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Nine things we learned from round 22

The 10: round 22's best moments Big grab, tough tackle, a huge collision and one of the best goals you'll ever see

1. Dogs' premiership defence is all but over
The Bulldogs have been brave in trying to stay in the race but they look done now with only a miracle capable of lifting them off the canvas. They fought hard against Port Adelaide and looked a chance when they kicked two goals clear early in the final quarter. But in the end Port Adelaide was too big and too strong, kicking the final five goals. The Bulldogs lacked the height to quell Charlie Dixon and with Jack Redpath suspended their focal point was Travis Cloke, a player whose brilliant best is behind him. The Bulldogs need Dale Morris to play on in 2018 and their forward structure needs work but they still deserve credit for their efforts. - Peter Ryan

• The run home: How does the final round shape up?

2. Kelly's commitment to the Giants can't be questioned
While his contract situation remains in limbo the speculation about his footy future will continue to run rampant, but like fellow midfield gun Dustin Martin, Kelly is giving everything for his club. Some pointed to a couple of 'quiet' games a month ago and claimed the 22-year-old's focus was on his next lucrative deal rather than the Giants' premiership campaign, but his performances have shown otherwise. He's the leading tackler at GWS for the year, and while his 43 possessions and eight clearances against West Coast was a phenomenal effort, Kelly's toughness was even more impressive. Crunched by Josh Kennedy late in the final term, a groggy Kelly was helped from the field, but returned with his head bandaged to set up a crucial Shane Mumford goal, and then bagged one himself to finish off the Eagles. Who knows where he'll call home next season, but after his inspiring efforts in round 22, Kelly's teammates would have little doubt that GWS is his number one priority for the next six weeks. - Adam Curley


3. The Bombers are on the brink – but have some work to do
Essendon is in the box seat to make the eight for the first time since 2014, but based on the win over Gold Coast, it still has plenty of work to do. Sure, they were missing Michael Hurley (calf) and the rested Jobe Watson, but the win was far from convincing. They dominated the contested possessions and clearances (against a team using makeshift ruckmen), but struggled to capitalise on 71 inside 50s. The Bombers will have to rectify their poor ball movement if they're to do as expected and beat Fremantle next Sunday. The Dockers have little to play for, but Ross Lyon is a proud coach and would love to orchestrate a final-round upset to dash the Bombers' finals hopes. If they don't improve from the showing against Gold Coast, Essendon might be watching September action from the grandstand. - Michael Whiting

Around the state leagues: Who starred in your club's twos?

4. Top-four Tigers don't have to rely only on the 'Big Four' in September
There was a time when stopping Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt left the Tigers toothless, but not anymore - and that's why Richmond fans should attend finals in their droves in anticipation of a first September victory since 2001. In a danger game against Fremantle on Sunday afternoon, Richmond was immediately on the back foot against a rampant Dockers outfit intent on sending off Domain Stadium in style. Between them, the 'Big Four' had just 13 possessions, and the Tigers of old might have folded. However, Brandon Ellis (12) and unlikely goalkicker Jacob Townsend (two) kept the Tiges in touch, trailing by only four points at quarter-time. Then in a stunning eight-goal blitzkrieg in the second term, it was Shaun Grigg (13 disposals) and Kane Lambert (three goals) who exploded, with fleet-footed small forward Dan Butler, Shane Edwards and Kamdyn McIntosh also hitting the scoreboard, while David Astbury was rock-solid in defence. Martin and Cotchin lifted, Rance was solid and Riewoldt did some handy team things despite only having three touches for the half, but it was Richmond's lesser lights who led the charge. They are some of the players Damien Hardwick needs to shine in September if he is to notch his first finals win. - Travis King

Fantasy form watch: Unlikely heroes start to shine

5. Umpires put the whistle away when Buddy kicks goal of the season
Who would've been brave enough to make the correct call, yet one of the most unpopular, and deny Swans superstar Lance Franklin his sensational goal against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Friday night? Franklin turned on the afterburners to leave Crows defender Daniel Talia running in quicksand on the wing. After fumbling his second bounce, Franklin ran the maximum distance, with a bit of GST and the rest, before finishing beautifully from the pocket. By the letter of the rule book, Franklin should have been pinged for running too far, as Crows winger Rory Atkins was correctly penalised for during the game. The Swans didn't get many calls go their way during the game – with the Crows winning the free-kick count 28-14 – so in the end it was probably justice that the Buddy's brilliant goal stood. - Lee Gaskin


6. Menegola may be one of the most underrated midfielders in the comp
It shouldn't surprise that the fanfare evades Menegola, given he plays in the same midfield as perhaps the competition's best player Patrick Dangerfield, a champion like Joel Selwood and a matchwinner in Mitch Duncan. But Menegola probably deserves a little more credit, having been an excellent addition to Geelong's engine room since making his AFL debut towards the end of last season. This year, in 18 games, he has averaged 24 disposals and on Saturday he was important against Collingwood in gathering 28 disposals and booting two vital goals. As Dangerfield ran rampant, Menegola did plenty of the hard work as well. Every superhero needs a sidekick, and Menegola came through as Geelong sealed its top-four spot. - Callum Twomey

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

7. Melbourne is finals bound and finals ready
In the past, the Dees might have coughed up an all-important game such as the one they faced against the Brisbane Lions on Sunday afternoon. Instead, Melbourne stood up. It wasn't a convincing performance, but it showed this side has the required grit and mettle, keeping the Lions at bay despite the visitors twice closing the margin to seven points late in the game. Making it more impressive were relatively quiet games from some star players: Max Gawn was shaded by Stefan Martin, while Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca were well held early. Nevertheless, lesser lights such as Jake Melksham and Cameron Pedersen picked up the slack, while Jesse Hogan was the match-winner with six goals, showing nerves of steel to convert every time he took a shot. - Dinny Navaratnam

WATCH: Six-goal Hogan the hero against Lions

8. The cost of winning is worth paying for Blues
There were two prizes on offer on Saturday night for the Blues. Lose and they were a strong chance of collecting the wooden spoon and with it the No.1 pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Win and they ended an eight-game losing streak and a 14-game losing run against Hawthorn. It was clear from the scenes in the rooms post-game that Carlton collected the prize it wanted. Ending the season on 10 consecutive losses, as it likely would have against Sydney next week, would have been deflating for a developing team. But beating a team that has tormented it for so long will give young players such as Charlie Curnow and Jarrod Pickett something to hang on to during a long pre-season. If we're talking about the difference between pick No.1 and pick No.3, if that's how things unfold, Saturday night's win was worth it for Brendon Bolton and his team. - Nathan Schmook

After the siren: Which was Buddy's greatest goal?

9. Saints' midfield group a growing force
St Kilda's onball brigade was once a weakness and could still do with a splash more class – Josh Kelly, we are looking at you – but it is no longer the Achilles heel. Triple best and fairest winner Jack Steven is a worthy No.1 midfielder and is well complemented by emerging star Seb Ross. But more notable is the increased depth in the middle, with Luke Dunstan starting to hit his straps, Jack Sinclair providing genuine skill and Jack Newnes one of the side's hardest runners. There is also plenty of grit via Jack Steele and Koby Stevens. The Kangaroos are hardly the most feared opposition in the competition, but the Saints put them to the sword in the clearances (45-26) and ran them ragged in uncontested possessions (304-228) and handball receives (204-149). Finals may be just out of reach, but a platform has been set. - Marc McGowan 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs