WINNING form is good form and the pre-finals record of recent Grand Finalists confirms it also points to a better chance of September glory – but this year's late-season form ladder leaves one club looking vulnerable.

Only two of the current top-four teams will enter this year's Toyota AFL Finals Series with winning momentum, as a gripping last round has Western Bulldogs playing Port Adelaide, and Geelong taking on Melbourne.

The results in these pivotal clashes will determine match-ups in the first week of finals, especially with Brisbane still a chance to climb above the Bulldogs and claim a double chance.

But who wins and loses this week can also give an early indication of which teams have the form to go all the way, or at least reach the last game of the season.

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Only two teams in the past 10 years have lost in the final home and away round and gone on to win the flag – Sydney in 2012 and the Bulldogs in 2016.

The Bulldogs then had to win a remarkable four finals to earn the club's second-ever flag but the Swans' last premiership team is even more of an outlier. The 2012 premiers lost in the last two rounds, and three of the last four, before rediscovering their best form to win three consecutive finals.

Only four other teams – Collingwood in 2011, Fremantle (2013), Sydney (2014) and Adelaide (2017) – lost in the last round then picked themselves up to make a Grand Final, although they each fell at that hurdle.

Hawthorn players celebrate their 2013 Grand Final win over Fremantle. Picture: AFL Photos

Finishing with a flourish

Closing the regular season with winning form has been a surer road to Grand Final glory, with seven of the past 10 premiers dropping none, or at the most one match, in the final five rounds.

The Tigers have been the only premiers in the past decade to have a perfect record in the five matches or more before finals, and they did it twice – winning their last six in 2020 (but then losing a Qualifying Final) and last nine in 2019.

The current form ladder shows the Power are on a similar hot streak with five victories, while the Cats and Swans are the only top-six teams to win four of their past five matches.

>> CHECK OUT THE 2021 FORM LADDER BELOW

Last-round wins for the Lions and Demons would also give them an imposing 4-1 record heading into finals.

Ben Brown celebrates a goal in Melbourne's win over Adelaide in round 22, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

It might be fine to have an off day or two but the past decade shows teams really need to win more than they lose in the final five matches of the regular season.

A third consecutive loss this week would leave the Bulldogs with plenty to worry about, even before they consider that history would also be against them. The Swans of 2012 are the only premiers in the past 10 years to have lost three times in the last five rounds.

The Bulldogs also look vulnerable if we consider the final eight rounds, which covers the period after the byes this season. A loss in round 23 would leave the Bulldogs at 4-4 from their past eight, with the Lions in the same position.

A record of six or more wins in the last eight home and away matches has set up success for eight of the past 10 premiers, and no team has claimed a flag after an even or negative record in that period.

Only Greater Western Sydney (2019) has made a Grand Final after going 4-4 in the final eight matches and that ended with an 89-point thrashing at the hands of a rampant Richmond.

The pre-finals form ladder 

 

 Won

 Drawn

 Lost

 Last five

 Port Adelaide

 5

 0

 0

 W W W W W

 Geelong

 4

 0

 1

 W W W L W

 Sydney

 4 

 0

 1

 W W W L W

 Melbourne

 3

 1

 1

 D L W W W

 Brisbane

 3

 0

 2

 L W L W W

 W. Bulldogs

 3

 0

 2

 W W W L L

Find a settled side

The Cats and Bulldogs have recently been hit hard by injuries to key players Tom Stewart and Josh Bruce, while the Swans had their fortunate run with fit players come to an end when Nick Blakey was ruled out for the year.

But the current top-six teams will start the finals series with relatively healthy lists and have mostly had settled teams throughout the season.

A stable side is important too, with eight of the past 10 premiers having at least half of their team play 20 or more matches through the home and away rounds.

The Demons have had by far the most settled line-up this season, with 10 players running out in all 21 rounds so far, five missing only one match and another two players sitting out twice.

That has often left the Demons with only five starting positions to fill outside of their core group of 17.

Sydney in 2012 is the only Grand Finalist in the past decade to have had a similarly settled side, with 18 players lining up in 20 or more home and away matches that season.

Ted Richards celebrates Sydney's 2012 Grand Final win over Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos

The Lions have had nine players line up in every match so far this season and five who have only missed once. The Power aren't far behind with eight permanent players and four who have run out in 20 matches.

As with many of these historical stats, the Bulldogs of 2016 are the outlier. They landed their fairytale flag with just seven players playing 20 or more home and away games, compared to the 10-year average of 11.7.

Almost all of the current top-six teams have plenty to play for in round 23 so are unlikely to rest too many players or shuffle a settled side around. But the numbers suggest that taking winning form into the finals is a smarter play anyway.

Who's got the most settled side?

 

 Played all games

 Missed one game

 Missed two games

Total 

 Melbourne

 10

 5

 2

 17 

 Brisbane

 9

 5

 0

 14

 Sydney

 5

 3

 5

 13

 W. Bulldogs

 4

 8

 1

 13

 Geelong

 2

 6

 4

 12

 Port Adelaide

 8

 4

 0

 12

All stats provided by Champion Data