PERTH, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 07: Josh J. Kennedy of the Eagles in action during the round 21 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Adelaide Crows at Optus Stadium on August 07, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

AFL Power Rankings: Round 21 - Top four gets complicated

As finals approach in the 2022 AFL season, the logjam for the top four, and a double chance, gets closer and closer.

There are just two weeks left of the season, and plenty of teams have everything to play for. The top four is getting congested, and there are a few teams still aiming to sneak into finals.

Going into the penultimate week of the season, there are four teams within a game of second on the ladder, and Fremantle just half a game further back.

1. Geelong (1)

The Cats are quietly putting together a season for the ages, with 11 wins on the trot, as they cruised to a strong 45-point win over the Saints. Despite a raft of late withdrawals, including Patrick Dangerfield during the warm up, the Cats were in control throughout the match.

Sam de Koning played a starring role in defence, while Brandon Parfitt starred in the middle with 25 disposals, 10 clearances and six tackles. With Joel Selwood and Mark Blicavs out, it was important that less-heralded Cats players stood up, and so they did.

After half time, the Cats came out and kicked nine goals in a row, to break open the game and put the Cats into a position where one win over the next fortnight will be enough for the minor premiership in 2022.

2. Brisbane (3)

The Lions flexed their muscles against the Blues, with a strong first three quarters, blowing the Blues off the ball and winning by 33 points. Lachie Neale had a huge goal from outside 50 to go with 32 disposals as he lead from the front.

Zac Bailey made a miraculous recovery from his injuries last week to kick four goals and provide what was arguably a best-on-ground performance. Hugh McCluggage was also in on the action, peppering the goals and tallying 28 disposals.

Brisbane’s run and carry was back to its damaging best, as they moved the ball all the way down the field, almost at will for the first three quarters. After a tough few weeks, this was a warning shot by the Lions to the rest of the competition.

3. Sydney (4)

The Swans were pushed early by the Kangaroos, but worked their way into the game to come away with a convincing 38-point win, and boosting their percentage to make them a real top-four threat. Buddy Franklin (four goals) and Tom Papley (three goals) ran riot up forward, with impeccable service from the midfield.

Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills each tallied 11 score involvements, while Ollie Florent led the match with eight intercepts as he continues to find a home on the half-back line.

In the midfield, it was the usual band of Luke Parker, James Rowbottom and Chad Warner that applied two-way pressure, and hit the scoreboard to get the Swans going, and keep their momentum heading into a crucial match next week.

4. Collingwood (6)

The streak lives on! The Magpies have 11 wins in a row, after another thriller over the Demons - a seven-point win -, their tenth win by less than two goals. Ash Johnson and Jamie Elliot carried the flame for the Magpies up forward, with four goals each.

Johnson stepped up big time in the second half, with four goals in his fourth game. He wasn't the only young star dominating, as Nick Daicos had 31 disposals in what has quickly become his usual standard.

The win puts Collingwood on a crash course with Sydney this weekend, with the winner a strong chance to finish second on the ladder, and book a home qualifying final. The big question for the Magpies is 'how long can the magic streak last'?

5. Melbourne (2)

The Demons are on the slide, with their premiership invincibility well and truly cracked follow a seven-point loss to the Pies. While Jack Viney, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw still run one of the elite engine rooms in the competition, they have been unable to keep the momentum going.

Ben Brown and Bailey Fritsch were the only multiple goalkickers, as the Demons faltered going inside 50, relying on midfield contributions and moving the ball on the run. It's a concerning trend for the Demons, who reeled off wins for fun at the start of the season, but have lost six of their last ten games.

With a tough run home, the Demons will be hoping to hang on for a top two spot, and make sure that they seal the double chance ahead of a tight finals series.

6. Fremantle (5)

The Dockers are finding form at the right time. They dispatched the Bulldogs by 17 points on the back of Rory Lobb’s four goals (all from outside 50), as they put themselves back on the winners list.

After kicking just five goals last week, the Dockers breezed past that, with strong contributions all over the field. Luke Ryan led the way with 32 disposals, including nine score involvements and seven intercepts.

Alongside Lobb, Michael Frederick kicked three goals of his own, while Matt Taberner had two, before coming off the ground with a concerning injury. It’s the latest in a laundry-list of injuries over the last year and a half for the key forward, who will be hoping to return in time for finals.

7. Richmond (8)

The Tigers have put themselves in the box seat for finals, after a strong 38-point win over the Power. It took until the third quarter for the Tigers to break the game open, with Tom Lynch kicking three goals after half time.

Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin were the stars in the midfield for the Tigers, with 32 disposals each, and 16 clearances between them. Daniel Rioli, playing out of the defensive 50 was strong too, with two goals and a huge volume of two-way running.

Marlion Pickett had a moment for the ages in the fourth, with a set shot from the boundary late in the fourth term. Pickett was forced round towards the fence, where he received plenty of “helpful advice” from children along the fence. After slotting the goal, Pickett turned to them and silenced them, with a gesture and a goal.

8. Carlton (7)

The Blues seem to be on the ropes, after another loss to a finals contender, and they now look to be without Patrick Cripps, after he was offered a two-match suspension for a bump on Callum Ah Chee.

The Blues were kept goalless in the first quarter, and didn’t find any aggression until Cripps’ incident. After that, Carlton reeled off three goals to get off the start line, but it wasn’t until the game was won and the last quarter that the Blues looked menacing and able to take the match away.

Carlton was down almost 10 goals at three quarter time, before finding their aggression and flow in the final term to get as close as 15 points, before the score jumped out again at the final siren.

9. Western Bulldogs (9)

The Bulldogs faltered against the Dockers, leaving their season hanging by a thread. With two matches to go, the Bulldogs must win both, and hope that Richmond and St Kilda both lose both their matches.

The Bulldogs struggled early, and when Andrew Brayshaw kicked a goal for the Dockers early in the third term, the Bulldogs were down by 29 points, and seemingly out of it. Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman came to the rescue to give the Bulldogs hope.

It wasn’t enough though, despite Naughton’s three goals, and Josh Dunkley’s 32 disposals, six clearances and a goal. Every move the Bulldogs made, the Dockers had an answer and a counter.

10. St Kilda (10)

In the end, the match result reflected St Kilda's season. A strong start, with a fightback after quarter time, when the Saints were challenged, before a period with no pressure as the top team kicked away.

The loss leaves the Saints' finals hopes hanging by a thread, and no longer in their own hands, as they dropped out of the eight. They will now need to find wins, and hope that other results go their way to make finals in two weeks time.

One of the bright spots for the Saints was the performance of Rowan Marshall, who was dominant in the ruck against Rhys Stanley. After winning the hitout tally, Marshall worked hard at ground level, with his effort spurring on the midfield pressure in the second quarter when the Saints were in the match.

11. Essendon (11)

There have been times this season where the Bombers found ways to lose matches, and Saturday was no different. The Bombers' intensity was missing from the game, and it showed in a few places, as their recent momentum dried up.

There were only two Bombers players who reached 20 disposals, Darcy Parish (28 disposals, seven clearances, six tackles) and Sam Durham (23 disposals). Matt Guelfi had four goals to his name, and Peter Wright joined him as the only other Bombers' multiple goalkicker, with two.

The points went to Sam Taylor in the matchup against Wright, and the Giants worked together to slow down Zach Merrett, who is usually a crucial cog in the Bombers midfield.

12. Port Adelaide (12)

Finals are now beyond the Power, after a disappointing season, capped by a loss to the Tigers in wet conditions. It was slippery all over the field, and for the most part, the Tigers players handled the conditions better, kicking away in the second half.

2021 Brownlow Medalist Ollie Wines was among the Power’s best, with 32 disposals, and he received plenty of support from Travis Boak, who tallied 27 disposals and eight clearances. Despite their efforts, there wasn’t enough clean ball from the Power to keep them in the contest.

Charlie Dixon and Jeremy Finlayson worked hard up forward, with four goals and a very sore Nick Vlastuin between them, but the Power had no answer for Shai Bolton, who had nine scoring shots as the chief destroyer for the Power on the night.

13. Hawthorn (14)

The Hawks were inspired by Jack Gunston's five goal heroics as they fought off a hard-finishing Suns outfit, and celebrated Ben McEvoy's 250th game with the milestone man taking a key mark in defence in the final moments.

Jaeger O'Meara led from the front for the Hawks, with 20 disposals, eight tackles and eight clearances, while James Sicily was instrumental behind the ball, with 26 disposals including eight marks of his own, marshalling the defensive effort.

Finn Maginness continued to grow his reputation as a tagger, with 10 tackles in his run with role against Touk Miller. Maginness followed Miller around all afternoon, and disrupted the Suns' captain from the opening bounce.

14. Gold Coast (13)

The Suns' tight loss to the Hawks ends their hopes of a maiden finals campaign, and takes their destiny out of their own hands. The Suns will rue late misses by Mabior Chol and Mac Andrew to get them closer and into the lead, but it was a long afternoon for the Suns.

Despite kicking with the wind in the first quarter, the Suns were slow starters, only generating five scoring shots in the first, as opposed to eight by the Hawks. While they did manage more scoring shots by the end, a return of 8.15 will hurt for a little while.

David Swallow contained his superb season for the Suns, 33 disposals, seven tackles and six clearances, and he was supported by Noah Anderson, who managed 26 disposals and eight score involvements over the course of the match.

15. GWS (16)

The Giants were back to showing what they could do and the potential wasted this season with a big win over the Bombers. After an even contest early, the Giants rattled off seven goals in a row in the third quarter to take the game away.

Lachie Whitfield reminded everyone of why he was once a number one overall pick, with a dazzling display including 30 disposals, eight marks, seven score involvements and a goal. His goal was the sealer, snuffing out any late hope that the Bombers had of a comeback.

Jesse Hogan played a starring role up front, with four goals and 12 marks up front, while Toby Greene chipped in two goals of his own in. a quieter return for the talismanic small forward.

16. Adelaide (15)

While the match against the Eagles was a battle between cellar-dwellers, it didn’t feel like it, based on the pressure around the ball. In the end, Darcy Fogarty’s three final quarter goals proved crucial as the Crows held on.

Rory Laird was celebrating his 200th game, and did so from the front, with 36 disposals, 10 clearances and two goals. He was well supported by Jordan Dawson, who had 27 disposals and eight score involvements.

The back to back wins have lifted the Crows away from the bottom of the ladder, and built some on-field momentum heading into the off-season, despite the off-field turmoil the club is experiencing at the moment.

17. North Melbourne (17)

The Kangaroos showed plenty of fight against the Swans early, pushing the top four team in the same way they did earlier in the season. They couldn’t sustain the pressure all afternoon, but the intent was there under Leigh Adams again this week.

Nick Larkey was the star of the show, with seven goals in a dominant performance inside forward 50. He played a lone hand up forward, with Cameron Zurhaar the only other multiple goal kicker for the Kangaroos.

The young midfielders for the Kangaroos came to the fore, with Jy Simpkin amassing 31 disposals and six tackles, and Luke Davies-Uniacke tallying 30 disposals, five tackles and nine score involvements in a strong performance.

18. West Coast (18)

In Josh Kennedy’s farewell game, the sharpshooter turned back the clock with eight goals to almost drag his side to victory. Kennedy kicked goals in every quarter, as the Eagles looked to him on the lead and long into the 50, trying to celebrate the master key forward.

Tom Barrass was his usual influential self behind the ball, with 10 marks (five contested) and nine intercepts behind play. His work kept the Eagles in the contest for most of the day, but it wasn’t enough for the victory.

The Eagles will be asking themselves where the pressure and enterprise has been all season, as they showed a fire not sighted for much of the year. The season will soon come to a close, with hard questions facing the Eagles for the off-season, with their aging list and poor results this year.