THE WOODEN spoon race has been thrown open by North Melbourne's surprise win over West Coast in Perth, with multiple clubs now in the mix to claim the No.1 pick.
It comes after another impressive showing from potential top pick Jason Horne, with the South Australian considered the best player available in the open pool alongside father-sons Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy.
The Roos' 10-point victory over the battling Eagles lifts them to three wins and a draw for the season and just two points behind 17th -placed Hawthorn, putting the Hawks in the danger zone of being overtaken in the run home to the end of the season.
But 16th-placed Adelaide, who finished last in 2020, is also not out of the woods for an 18th-placed finished, with five wins to their name and a poor percentage (80.8) that took another beating with the Crows' record-low score against Essendon last week.
The Magpies are also on 20 points with five wins after their come-from-behind victory over Richmond on Sunday, but have a healthier percentage (91.4) than the three sides below them on the ladder which gives them a buffer in the remaining six rounds of the season. The Giants will be barracking for the Magpies to fall, with Greater Western Sydney holding Collingwood’s top pick after a trade last year.
David Noble's Kangaroos have now claimed three wins and a draw from their past eight games in an improved stretch that could see them move up the ladder, with games to come against Essendon, Carlton, Geelong (at Blundstone Arena), Richmond, Sydney (at Marvel Stadium) and Adelaide in the final round at Adelaide Oval.
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The Hawks have won two of their past five games but remain anchored to 17th position on the ladder and a chance to claim their first wooden spoon since 1965.
They play premiership contenders Melbourne and Brisbane in the next two rounds before tackling Adelaide, Collingwood, the Western Bulldogs and Richmond.
Ultimately, the battle for the wooden spoon could determine access to Horne, who is widely seen as the leading prospect in the open pool. The South Adelaide teenager, who recently turned 18, has similarities to Fremantle superstar Nat Fyfe for his overhead marking and tenacity, and has also won comparisons to Geelong superstar Joel Selwood for his rugged and aggressive approach.
On Saturday he gathered 19 disposals and booted a goal against Adelaide's SANFL side, and also crunched Crows key forward Darcy Fogarty in a heavy tackle that has gone viral online. With fellow contenders for the No.1 pick Daicos (Collingwood) and Darcy (Western Bulldogs) having ties to clubs, the next six weeks could prove to be the Horne ultimatum as the wooden spoon is decided.
The club with the No.1 pick could also bid on Daicos, Darcy or both before taking Horne.
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Sandringham Dragons wingman Finn Callaghan is also viewed among the best group of prospects, while midfielder Ben Hobbs has pushed himself into top-five conversations with his past month of games.
After selecting local Riley Thilthorpe last season with the No.2 choice, Horne would be ideal for the Crows, who could look to trade up the board if they don't finish with the first live choice. In 2019 the Crows did the opposite, trading back from pick No.4 to 6 in exchange for a future first-round pick from the Giants, who wanted to land a selection before matching a bid on Academy prospect Tom Green.
North Melbourne was open to trading back down the order in the lead-up to last year's draft when it was eyeing off Will Phillips but ended up using its selection to pick the midfielder.
NORTH MELBOURNE RUN HOME
R18: Essendon, Marvel Stadium
R19: Carlton, Marvel Stadium
R20: Geelong, Blundstone Arena
R21: Richmond, MCG
R22: Sydney, Marvel Stadium
R23: Adelaide, Adelaide Oval
HAWTHORN RUN HOME
R18: Melbourne, MCG
R19: Brisbane, MCG
R20: Adelaide, Adelaide Oval
R21: Collingwood, MCG
R22: Western Bulldogs, University of Tasmania Stadium
R23: Richmond, MCG
ADELAIDE RUN HOME
R18: West Coast, Adelaide Oval
R19: Western Bulldogs, Mars Stadium
R20: Hawthorn, Adelaide Oval
R21: Port Adelaide, Adelaide Oval
R22: Melbourne, MCG
R23: North Melbourne, Adelaide Oval
COLLINGWOOD RUN HOME
R18: Carlton, MCG
R19: Port Adelaide, Adelaide Oval
R20: West Coast, MCG
R21: Hawthorn, MCG
R22: Brisbane, Gabba
R23: Essendon, MCG