THE FINAL fortnight of the home and away season sees many questions hanging over clubs.
For some, it is about how clubs best shape up ahead of a run at the finals and a potential crack at a premiership.
For others, decisions loom about key players and coaching positions, and how the next two weeks can shape calls heading into 2022.
Here is the big question facing each club with two rounds left to play in the regular season.
What happens with Matt Crouch?
As reported by AFL.com.au last month, the Crows have tabled a multi-year offer for the restricted free agent to remain at the club. Crouch, a Therabody AFL All-Australian in 2017, has not played senior footy this season after undergoing groin surgery. In his absence Rory Laird has made a home for himself on the ball with a fantastic year, Ben Keays has continued to thrive, and youngster Harry Schoenberg has impressed with his increased minutes in the midfield. Crouch has played once at SANFL level and has now been ruled out for the rest of the year with a recurrence of the groin problem. The contested-ball bull now has plenty of time to weigh up his future and just where its next phase will be. - Michael Whiting
What shape will Darcy Gardiner and Marcus Adams be in come finals time?
While ACL injuries for Cam Rayner and Eric Hipwood have robbed Brisbane of some forward-line punch, perhaps of equal significance have been the setbacks to Darcy Gardiner (shoulder) and Marcus Adams (foot) at the other end of the ground. Gardiner should be available this week and Adams hopefully next, but what shape they get themselves into ahead of the finals could be critical to the Lions' fortunes. At their best the duo fit perfectly alongside Harris Andrews as a three-tall defensive unit, with Gardiner, who has missed 12 weeks, able to lock up taller and medium-sized forwards, and Adams – in career-best form before missing the past month – able to influence with his intercepting and rugged defending. Ryan Lester and Jack Payne have been excellent as second and third talls, but Gardiner and Adams can take the Lions to another level. - Michael Whiting
Who is coaching Carlton in 2022?
There is so much uncertainty at Ikon Park. Will David Teague coach the club in 2022? If not, can the hierarchy convince Alastair Clarkson to make the switch to Carlton? And who else could find themselves under pressure at year's end? All of this will be uncovered when the results of an external review into the club's football department is delivered to the board in the coming days. With doubts over Teague's future lingering, Carlton faces the prospect of yet another coaching handover in the near future. Given its struggles over the last decade, the club simply must convince members that its next steps over the coming weeks and months are the right ones to take in order to find success. - Riley Beveridge
Should Mason Cox get a new contract?
Outside of the obvious next coaching appointment, Cox's future is a point of fascination at Pies HQ. And the next coach is likely to have a big say on what happens with the 211cm American. Cox has played seven games (four under Nathan Buckley, three under Robert Harvey) in the final year of a contract he triggered an extension on for 2021 and starts next season at 31. Pies head of football Graham Wright will need to ask – is Cox part of our future plans or are we better served looking at the next wave? Darcy Cameron appears to have grabbed the opportunity of key forward/back-up ruck with both hands and gone past Cox, while Harvey has committed to 194cm father-son Will Kelly as a forward at least for the short-term. The Pies also selected high-flyer Ash Johnson and forward/ruck prospect Aiden Begg in the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft in June, plus have back-up ruck Max Lynch as depth. - Mitch Cleary
How do the Bombers get their full midfield humming?
The Bombers have been steered by ace midfield pairing Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish this season, with Jake Stringer’s explosive clearance work and centre bounce presence also critical in a number of wins. It has been done largely without Dylan Shiel, who has returned in recent weeks from a knee injury, as well as recruit Jye Caldwell, who has been sidelined since round two with hamstring injuries. Andrew McGrath, too, has missed half a season with a knee injury, while Kyle Langford’s run has been interrupted too. So how do the Bombers get their full midfield group working well together without taking away from their big three around the ball? And does the final stage of their season – and potentially an unlikely top-eight berth – influence whether they again chase a big-bodied midfielder in the trade period after their unsuccessful attempt to pry Josh Dunkley out of the Bulldogs last year? - Callum Twomey
How to keep Adam Cerra?
The Dockers' young midfield has been central to their season and retaining Adam Cerra would be the perfect way to end a year of progress. Making finals would have been the ideal selling point for the 21-year-old, who remains undecided on his future, but that is no longer likely and Fremantle needs to make sure it doesn't undo any of the steps forward it has taken this year in the last fortnight. If retaining Cerra isn't possible, the next question is how can they win at the trade table? Collecting NAB AFL Draft selections and adding young talent should be the first option, with depth still an issue for the club. - Nathan Schmook
Who takes the No.1 ruck duties for week one of finals?
No, this hasn't been mistakenly added from last season. It's been the biggest question mark on the Cats' selection whiteboard for several years and two weeks out from finals remains a dilemma for Chris Scott. Rhys Stanley has held the No.1 ruck mantle for the past six matches, but Jeremy Cameron has missed five of them, leaving Esava Ratugolea, who rucked from rounds 8-15, to play closer to goal. Now that Cameron is fit, the Cats have a decision on their hands to determine if Ratugolea returns to the centre square or if they continue with Stanley. Then there's the added factor of where Mark Blicavs fits, given he plays a high percentage of ruck time when Ratugolea is the preferred option in the side compared to Stanley. The ruck set-up has changed in the final month of the season for the past four seasons; let's see what Scott's got in store this time. - Mitch Cleary
Can the Suns finish with a flurry?
The rollercoaster 2021 season got another 'up' at the weekend with a win over Carlton, but far too often Gold Coast has followed success with an unexplainable drop-off. Although they can't make the top eight, the final two rounds are a chance to bury the habit of fizzling out in seasons – something that has characterised the young team under coach Stuart Dew. Wins over Essendon and Sydney, or at least pushing them to the brink, would leave a positive feeling heading into a critical 12 months ahead where Dew is out of contact, along with a host of top-line talent including Ben King, Izak Rankine and Jack Lukosius. Two poor losses, and that same flat feeling experienced so many times will follow the Suns into their off-season. - Michael Whiting
Can the big guns finish the finals charge?
A wretched run with injuries means only four Giants have played every match this season, with Geelong (three) the only team having fewer. Yet a regularly unsettled, inexperienced and inconsistent Giants team has fought back from a 0-3 start to the season to now sit inside the top-eight. The power of youth was at its peak last week when eight forced changes meant a team with an average age of 23 years and two months took on and upset the battled-hardened Cats at GMHBA Stadium. Experienced Giants like Josh Kelly, Jacob Hopper, Jesse Hogan, Shane Mumford and Phil Davis are now ready to return but need to make the most of the opportunity waiting for them and lead the team to its first back-to-back win since round eight despite missing Toby Greene, then do it all again next week. - Martin Pegan
What's the most effective forward-line set-up?
The 2021 coaching question has already (messily) been answered, so future senior coach Sam Mitchell will already have one eye firmly on next season. The Hawks are definitely in a transition phase, but are lucky to have three young key forwards coming through the ranks. Tim O'Brien has been playing in defence of late, while Mitch Lewis, Jacob Koschitzke and Emerson Jeka have been occupying the tall attacking roles. Since the bye, the three have played only one game together, the draw against Melbourne in round 18, with Jeka then making way for the smaller Chad Wingard. - Sarah Black
What does Melbourne's best forward line look like?
Last summer's key arrival, Ben Brown, looks to have nailed down a spot in Melbourne's attack for the finals series. But who will join him? Tom McDonald has been a mainstay in the side all season, but a recent back injury opens the door for other key-position prospects to make their case. Luke Jackson is finding form at the right time and appears a certainty to hold his place, but Sam Weideman has played just five games all year and doesn't look to be on the verge of a recall any time soon. Does McDonald come back? Or does Jackson's improvement over the last fortnight, combined with Brown's recent development, see the Demons go smaller when it matters? - Riley Beveridge
What does North Melbourne do with pick No.1?
One more defeat means North Melbourne is bound for the wooden spoon and destined to take the first selection into this year's NAB AFL Draft. But what does it do from here? Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy, Victoria's two best prospects, are tied to rival clubs Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs respectively due to the father-son rule. It means Jason Horne-Francis, the best available player in the open pool, remains front of mind. Adelaide would love to move higher up the order to snag the South Australian local, but can it do a deal with North Melbourne? The Kangaroos will ultimately be the team to decide that. Is Horne-Francis their man? Or can they negotiate a trade that makes it worth parting with the first pick? - Riley Beveridge
How many tall forwards is too many?
The Power are blessed with three key forwards who are each capable of playing the lead role on any given week. Charlie Dixon (41 goals) is the main target, but Mitch Georgiades (29) and Todd Marshall (20) have also had big games this season and warrant selection. It leaves them with a conundrum around ruck/forward Peter Ladhams, who is the best option as a second ruckman, but not as reliable when forward. Can they play all four or will a decision need to be made on Marshall and Ladhams, weighing up the value of another goalkicker and dangerous target versus a strong and mobile second ruckman? - Nathan Schmook
How do the Tigers address the centre clearance issue, again?
The Tigers managed to turn around their centre clearance woes about this time last year, and it took them all the way to a third flag in four years. While they're nowhere near that level in 2021, stopping the opposition's easy waltz out of middle will go a long way to scraping into eighth spot and potentially pinching an elimination final win. Richmond was down 0-8 in the centre clearances at half-time against North Melbourne last round, and led by ruckman Toby Nankervis, noticeably lifted its tackle pressure in the middle after the main break, leading to a 53-point turnaround. - Sarah Black
Will Jack Billings play for the club again?
He's already been ruled out for this week and appears touch-and-go for the final game of the season with a hamstring injury (unless the Saints scrape into the top eight and he returns for finals). So, will the restricted free agent be at the club in 2022? Billings is surveying the market to ascertain his value and if any club comes calling with a significant offer, he may well jump at it. Plus, if it's in the $500-600,000 bracket per season, the Saints would likely accept a second-round compensation pick without matching a bid. However, if a good deal isn't forthcoming elsewhere, he will be offered a contract at RSEA Park, but it's expected to be below what he's currently paid (upwards of $600,000 per season). The former No.3 pick has been below his best this season but has played with pain and weekly injections for an ongoing foot injury. Now it's up to the market to determine his long-term worth. - Mitch Cleary
Will Sam Reid boost the forward firepower?
With a finals place guaranteed but a top-four finish all but out of reach, the Swans can spend the remaining rounds addressing some issues like their slow starts and fine-tuning their strengths. Lance Franklin (42 goals), Tom Papley (36), Isaac Heeney (28) and Will Hayward (25) are the firepower behind the third-highest scoring attack in the League, but the Swans haven’t had a second tall forward that also hits the scoreboard regularly. This is partly due to Sam Reid missing much of the season with a calf injury but he has also kicked only one goal in three matches since his return. If the 29-year-old can again be a reliable inside-50 target and goalkicking threat it will help stretch opposition defences and give Franklin and the other forwards more room to shine come finals time. - Martin Pegan
How to support Nic Naitanui?
The Eagles don't have a ruck structure they are comfortable sticking with and it is hurting them in several ways. They have tried young forward Oscar Allen as the second ruckman but he has struggled for form in both roles, and they have recently turned to defender Jeremy McGovern, swinging Allen into defence to cover him when he moves into that role. Premiership ruckman Nathan Vardy has not done enough when selected as a second ruckman, averaging four disposals in six games this season. Young tall Bailey Williams is the other option, with injury interrupting his season. The ruck has been a riddle the Eagles can't solve and they're running out of time. - Nathan Schmook
How to replace Josh Bruce?
This is the Dogs' dilemma they really didn't want to consider on the eve of a tilt at the premiership. With Bruce ruled out for the rest of the season, and most of next year, after his ACL knee injury last Sunday against Essendon, the Bulldogs now have to decide on the best plan of attack to replace him. Is it pushing superstar skipper Marcus Bontempelli forward more? Is it shifting a defender such as Zaine Cordy or new backman Josh Schache into attack with their key defenders soon to return from injury? Or is it bringing in ruckman Jordon Sweet and leaving Tim English for more time in the front half? That seems the best option for now, with forward pair Cody Weightman and Mitch Hannan also likely to return after missing the loss to the Bombers. Luke Beveridge often spins the magnets at Whitten Oval but this change has been forced upon the Dogs coach with a qualifying final three weeks away. - Callum Twomey