1. The Hawks are at a critical juncture

Coach Alastair Clarkson called Hawthorn's current predicament an "exploration phase" after Friday night's loss to Essendon. For all the Hawks' careful planning in previous years, there are some big calls to make in the coming months – and there is likely to be significant turnover. Do any of Jarryd Roughead, Shaun Burgoyne, Paul Puopolo and Ryan Schoenmakers continue? Grant Birchall is pushing to play in the VFL next weekend but needs to prove he can be durable to earn another contract. Will Isaac Smith be traded? New skipper Ben Stratton's leadership is being questioned after a series of poor decisions against the Bombers that left him with a Tribunal date and at least one fine. Players such as David Mirra, Kaiden Brand, Tim O'Brien, Conor Glass, Marc Pittonet and Teia Miles are also fighting for their AFL careers. These are fascinating times at Waverley Park. - Marc McGowan

2. Injury blows might not derail Freo's finals charge

Losing Rory Lobb (foot) and Alex Pearce (ankle) – on top of Matt Taberner's season-ending foot fracture – soured the uplifting MCG win over Collingwood, however the Dockers proved on Saturday their September dream remains alive without those important talls after a hard-earned 21-point victory over Port Adelaide. Griffin Logue filled Pearce's post down back and finished with 24 touches, Sean Darcy recovered from some dicey moments to stand tall against Paddy Ryder and Scott Lycett when it mattered most in the final term and Jesse Hogan's three-goal, 11-mark display was exactly what fans wanted to see from the boom recruit. With underperforming Melbourne next week, plus another five games at Optus Stadium, the Dockers (7-5) are a genuine chance of returning to finals ahead of expectations in 2019. - Travis King

3. Critics were too quick to judge Charlie

We were all wowed by what Charlie Curnow did last year, when he kicked 34 goals from 20 games for a struggling Carlton side with few scoring avenues. There was a natural expectation he would be even better again in 2019, because of increased support (Mitch McGovern's arrival and Harry McKay's emergence), an improved Blues outfit and being a year older. However, too readily ignored while critiquing the younger Curnow's early season output was the impact the knee bone bruising, and subsequent further knock, had on him – beyond just the three matches he was out. Now free of the problem, we are starting to see Curnow blossom. The 22-year-old encouragingly kicked seven goals and took eight contested marks between rounds 10 and 12, then came his career-best seven majors on Saturday night against the Bulldogs. Context is often a wonderful thing. - Marc McGowan

WATCH Seven-goal Curnow almost gets Blues home

4. The Saints' season is still alive

It wasn't pretty – in fact, at times it was downright ugly – but grinding out a four-point win over Gold Coast has somehow kept St Kilda's finals dreams alive. You have to squint hard to envisage a road map to the top eight based on Saturday's form, but the facts are the Saints are 6-6 and just a game outside the finals picture. Next weekend they play Brisbane, a last-start loser to Carlton, followed by matches against Richmond and North Melbourne that will shape their season. Jack Billings is now living up to his potential, Tim Membrey is a reliable forward and the possible returns of Jack Steven, Jake Carlisle and Dan Hannebery could add enough top-end talent to make the Saints more than a handful. - Michael Whiting

5. Cunnington will endure despite miserable milestone

Hard-nosed midfielder Ben Cunnington has typified the 'Shinboner spirit' in every one of his 200 games as a Kangaroo and did the same on Sunday despite enduring a milestone match that won't provide the fondest memories. Usually a contested ball animal, Cunnington was the latest victim of a Matt De Boer shutdown in Hobart on Sunday afternoon, scraping his way to just 16 possessions thanks to the unwavering attention paid to him by the GWS stopper. With just six touches at half-time and 10 at the final break, Cunnington had lacked his usual influence and the Kangaroos missed his influence at stoppage – but his courage was there for all to see in the third term when he backed into a hole and marked overhead in front of an onrushing opponent to thwart another GWS surge. Chaired from the ground by his teammates, Cunnington won't want to dwell on Sunday's performance – and the smart money will be on him bouncing back hard against Collingwood following next week's bye. - Stu Warren

6. Ellis-Yolmen's stocks rising ahead of free agency

Adelaide big-bodied midfielder Cam Ellis-Yolmen is having a breakout season at the perfect time. Out of contract at the end of the year, and eligible for free agency, the 26-year-old had another impressive game in the Crows' 33-point win over Richmond at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night. Ellis-Yolmen is averaging 23.5 disposals per game and is in the top 20 in the League in contested possessions. He's set for a big pay rise from his rookie-listed contract and will be an intriguing prospect for rival clubs who are chasing a strong inside midfielder. Ellis-Yolmen was delisted by the Crows at the end of last season before being re-drafted as a rookie. He's only played 39 career games in eight seasons, and missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. - Lee Gaskin

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