WITH a moment of sheer brilliance with eight seconds remaining at Spotless Stadium on Saturday evening, Nic Naitanui didn't just save West Coast's season, he might have further muddied the premiership waters.

Naitanui's audacious left-foot snap gave the Eagles the most unlikely of wins; they were a goal behind with 78 seconds left and managed to score twice thereafter.

The win keeps them in sixth place, and they must beat Hawthorn in a clinker of a Friday night game in order to remain there, but they're also back in contention for the top four and with one of the most dangerous players in the competition locked and loaded for a big finals campaign.

Naitanui has looked great in his two matches back since requiring surgery to fix a niggling leg injury. Interestingly, Simpson said Naitanui might be managed upon his return to the side, and there was a suggestion that a six-day turnaround after a derby, on the other side of the country might be a good week to miss out, particularly with another six-day break and a huge home game against Hawthorn to come.

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Good thing for Simpson that he pushed the envelope with Naitanui. In addition to the match-winning goal on Saturday, he had 16 possessions and 45 hit-outs and had the better of the imposing Shane Mumford.

Three games in 12 days will be a challenge, but the Eagles have to keep playing him. The published team sheet might list Naitanui as a ruckman, but he is really a midfielder, and a leaping, bounding one at that.

Confident and in-form, he makes West Coast a three-goal better team and really dangerous from here on in. He hasn't really fired a shot in his past two outings against Hawthorn, so how he performs on Friday night will be a fascinating sub-plot to a must-win game.

No room for sentiment when building a dynasty 

The Hawks and the Swans sit on top of the ladder, to the surprise of not that many.

But what continues to astonish is how the two clubs remain the flag favourites while so clearly keeping one eye on their future.

The Hawks unveiled their seventh debutant for the season on Saturday and Ryan Burton looked the goods. The forward kicked one goal – you won't find many better first-up goals than his crafty snap in the first quarter – and could have kicked three. Whether he holds his spot next week when James Sicily returns from suspension is debatable, but the Hawks might have found a player.

Hawthorn's best 22 usually depends on match-ups and this September, perhaps only Sicily and Kaiden Brand, of those who started the season with 10 games or fewer to their name, are likely starters.

But the Hawks' depth players have shown enough this year to show they can more than hold their own, should the injury curse strike again now and in the finals. The traditional Hawthorn apprenticeship works as well in 2016 as it did in 1976.

The Swans have unveiled seven debutants this year and among them, Aliir Aliir, Tom Papley and George Hewett appear set to be long-term players. Xavier Richards played two games before this year, but has been excellent as a key forward while Kurt Tippett has been out of the side. Sam Naismith has rucked admirably while Callum Sinclair has been out of the side.

Aliir will likely keep Ted Richards out of the side for the rest of the year. They're not ones for sentiment, the Swans. Just ask Ryan O'Keefe, who in 2014, just 12 months removed from a Norm Smith Medal, spent his final year with the club as a permanent fixture in the NEAFL side.

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Could the Dons avoid the spoon?

Bravo to Essendon. Sunday's fighting six-point win over Gold Coast snapped a 17-game losing skid and presents a fighting chance of avoiding the club's first wooden spoon since 1933.

Assuming the Brisbane Lions lose their last two matches against Geelong and St Kilda, a win over the fast-fading Carlton in round 23, perhaps with a few goals to spare, might be enough.

Credit to John Worsfold for keeping things together at Essendon this year under considerable duress. At various times he has leant on the kids, at other times the so-called 'top-ups'.

On Sunday the likes of Jonathan Simpkin and Mathew Stokes were recalled to the side, but the promising sign was Zach Merrett having 38 touches in his first game as acting skipper and David Zaharakis getting 40.

On the first day of pre-season training, Zaharakis is going to wrap his arms around his returning teammates and surely exclaim, "Thank God you're back."

As for Gold Coast, that was a really poor performance. The Suns are spending the week in Melbourne, partly because of the six-day break and back-to-back games in Victoria and also to immerse themselves in the Melbourne footy bubble for a week.

It's a great idea by the Suns, particularly in this stage of their journey. But while they might think they have caught a break by not returning home and facing the music after a poor loss to a battling team, they'll soon find that wherever you go in Melbourne, someone will want to talk footy and remind them of how disappointing they really were.

Other observations

1. Here's your Lance Franklin stat line from the third quarter in Saturday night as the Swans blew St Kilda apart: 15 possessions (five contested), eight kicks, seven handballs, three marks (one contested) and three goals. He's the chief reason why the Swans have edged past the Hawks into premiership favouritism. In that sort of form, who will stop him in September?

WATCH: Franklin tears the Saints apart

2. Sunday at the MCG gave us a taste of why Geelong is Geelong and Richmond is, well, Richmond. The Tigers played the first three quarters to near perfection, blocking the corridor and denying the Cats easy shots on goal. And they were pretty efficient going forward the other way. In the final quarter that all changed as the Cats played a fantastic 30 minutes, coming back from 35 points down to win by four points and stay in the top four. The optimists would say that with the game on the line, all the Geelong big guns lifted and Chris Scott's various positional changes came up trumps. The pessimists would point to the first three quarters and that a team with a bit more mental resolve than the Tigers might have been able to close it out. Geelong still has some work to do – the gap between its best and its worse remains too large.

3. What a horrible 24 hours for the Giants. First their own collapse against West Coast; and then the comeback by the Cats. Now they're a game outside the four and not particularly likely to get back in. I'm not buying Leon Cameron's "great game to play in" spiel after the game. A goal ahead with 80 seconds to go should have resulted in the win for GWS, but now an elimination final seems likely, which is not the path to a premiership for a team still in development.

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

4. Kudos to the Kangaroos for at least avoiding a blowout at the MCG on Saturday. They were shredded by the Hawks in the first quarter, who kicked eight goals to one, yet by the third quarter, the margin got to 13 points. North displayed a fair bit of ticker in the middle two quarters and Brad Scott was right to say that their best football can be as good as any in the competition. But he needs his best players at his disposal fit and firing and that just hasn't been the case in the second half of the season. North will get a few back between now and the finals, but you have to wonder whether enough of them will be match-hardened for what lies ahead.

5. Melbourne's win against Port Adelaide was full of merit. The Demons backed up their Grand Final-like win over Hawthorn with a dominant win over Port Adelaide on the row. That's three wins on the trot for the Demons and for those who don't keep count of such things, it was 2197 days since they beat Richmond in 2010, the last time they won three games in a row. It is 30 seasons since Melbourne's barnstorming run to the 1987 finals and the question of whether that magic will be repeated now looms very large. All roads might lead to Simonds Stadium.

6. There was so much good footy and so many great results over the weekend, that the brilliant Western Bulldogs-Collingwood game from Friday night seems an eternity ago. After a week when the Magpies' brand was questioned by some, Nathan Buckley got a performance that was full of grit and heart, but alas not quite good enough. The Dogs survived the scare thanks as much as anything to the star that is Marcus Bontempelli, with 26 disposals, two goals and six inside-50s, in a game packed with pressure. The Dogs long ago adopted Hawthorn's "lose one soldier and replace him with another" mantra, but they have to be thankful that 'The Bont' is one soldier who stands up week in and week out. 

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