The first two weekends in September will have no games in Melbourne if the Western Bulldogs lose to Fremantle on Sunday and the favourites bank the four points in five other matches.
The clash at Subiaco is one of six games in Round 23 that will not only shape the finals, but frame flag markets. The following weekend, September 3-4, is the new pre-finals bye.
And all four first-week finals are likely to be interstate if the Dockers upset the injury-hit Bulldogs, or if the Dogs win and West Coast surprises Adelaide.
Sydney is set to be crowned minor premier if it can defeat Richmond. The other favourites are the Crows; Geelong against Melbourne; Greater Western Sydney against North Melbourne; and Hawthorn against Collingwood.
Swans coach John Longmire knows a home final is up for grabs.
“You want to get to this point of the year with that in front of you, which is to be able to control your own destiny … in the last game of the year at the SCG and that’s what we’re going to try and do,” he said after taking care of the Kangaroos on Saturday in Tasmania.
The Crows can supplant the Swans and finish top, if Sydney loses, but a top-two finish means just as much, with a first home final up for grabs.
Adelaide effectively holds an 8-10 goal percentage buffer over Geelong for second spot, and would earn its top two-finish by beating West Coast.
Crows coach Don Pyke said his players would be “battle-hardened” after Saturday’s win against Port Adelaide.
Hawthorn needs to get over an inconsistent Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday to lock in a top-four finish, but it could slip as low as seventh.
“I don’t really know where we want to finish to be fair,” Clarkson said after Hawthorn’s loss to West Coast.
“I’m sure there’s other coaches in the competition that are thinking exactly the same, the huge curve ball in this year’s finals series is that bye after round 23. “It’s unique. It’s never been done in the game before.
“No one knows how it’s going to pan out. If there’s any year there’s a chance to come from outside of the top four, it’s this year, because of that very unique situation.”
A depleted North Melbourne stands in the way of GWS from clinching fifth spot and a historic final at Spotless Stadium.
As for the Kangaroos, nothing changes: win, lose or draw after Melbourne’s shock 20-point loss to Carlton on Sunday.
St Kilda could draw level on wins (12), but would need to set a new VFL-AFL record winning margin of 300-plus points to make up mammoth percentage margin.
The Bulldogs-Dockers clash looms as the great unknown.
The Dockers have been deplorable this season, but coach Ross Lyon’s men could fire up for one last heave-ho for club legend and former captain Matthew Pavlich in his 353rd and possibly last game.
(v Richmond, SCG, Saturday 4:35pm)
Best: Sydney defeats Richmond clinches minor premiership.
Worst: Sydney loses to Richmond and tumbles to 5th if Crows, Geelong, Hawks and GWS all win.
(v West Coast, Adelaide Oval, Friday 8:10pm)
Best: Sydney lose, or Adelaide defeats West Coast by 60+ points to finish on top of the ladder.
Worst: Adelaide loses to West Coast and finishes 5th.
(v Melbourne, Simonds Stadium, Saturday 1:45pm)
Best: Can finish on top if it beats Melbourne and Adelaide and Sydney both lose.
Worst: Can slip to 6th if it loses to Melbourne and West Coast, Hawthorn and GWS all win.
(v Collingwood, MCG, Sunday 3:20pm)
Best: Adelaide, Geelong, and Sydney all lose. Hawthorn defeats Collingwood to finish on top.
Worst: Hawthorn loses to Collingwood by double figures, Giants Western Bulldogs defeat Fremantle. Hawks finish 7th.
5TH: GWS GIANTS
(v North Melbourne, Etihad, Saturday 7:25pm)
Best: Adelaide, Geelong, Sydney (-30pts) and Hawthorn lose. GWS defeats North Melbourne to finish on top.
Worst: If all the favourites win and GWS loses to North Melbourne the Giants fall to 6th.
6TH: WEST COAST
(v Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, Friday 8:10pm)
Best: Can still get third if it humiliates Adelaide, and Geelong, GWS and Hawthorn lose.
Worst: Finishes 7th if it loses to the Crows and the Bulldogs beat the Dockers.
7TH: WESTERN BULLDOGS
(v Fremantle, Subiaco, Sunday 4:40pm)
Best: Gets 4th if it rolls Freo by anything other than a nailbiter and Hawks, GWS and West Coast lose.
Worst: Finishes 7th if it can’t beat the Dockers.
8TH: NORTH MELBOURNE
(v GWS, Etihad, Saturday 7:25pm)
IF THE FAVOURITES WIN IN ROUND 23 THE FIRST WEEK OF THE FINALS WOULD BE:
Sydney v Geelong (in Sydney)
Adelaide v Hawthorn (in Adelaide)
GWS v North Melbourne (in Sydney)
Western Bulldogs v West Coast (in Melbourne)