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Eight-pointers: 19 games that will shape the finals

Eagles' fight, Majak speaks, JJ's journey Nat Edwards and Matt Thompson with the latest news

WE KEEP hearing from coaches and players how even season 2017 has been, and that narrative doesn't look like changing anytime soon with 19 games still to come between teams still in contention for the top eight.

All places in the top eight remain up for grabs, with just two games separating third-placed Greater Western Sydney and 11th-placed St Kilda ahead of round 19 action.

The Giants, Adelaide and the reigning premier Western Bulldogs have the toughest runs (based on existing ladder positions) with four games still to come against fellow top-eight contenders.

Forecast the road to the flag with the AFL Ladder and Finals Predictor

Essendon has one of the easier schedules, with just one match against a top-eight team to come and games against 15th-placed Gold Coast and 14th-placed Fremantle to round out the year. 

The Hawks have just two matches left against top-eight contenders, so in essence their finals fate has been taken out of their hands.

Percentage is also going to have a sizeable bearing on the jostling for finals spots with Hawthorn (88 per cent), St Kilda (96.7 per cent) and the Bulldogs (98.2 per cent) all struggling in that area. 

Here are the games that will determine the September combatants. 

Round 19 

Hawthorn v Sydney, MCG, Friday night
The Hawks' season is on the line against the Swans on Friday night and we know how they have performed in crunch moments in the past. However, the Swans are in red-hot form and, if they knock over the Hawks, their pursuit of a spot in the top four is on in earnest.

Port Adelaide v St Kilda, Adelaide Oval, Saturday night
If Port wants to maintain contact with the top-four teams, it simply must beat St Kilda on home soil on Saturday night. The Saints have struggled in interstate games this season and have not won a game at Adelaide Oval in seven attempts. Can they find something with their finals hopes resting on the result? 

Western Bulldogs v Essendon, Etihad Stadium, Sunday
With both teams locked on 36 points, Sunday's game looms as pivotal in determining the final order of the top eight by season's end. Whichever team emerges as the victor will get a considerable jump on their rival, and it gives the Dogs a chance to leapfrog the Dons by the end of the round, possibly into the top eight. The classic 'eight-point game'.

Round 20 

Geelong v Sydney, Simonds Stadium, Friday night
Last year's preliminary finalists face off for the first time this season in what shapes as one of the most intruiging matches of the year. The Cats have not beaten the Swans since 2015 and were trounced by Sydney by 37 points in last year's prelim. 

Greater Western Sydney v Melbourne, Manuka Oval, Saturday
Two of the AFL's rising glamour sides will do battle for the first time this season in round 20. The Demons have beaten the Giants on the past two occasions and will need to do so again if they are to maintain their spot in the top eight. 

St Kilda v West Coast, Etihad Stadium, Sunday
If the Saints can beat Port Adelaide in round 19, they will see the clash against West Coast as a real opportunity to get back in the finals equation. The Eagles will be looking to mount their own finals charge, assuming they can knock off the Brisbane Lions the week prior.

Richmond v Hawthorn, MCG, Sunday
The Tigers are well in the hunt for a top-four berth and would go some way to achieving that with a win over the Hawks. Richmond will be keeping a sneaky eye on what happens in the Showdown in Adelaide, as a Port Adelaide loss could see them jump two games clear of their South Australian rivals.

Adelaide v Port Adelaide, Adelaide Oval, Sunday
One of the most intriguing Showdown clashes in recent memory will take place in round 20. Can the Power beat their crosstown rivals without injured forward Chad Wingard? Adelaide could be a chance to sew up the minor premiership with a win over Port in what will be a high-stakes game for both sides.

Rory Sloane and Ollie Wines will face off in an epic round 20 Showdown. Picture: AFL Photos

Round 21 

Western Bulldogs v Greater Western Sydney, Etihad Stadium, Friday night
The Giants are the only top-four side the Bulldogs have to face in the run to finals. Luke Beveridge's side has started to find some of the form that has escaped it for so much of this season and if it can beat GWS, its premiership defence will have taken a big boost. 

Geelong v Richmond, Simonds Stadium, Saturday
The two powerhouse clubs will face off at Simonds Stadium for the first time since 2012 in what shapes as a pivotal clash between two sides battling it out for a place in the top four. The hottest ticket in town. 

Essendon v Adelaide, Etihad Stadium, Saturday night
This will be a tough ask for the Bombers after the Crows smashed them by 65 points when they met in round four in Adelaide. However, Essendon is much improved on that effort and has generally risen to the occasion in primetime games in the latter half of the season. 

Melbourne v St Kilda, MCG, Sunday
The Demons and the Saints went into this season as many observers' picks to rise up the ladder and claim a place in the top eight. So it seems appropriate that the sides will have the chance to do just that in an all-important clash.

Can Tom Hawkins and the Cats topple Richmond at Simonds Stadium in round 21? Picture: AFL Photos

Round 22

Adelaide v Sydney, Adelaide Oval, Friday night
The two form sides of the competition will lock horns in a blockbuster Friday night clash. No ifs or buts about it, this is the match of the round. If the Swans can go over to Adelaide and take down the Crows, will they be installed as the new premiership favourites?

Western Bulldogs v Port Adelaide, Mars Stadium (Ballarat), Saturday
Ballarat has struck gold with the first AFL game for premiership points in the Victorian country town and it will have a major bearing on this year's finals. If the Bulldogs can get over the top of Port Adelaide, they should back themselves in to beat Hawthorn the following week and firm up their finals chances. 

Greater Western Sydney v West Coast, Spotless Stadium, Saturday
Are the Eagles a legitimate finals contender or just another also ran? The major knock on West Coast all season has been its inability to perform on the road, but it can go some way to reducing that stigma against the Giants. There will be no late Nic Naitanui heroics like last season, but which Eagle can stand up and lead his side into September contention?

Jeremy Cameron in shock as the Eagles steal it in R21, 2016. Picture: AFL Photos

Round 23

West Coast v Adelaide, Domain Stadium, timeslot TBC
A true litmus test of West Coast's finals credentials with Adelaide looking to tune up ahead of its finals run. The Eagles are back at home and along with the game against the Giants, this contest against the likely ladder leader could be do or die. It is likely to be the last game played at Domain Stadium.

Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs, Etihad Stadium, timeslot TBC
This will likely be champion Hawk Luke Hodge's farewell game before he rides off into the sunset. The question for the Dogs will be whether they can stick to their task and overcome the emotion of the game. How the Eagles fare against the Crows could influence the Dogs' mindset.

Geelong v Greater Western Sydney, Simonds Stadium, timeslot TBC
Whether this game is on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or even Monday night, the Cats-Giants clash will be a cracker. If results fall as expected in the coming weeks, Geelong and GWS could be playing off for second spot on the ladder and the right to host a qualifying final.

Richmond v St Kilda, MCG, timeslot TBC
The Tiger army will be in full voice when Richmond meets the Saints at the MCG. Richmond could be playing for a top-four spot, while St Kilda's hopes of making the finals could well hinge on its final game. The Saints spifflicated the Tigers by 67 points when they met in round 16. Surely the result will be a little closer this time around?