Finals equation just got trickier
Matthew Pavlich looks dejected after a loss to St Kilda. Picture: AFL Media.

The right to host a week-one final in September was thrown wide open during round 18, with Hawthorn's stirring win over Sydney compounding Fremantle's shock loss to St Kilda seven days earlier.

The Dockers entered round 18 in second place, one game clear of the Hawks and Geelong and just one percentage point behind Sydney.

But the horrible 58-point loss to the Saints, coupled with Hawthorn's win over the Swans and Geelong holding off Greater Western Sydney, has thrown the ladder into a state of flux.

The Swans remain top, but Hawthorn and Geelong are now equal with them on 13 wins.

Fremantle are one game adrift in fourth place, just 0.8 per cent ahead of Port Adelaide.

With a home final in the first week the perfect way to advance directly to a preliminary final a fortnight later, Hawthorn defender Ben Stratton said his teammates knew the importance of stopping the rampaging Swans at the MCG.

"You've got to make the most of it if a top-four side drops a game," Stratton said.

"You've got to capitalise on it.

"It's fortunate that Freo dropped a game, but we can't leave it to other teams to be losing for us to get top two or top four. We've got to keep winning.

"It's a bloody close season. It's good for the spectators and it's good for the AFL that it's so tight.

"It'd be nice to have a final in Melbourne, but interstate we're just as good."

Fremantle play three of the other top five teams in the last five games compared to two for the Hawks, Power and Cats, while Sydney's match against Port Adelaide in round 20 is the only time they play a team pushing for the top four.

The Swans would have been almost impossible to knock off top spot if they had beaten the Hawks.

The top four teams get the double chance, while sides that finish first, second, fifth and sixth will host a final in the first week.

The Dockers were the only travelling team that won a final last year, upsetting Geelong at Simonds Stadium to set up a preliminary final at Patersons Stadium.

Stratton said ending Sydney's 12-game winning streak showed the younger players what could be achieved.

"For the young boys to experience a tight game like that on the MCG on a Saturday night against a quality side is very important coming into finals," Stratton said.

"We've got a few more of those games ahead. We've got Collingwood and we've got Freo as well.

"It's good to have those tough games leading into finals. We've got a solid five weeks ahead."

The West Australian

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