Three rounds to go in the race to the AFL finals: Round 21

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Strap in footy fans, the race to the finals is on and there are plenty of sides still in the mix. Sports editor Tim McGrath looks at the possibilities.

With three rounds to go and two finals spots yet to be claimed, the race for the AFL finals is well and truly on.

From the group of seven contenders, all of who can mathematically make or miss the finals, eight premiership points (two wins) is all that separates them from the top six or the bottom five teams on the ladder.

Let’s dive into what it’ll take for each of them to stay in the mix come September.

Three rounds to go in the race to the AFL finals: Round 21

The favourite

West Coast Eagles

West Coast has the best chance by far of playing finals footy, sitting in seventh, ahead of Fremantle.

Looking at the ladder, it seems slightly farfetched to suggest they might miss the eight when one win all but secures their spot in the finals.

But with three losable games remaining, things could get very interesting very quickly for West Coast.

If the Eagles can’t get the job done against Melbourne this round, they’ll against Melbourne, they’ll have to face up to a high-stakes WA derby against Fremantle the following week.

Failing to secure four points in either match means they’ll head to the Gabba in round 23 in need of a win to save their season.

The long-shots

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Carlton Blues and St Kilda Saints

The equation is simple for Carlton and St Kilda—win your last three games and you’ll probably make the finals.

Both teams sit four points behind Fremantle in eighth and own the two lowest percentages of anyone still in the hunt.

The two long shots are each scheduled to face a top-four side on its home deck in Round 21—Carlton at Port Adelaide and St Kilda at Geelong—matchups in which they’ll be heavy underdogs.

St Kilda faces a steep uphill battle given its low percentage and bevy of injured veterans, while Carlton’s finals hopes appear slightly more realistic.

No matter how unlikely their odds are, Carlton and St Kilda will continue to fight while they still have a chance.

The cluster

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Fremantle Dockers

Freo fans may be riding high after their big win against Richmond last round, feeling confident in their finals chances … they shouldn’t.

The Dockers will face a desperate Brisbane Lions side this week and an, in all likelihood, equally desperate West Coast team the round after.

While the Dockers lead the contenders in points, they also own the lowest percentage, meaning they’ll, almost certainly, have to win two of their three remaining matches to keep their finals spot.

However, they’ll fancy their chances against St Kilda, who’ll likely have nothing to play for in the final round.

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Richmond Tigers

The Tigers’ championship pedigree makes it hard to bet against them, but sitting behind Fremantle and GWS on points and trailing Essendon comfortably in percentage makes it, well, easy to bet against them.

They do, however, have three very winnable games on the horizon against North Melbourne, GWS and Hawthorn.

A finals berth won’t necessarily make this season less of a disappointment for the defending champs, but it could provide a silver lining and some momentum heading into 2022.

GWS Giants

GWS sits alone on 34 points thanks to a draw against North Melbourne, meaning their percentage is likely irrelevant and two wins will put them in a very strong position.

Finding two wins in their schedule will be no easy task as they face Geelong at GMHBA before a marquee matchup against Richmond.

However, they may be in the same boat as Fremantle come round 23 when they face a Carlton outfit that’ll likely be dead in the water.

Trying to predict which GWS side will show up is a difficult task—if they can string together three consistent performances in a row for the first time all year, they are certainly in with a shot.

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Essendon

Two wins from three tries remains the likely equation for Essendon as it has been for every team in this tier.

Hope will remain even if they fall to the Western Bulldogs this weekend, as they face two teams (Gold Coast and Collingwood) in the last two rounds, who will continue getting games into their youngsters.

A nice percentage buffer means Bomber fans can still hope for a finals spot, despite trailing Fremantle, and is indicative of how good this Essendon side has been at times this year.

The conclusion

This weekend’s results could tighten the race to the eight, with some pivotal clashes in round 22 on the horizon.

If West Coast holds steady, it will be impossible to predict which team from the cluster will grab that last spot—it’ll probably come right down to the final siren.