth and eleventh play twelfth.
12th: Gippsland Power (2-11) 71 per cent, eight points
The run home: Geelong Falcons (H), Calder Cannons (A), Eastern Ranges (H), Northern Knights (A).
Finals were ruled out down in Gippsland quite a while ago and it has been more about improvement throughout the season.
They have shown patches of brilliance, but as a whole, they have not been able to do it well enough for long enough.
Much like Northern, they will have a chance to knock off the Knights in the final round, however could upset the apple cart for finalists heading into the last month with an upset.