The West

Three crunch matches over the final three rounds will decide the most keenly-contested race in years for the right to play in September.

Six teams - Adelaide, Essendon, Collingwood, Gold Coast, West Coast and Richmond - remain locked in a battle to fill positions seven and eight on the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season.

And the fate of those in contention hinges on a trio of games, starting with Essendon hosting West Coast at Etihad Stadium tomorrow night.

Win and the Eagles can almost pencil in a return to September.

They have the second-best percentage of the half dozen and matches to come against lowly Melbourne at home and a fading Gold Coast away.

Lose and their season is over.

Essendon's ordinary percentage and a defeat against West Coast, regardless of their final two results, should see them being ultimately replaced by the Eagles in the top eight.

In their favour is not only a home-ground advantage but the fact West Coast are coming off a six-day break compared to the Bombers' eight days rest.

That advantage tips the ledger in Essendon's favour to win the match and qualify for finals.

The second decider also comes tomorrow night, with Adelaide hosting Richmond at Adelaide Oval.

The Crows, with the strongest percentage of the group, will play finals if they win.

Richmond, on a six-game winning streak, will be out of the race if they lose.

The signs point towards a potential upset.

The Crows are coming off a road trip to the Gabba and a six-day break, while the Tigers have the benefit of an eight-day turnaround.

Adelaide's record at Adelaide Oval is also only 50-50 this season.

The final decider is between North Melbourne and Adelaide at Blundstone Area tomorrow week.

The Crows can technically afford to lose to Richmond but if they cough up the game against the Roos their finals hopes are over.

Again, a six-day break for North Melbourne and a poor recent record in meetings between the clubs weigh in Adelaide's favour. Twelve wins is the benchmark needed to fill the two remaining finals spots.

And given few teams have been able to successfully handle travel and a six-day break this season, Essendon and Adelaide appear in the box seat.

Collingwood shouldn't beat Hawthorn in the final round, meaning it would take the Crows to stumble badly for the Magpies to fall in.

Overcoming the Swans in Sydney appears a bridge too far for Richmond, who need to win all three of their matches to scrape in.

Gold Coast are the least likely to finish in the top eight. They have lost three of their past four matches without Gary Ablett and are not expected to win another game this season.

In the ladder's upper reaches, Fremantle are likely to finish fourth, even if they win their final three matches.

They host Port Adelaide in Perth in the final round - an advantage that should be enough to guarantee the Power miss out on the top four.

Sydney's soft draw should ensure they finish minor premiers and host the Dockers in the first week of finals, with Hawthorn playing Geelong in the other qualifying final.

The West Australian

Latest News From The West

Popular videos