In this week's Nine things we learned, we discover that the Bulldogs desperately need another big man to keep their finals hopes alive, big Joe has shrugged off his kicking woes and a star Demon's ready to go to another level in September.   

1. The Dogs need Stef back ASAP

The last thing Western Bulldogs fans wanted to hear after Friday night's heartbreaking defeat to Port Adelaide was Luke Beveridge's grim outlook on Stefan Martin's injury. "He's not a player we can hang our hats on," was the verdict. However, in reality, they need Martin back if they're to compete this September. Against the Power, with the Dogs desperate to keep Tim English forward, a combination of Lewis Young and Mitch Hannan battled experienced campaigner Scott Lycett. They were soundly beaten, resulting in Port Adelaide's midfield getting on top as the night wore on. It's been a common theme recently, as the Dogs have lost three straight games to close the home and away campaign. Martin's experience is desperately required if a star-studded midfield is to fire come finals time. A premiership could hinge on his comeback from ongoing groin troubles. - Riley Beveridge

2. Clayton Oliver is ready to be the player of the finals

Oliver is the competition's most in-form player and proved again his dynamite traits against Geelong on Saturday night. With 37 disposals, nine clearances, two goals and seven tackles, the Melbourne matchwinner was central to the Demons' remarkable comeback win over the Cats to seal the minor premiership. But Oliver has bigger fish to fry and is ready to tear apart the finals series. His three finals in 2018 saw him average 26 disposals but Oliver is a far more complete, dangerous and dynamic midfielder now compared to then. He is absolutely critical to Melbourne's dream of breaking its premiership drought and is primed for a huge finals campaign. - Cal Twomey

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Oliver twists and Oliver scores

Clayton Oliver keeps the Demons alive with this superb goal

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3. Franklin can hit four figures in a final

Lance Franklin turned back the clock to boot six majors against Gold Coast and is now one big bag away from becoming just the sixth player in VFL/AFL history to kick 1000 goals. The 34-year-old has 48 goals this season at an average of 2.82 a game so he might need to play a few more matches to climb from 992 career goals to four figures. But a fresh and firing Franklin looks capable of both outperforming his scoring rate and driving the Swans deeper into finals. He also has a strong recent record against the Swans’ next opponents, kicking nine goals in two matches against Greater Western Sydney this season. A similarly influential performance in their elimination final could push Franklin to within realistic reach of hitting the 1000-goal milestone this season. - Martin Pegan

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Buddy's bag of six

Buddy Franklin is on his way to 1000 career goals, and his six goals against the Gold Coast Suns has put him on the right path

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4. Stringer the barometer for in-form Dons

Jake Stringer has taken his game to new levels in 2021 and the Bombers can do same damage during the post-season if 'The Package' can continue to deliver. Stringer contributed 24 disposals, six clearances, six inside 50s, two goals and had nine score involvements against the Pies on Sunday and the numbers he has put up of late are equal or better than what he produced in any of his previous seasons in the AFL. Don't be surprised to see Jake take it right up to his former team in the first week of the finals. - Jonathan Healy

Devon Smith and Jake Stringer celebrate a goal against Collingwood in round 23, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

5. Beware a refreshed Richmond in 2022

The Tigers are going to miss finals for the first time since 2016, leading some to ponder whether its dynasty of success is now over. During the final term against Hawthorn on Saturday, an admittedly injury-depleted Tigers outfit looked a shell of its former self, down 31 points and on the brink of a crushing defeat. But there was still a spark in the Tigers that allowed them to pile on the final five goals in the game and secure a thrilling draw, against a young but in-form Hawthorn team desperate to send legendary coach Alastair Clarkson off on a high. This showed Richmond still has the fight and talent to compete, and the club will only get stronger next season when key players return from injury. Coach Damien Hardwick admitted post-game his players were exhausted after going deep into September four years in a row, and would relish the extended break. Having a period to refresh and recharge may be just the tonic the Tigers need to become serious premiership contenders again in 2022. - Luke Michael

6. The Saints have found a serious wildcard for 2022

What forward Cooper Sharman will develop into is not exactly clear, but that's what makes him so exciting after a starring four-goal performance against Fremantle on Sunday. The 21-year-old, who was snared in the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, is 193cm but was the most dangerous marking forward on the ground, taking four contested grabs and winning his match-up with 201cm Docker Alex Pearce. The Saints are clearly excited, signing him for another two seasons after he booted six goals in three games, and now Sharman will go into his first AFL pre-season with a four-goal bag to boost his confidence. The crafty New South Welshman did what he did on Sunday without young star Max King alongside him, opening up possibilities for the Saints' forward line in 2022. - Nathan Schmook 

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Sharman runs in and makes it four goals

Cooper Sharman continues his breakout performance with his fourth goal extending his side's lead

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7. Big Joe can kick clutch set shots

For seemingly forever, Joe Daniher has had his both set shot routine and accuracy questioned. Against the Eagles he went part of the way to quietening that criticism, kicking two important set shots when Brisbane needed them most. On the stroke of the three-quarter time siren Daniher flushed one from 35m on a difficult angle, and then with goals desperately needed in the final quarter, his 45m arrow breathed life into the Lions' quest for the top four. Daniher will get plenty more chances in the finals to test himself under pressure and this was a huge step in the right direction. - Michael Whiting

8. Senior Giants key to finals success

Leon Cameron rightly praised his younger brigade in helping GWS return to September action after a year in the wilderness, but it was the work of 31-year-old Callan Ward who made sure the Giants recorded the last four points needed. Ward was magnificent in the 14-point win over Carlton, dragging the Giants back into the contest when down by three goals and then kicking two crucial fourth-quarter majors. He wasn't the only steady senior head to rise to the occasion, with Lachie Whitfield, Josh Kelly and Jesse Hogan all integral to the win - Sarah Black

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Silky Ward seals the game

Callan Ward has sealed a place in the top-eight for the Giants with this smooth finish

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9. The Roos are on the right track

North's final-round showing against Adelaide left a lot to be desired but the Roos can hold their heads high as they head into the off-season. Their year looked dead on arrival in the first few rounds of the season before they broke through for their first win of the year in round nine. By finishing with four wins and a draw, the Kangaroos' second half of the season far exceeded early expectations, with their 18 premiership points the highest last-place finish since Brisbane finished with 20 points in 2017 (and before that, since Carlton’s 18 points in 2005). A win against the Eagles in Perth is something other clubs haven’t yet managed, and showed the Roos' rebuild is already bearing fruit. With Tarryn Thomas showing signs he could become one of the brightest stars of the competition, and Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar providing plenty of entertainment and goals galore, the future looks bright for 2021’s wooden spooners. - Sophie Welsh