The AFL’s hunger games season marches on, with another weekend that did little to settle the fate of sides left in finals contention.
Only St Kilda’s wound suffered on Saturday night looks like a mortal blow.
Mathematically, the Saints are still in contention.
But a third defeat in a row, and the nature of that two-point loss to Port Adelaide – delivered by Robbie Gray with just seconds remaining – must surely have broken St Kilda hearts.
Hawthorn sit two points below them on the table, but their equally-tense six-point defeat of high-flying Sydney gives Alastair Clarkson’s side a sniff of September.
And on Sunday, the reigning premiers breathed life back into their defence.
The Western Bulldogs looked like their flag-winning selves with a 30-point win over Essendon that temporarily put them back in the top eight.
Coach Luke Beveridge said he was starting to see signs of last year’s form after stringing together three straight wins for the first time since September.
“We’ve had to really focus (each week) to remind ourselves of the type of footy we need to play to establish ourselves as a recognisable and threatening team,” he said.
“It’s great in the recent three weeks we’ve been able to do that.
“We’d like to keep teams to a lower score but it was great that we were able to score the way we did.”
With 12 individual goalkickers, the Bulldogs 19.13 (127) was their biggest score in 47 matches, headlined by a four-goal bag to best-afield contender Jason Johannisen.
“That’s been he recipe for us for a long period of time. We need a (goalkicking) spread and we got it again today,” Beveridge said.
“(Johannisen) had a really big game.
“We sent him to one of the wings when we knew he’d be a bit freer and he snuck forward … it’s amazing what accurate long kicking can do.”
The Bulldogs can take a further step towards September when they travel to bottom side Brisbane next weekend.
Essendon are out of the top eight but are far from done this season, with three matches against bottom six clubs in their run-in.
John Worsfold dismissed the suggestion that their final four games were more inviting than others.
“Today was inviting for us playing a side that was level pegging for us and we weren’t good enough. We need to show that we’re good enough now by winning what’s ahead of us,” he said.
Elsewhere, Melbourne’s fortunes took a hit with a poor loss to strugglers North Melbourne in Hobart.
The Demons couldn’t use the wind in the final quarter on a blustery day and limped to a four-point loss.
They now face a must-win clash with GWS Giants next Saturday, who were unimpressive in beating lowly Fremantle by 12 points.
On a forgettable Saturday night, Geelong and Richmond beat lacklustre opponents – Carlton and Gold Coast respectively – to keep their top four bids on track.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon, league leaders Adelaide appeared to troll the competition by drawing with Collingwood at the MCG.