THE WESTERN Bulldogs are resigned to dropping out of the AFL's top-four later this weekend, following the late heartbreak suffered in Friday night's thrilling defeat to fellow contenders Port Adelaide.
The Dogs led throughout the night, before Power veteran Robbie Gray converted with just under five minutes remaining to secure a frantic two-point win and seal a top-two spot for the visitors.
It means the Bulldogs will drop out of the top-four and face a cut-throat elimination final next week, should Brisbane beat West Coast at the Gabba on Saturday evening and make up a gap of just 0.1 per cent on the ladder.
DOGS v POWER Full match coverage and stats
According to Dogs coach Luke Beveridge, that possibility is a likely one – with the Lions needing to win by around four goals in order to achieve the feat – though doesn't end the club's premiership hopes.
"We're anticipating we're going to finish fifth," Beveridge said.
"I just spoke to the boys about how we're all in their corner. Ultimately, we walk out of the room and we'll absolutely be flat and disappointed with the defeat. But all we can do is believe that we can stay the course and continue on.
"We'll do our best to stay positive. That unified approach for the next week is absolutely crucial to how we front up."
With finals likely to be moved away from Victoria due to the state's COVID-19 situation, the Western Bulldogs could have the option of choosing where it plays next week's home elimination final if it finishes fifth.
But the club hasn't made a decision on where it will choose to fixture the game, nor has it had confirmation of its official options, with Beveridge saying a range of factors will go into the choice.
"It probably depends on what they throw at you as far as your preparation," Beveridge said.
"Spontaneously, I'd say Adelaide. But if they're going to make you sit in the cricket nets for a few hours before you play, then maybe that's not the best choice. It might just depend on what you're confronted with in the state and what the options are.
"If we're afforded some accommodation and we're able to be settled, then I'd say straight off the bat Adelaide. The travel is easy and that would be our preference."
The Dogs are hopeful that defender Ryan Gardner will be fit to feature in next week's final, but veteran ruckman Stefan Martin remains in significant doubt having not played since June with a groin injury.
"He's going to play tomorrow in a scratch match," Beveridge said.
"The test will be whether or not he comes through that unscathed and whether he pulls up fit and healthy, because he's had a few things going on while he's been out. That will be the start of it.
"Stef, at the moment, he's not a player that we can hang our hats on. He's just missed too much footy. He hasn't had the training load that's required to play the game at this level for long enough, especially a final."
Port Adelaide secured a top-two spot on the ladder with its superb comeback win and will now enjoy a qualifying final at the Adelaide Oval next week, with coach Ken Hinkley stating his side will go into September as one of the premiership favourites.
"I think we deserve it (a top-two finish)," Hinkley said.
"That's my overriding emotion, because we've worked damn hard to get here. There's been a lot of reasons and a lot of things where we've not quite been good enough, but I've said all the way through this season let's wait until round 23 and see where we finish.
"We've had two seasons in a row now, back-to-back seasons, and I think that's how you build to win a premiership. You have to consistently do it. This footy team has been able to do that now for the last couple of years.
"We'll be as good as any team in the competition in September. We're going to have to play very, very well to keep going and keep winning. But I know we're good enough and I know we're ready to be part of it."
The only Port Adelaide concern stemming from Friday night's victory was a hamstring injury to impressive youngster Mitch Georgiades, which forced the key forward to be substituted out of the clash in the third quarter.
But the club is confident Georgiades' history with hamstring setbacks this season means the teenager could return later in the finals series, depending how far the Power progress over the next month.
"It's an obvious hamstring," Hinkley said.
"They typically take two or three weeks, but Mitch has had a little bit of history this year with his hamstrings and he's gotten a little bit tight. He's given it a little tinkle here or there, but he usually recovers pretty quickly.
"I would say at best, he's available in two weeks. At worst, he's definitely available in three weeks."