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AFL finals battle set to heat up

3 minute read

At least 11 teams remain in the hunt for AFL finals spots and even 12th-placed Port Adelaide are hoping to gatecrash the top eight before September.

STUART DEW.
 STUART DEW. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Gold Coast's third consecutive win has added to a logjam of teams fighting for spots in the AFL top-eight as the finals race heats up.

The bye rounds now complete, at least 11 sides are firmly in the hunt for September action.

And even Port Adelaide (6-7, 12th) still fancy their chances of making a late surge.

But qualification is likely to require 13 wins this year because bottom sides West Coast and North Melbourne have been so poor.

The Suns (7-6, 11th) beat Adelaide by 43 points on Sunday and have given themselves every chance of playing finals for the first time in winning five of their last six games.

They tackle Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Sunday.

"We're placed in as good a spot at as any to go to Adelaide and have a crack at it," Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew said.

"The belief and confidence in our group is high and we don't need to look any further.

"I watched Port absolutely dominate Sydney and that doesn't happen very often.

"They've hit their straps and they need to win as much as us."

Cartlon, St Kilda and Sydney were left ruing huge opportunities missed in round 14, dropping games to Richmond, Essendon and Port Adelaide respectively.

The Saints were dealt what coach Brett Ratten branded a "reality check" when they were dominated by the lowly Bombers.

They now have a difficult month ahead, facing Sydney, Carlton, Fremantle and the Bulldogs.

"Every game's tough, it doesn't matter who you play," Ratten said.

"This year's harder than ever with the competition being so even, so you've got to be up every week."

At the top, ladder leader Brisbane, reigning premier Melbourne and surprise packet Fremantle are split only by percentage.

A Carlton victory over Richmond in round 14 would have made it a four-way split but the Tigers showed why many experts still have them in the premiership hunt.

Damien Hardwick's sixth-placed side is one of four locked on eight wins, including Collingwood (ninth).

The Magpies have knocked off contenders Melbourne, Carlton and Fremantle during their four-match winning streak and play their next six matches against teams currently outside the top eight.

Geelong (9-4) have also won four in a row and are well-placed ahead of their blockbuster meeting with Richmond in round 15.

Beaten preliminary finalists the last two years, Port Adelaide looked gone for all money this season when they lost their opening five games.

But Saturday's 23-point home win over Sydney was their sixth from eight games, and the top-eight is still within reach if they're good enough on the run home.

Two wins and percentage separate the Power from eighth-placed St Kilda.

"We have been pretty consistent for a period of time but we have still got to keep going," Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley said.

"We have put ourselves in a position that is going to be pretty challenging but we're up for the challenge."

A month ago, Melbourne were steamrolling their way through the competition and the flag looked every bit theirs to lose after 10 straight wins to open the season.

But the Demons' mid-season wobbles - a three-match losing streak amid off-field issues - have opened the door for all sorts of possibilities.

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