THURSDAY night's blockbuster clash between Geelong and Melbourne could set the scene for the tightest finish to a season in six years and create a four-way logjam at the top of the table.

If the second-placed Cats can win, they will draw level on points with the ladder-leading Demons with six rounds to play. 

They could be joined at the top on 12 wins by Fremantle and Brisbane by the end of the round, however, with the Dockers and Lions facing St Kilda and Essendon respectively. 

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Only twice in 19 years has there been a four-way tie at the top of the ladder this late in a season. 

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In 2016, Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong and Hawthorn all drew level on points at round 22 and the Swans, Cats and Hawks finished the home and away season locked on 17 wins each. 

Below them, only percentage separated Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and West Coast from fourth to sixth on 16 wins. 

A similar scenario is taking shape this year, with Carlton and Collingwood (10 wins) knocking hardest on the top-four door and facing West Coast (17th) and North Melbourne (18th) respectively this week to keep the heat on.

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Collingwood players celebrate after beating Gold Coast in R16 on July 2, 2022. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Prior to 2016, you need to go back another 12 years for such a tight squeeze at the top of the ladder this late in a season, with Brisbane, St Kilda, Port Adelaide and Melbourne all level on 52 points after round 17 of the 2004 season. 

The finals chances this year after round 16 stretch down to Port Adelaide in 12th with seven wins, but more realistically stop at the Western Bulldogs in 10th with eight wins and a much healthier percentage. 

When only two wins separated first and seventh in the 2016 logjam, it was the Bulldogs who created history and came from the bottom of that pack to win the premiership. 

Western Bulldogs players celebrate after winning the 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final against Sydney. Picture: AFL Photos

The 2004 squeeze eventually sorted itself out as Port Adelaide separated itself late to finish a game clear on top of the ladder, going on to win its maiden AFL premiership. 

The stakes are clearly high on Thursday night for both Melbourne and Geelong, with the rest of the contenders watching to see what shape the eight takes on by the end of the round. 

If Chris Scott's team can prevent Melbourne from getting separation at the top of the ladder, a tight finish to the home and away season that could match 2016 awaits - and then it's anyone's game.