THE 53rd Western Derby was not only one of the very best since its inception in 1995, but it also in my eyes proved three significant facts.
One, the 2021 Grand Final has to be played at Optus Stadium. There have been tumbleweeds rolling through matches played in Victoria for a large chunk of the second half of the season. The pulsating energy of a packed Optus Stadium on Sunday for the Dockers' thrilling win against West Coast was genuinely energising, a reminder for Victorians of what once was, and the official and final prompter for the AFL to get serious about making the big call for the second consecutive year to take the Grand Final from the MCG.
Two, the Dockers would be worthy finalists. Without arguably their suspended best player Andrew Brayshaw, they both kept alive their own season and effectively ended that of their most hated rival. But they don't control their destiny now - unlike GWS and Essendon.
And three, West Coast is shot to bits, requiring a massive reset in the off-season. Its current model has been grand and secured the 2018 premiership. But it hasn't stood up since, with the two subsequent finals campaigns respectively falling short in a semi-final and elimination final.
The AFL will this week determine what lies ahead in the remaining five weeks of competition – the final home-and-away round then a four-week finals series – as well as where to place the "bye".
That bye almost certainly won't be where it has been since 2016, between round 23 and week one of finals. It may lob after week two of finals, when four teams will still be alive for the premiership. And it may fall the weekend after the preliminary finals have been decided. At whichever point it decrees, the teams still alive in the 2021 finals race could be placed in a COVID-19 quarantine bubble, be that in Perth, Adelaide or Melbourne, depending on the venue chosen to host the Grand Final.
And while there is a contract to play the Grand Final at the MCG for each and every season until 2058 (increased by one year after the 2020 game was moved to the Gabba), it would not make sense to play the 2021 premiership decider in a venue with 100,000 empty seats, while Optus Stadium, Adelaide Oval and the Gabba could either be filled, or something close to it.
While on scheduling, if the qualifying and elimination finals are to be played as per ladder finish, then Geelong, should it qualify as the top-ranked team for a qualifying final, deserves to have that game played at GMHBA Stadium. If the Victorian Government decrees, as now expected, that no one can attend that weekend's matches, then there would be no reason in my eyes for the AFL to play that game at a desolate MCG.
Can Bont rescue the faltering Dogs again?
Unbeaten in the opening six rounds, first or second on the ladder from rounds three to 21, and yet still not guaranteed a finals double chance.
It has been an extraordinary ride for the Western Bulldogs this season, but their close to the home-and-away season is as worrying as their opening was exhilarating.
In consecutive losses to Essendon and Hawthorn, the Bulldogs have looked like a team making up numbers, and now must defeat the rampant Port Adelaide on Friday night to guarantee a top-four finals berth. A loss in that game, and a six-goal win by Brisbane against West Coast would see them slump to fifth.
THE RUN HOME Who'll finish on top, who'll miss out?
The returns after long injury absences of Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley haven't had the expected effect, and in the past two weeks, the opposition's midfield arrangements have been able to expose the Dogs' on-ball structure in key clearances.
The season-ending knee injury to key forward Josh Bruce obviously was not the cause of the loss to the Bombers given it happened in the final seconds, but his absence against the Hawks was telling. The ultra-exciting Aaron Naughton has clearly benefited all season from Bruce's presence; so too has Tim English.
Stef Martin may return for the final match of the home-and-away season, which would assist the big-men dynamics of this team, but given he has played only one match since round seven, and is three months shy of turning 35, it is going to be a massive ask of him to turn this team's fortunes around from here.
And the problems in the backline are always obvious in a Dogs' loss. Peter Wright got hold of the Dogs in round 21, and Jacob Koschitzke was very good on Saturday.
Any team that has Marcus Bontempelli on its list, though, is always going to be capable of big-time success. And even in the past two matches where many of his teammates have failed to impact, he has toiled very hard.
He's played some massive matches in his 166-match career, and in my eyes has already personally done enough in 2021 to win the Brownlow Medal by a big margin. But he couldn't care about that right now. And while there are so many prized pieces to this Bulldogs outfit, his form will again determine the degree of his club's success. Can't wait to see his response next Friday night.
The late bolter for Coach of the Year
Posed the question last week: which coach is most deserving of coach-of-year status? With another match to be used as evidence, the credentials of Leon Cameron are becoming compelling.
To me, to this point of the 2021 season, it is still impossible to look past Simon Goodwin, who has taken Melbourne from 17th in 2019 and ninth in 2020 to top place with one round remaining of 2021. But Cameron, particularly if he can lead his Giants to an expected win against Carlton in round 23 and thus secure a finals berth, is worthy of deep consideration.
The injury and unavailability toll of the Giants this year could have been insurmountable. Instead it has had a galvanising effect on club and coach, with consecutive Friday night lights wins against last year's Grand Finalists Geelong and Richmond placing their finals fate in their own hands.
Tim Taranto won the Giants' best-and-fairest award in 2019 when his club reached the Grand Final. His credentials were well established before his game against Richmond last Friday night. But it was arguably the best of his 95 in the AFL. Four goals while playing as "the Toby Greene" of the Giants' forward line was proof of an elite talent. His leadership in being able to kick 10 per cent of his career goal tally in one crucial match was profound.
The suspended Greene will return for the match against Carlton. Captain Stephen Coniglio and former captain Phil Davis will be available, too. Here comes a Battle of the Bridge, or Sydney Derby, or whatever they call it these days, in an elimination final. To be played at a non-NSW venue.