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The fight for ninth

The ASADA investigation still looms over Essendon and there is a very real possibility that the club could be stripped of 2013 premiership points.

Depending on the penalty, this could leave Essendon sitting rock bottom or outside the eight come seasons end.

If this is to be the case, then the gap in points between eight and ninth would not be as significant to those teams lying outside the eight – suddenly, ninth would become eight and Essendon’s misfortune could breathe new optimism into sides on the verge of a finals spot.

So, who are the teams positioned outside the eight that have the best chance of making the finals?

There are two standout contenders: West Coast and North Melbourne.

Firstly, West Coast has had a mediocre season by their high standards.

Many pundits had the Eagles finishing in their top four while others said they would win the premiership.

As it stands, the Western Australian team sits ninth on the ladder and a game outside the eight.

The blame for this inconsistency lies with a starting 22 that has changed vastly, with a large array of niggling injuries week in week out.

In addition, the Eagles have been unable to keep Patterson’s Stadium as an intimidating fortress, showing a poor 2-5 win/loss record at home.

To further compound matters the club has lacked discipline from senior players, leaving them suspended and watching on from the stands when they are needed most.

On the brighter side midfielders Luke Shuey, Daniel Kerr and Adam Selwood are all in contention to return for the round sixteen derby.  

Their hopes of making the top eight lie with a draw of five top eight sides in their final eight matches; five of those games will be played at home.

If they are to make the finals then they are going to earn it.

Not many can see it happening, but the Eagles are in good position to make and consolidate ninth place, should Essendon’s fears come to fruition.

The other club truly capable of shaking up the finals is North Melbourne.

The club boasts a healthy percentage and more than enough top performances to suggest they are finals bound.

The problem with their season has been their inability to hold a lead, finish off games and win the all-important close ones. 

Hypothetically, if the Kangaroos had won every game decided by less than six points, they would be sitting in sixth place and not be subject in this piece.

But, that cannot be changed now and the club has to push on with their final eight fixtures.

The upcoming games consist of only two being played interstate and four games seeing them face bottom table opposition.

Having a clean bill of health coming into round 16, the Roos need to make a sure thing of teams such as the Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Adelaide and Melbourne.

 Most importantly, they have to find the nerve to make the correct decisions against the bigger sides when in a winning position.

All season they have had plenty of opportunities to rectify this and failed.

If the senior heads at North can stand up when the games in the balance, this side could beat anyone in the league and make the final eight.

Making the finals is one thing but having impact and contending is another.

As North Melbourne coach Brad Scott said last year, there is no point in making the finals if you’re not there to win the premiership.

Out of West Coast and North Melbourne, it’s the Kangaroos who are most likely to make a push and possibly reach the semi-finals.

It’s expected that if either makes the eight they would play away in an elimination final.

West Coast have only beaten bottom table opposition on their travels this year and North failed dismally at Patterson’s in their 2012 elimination final.

The probability of North succeeding lies with playing against a Melbourne side in the first week of the finals, which would see their confidence built and give them space freely exhibit their highly competitive brand of football.

Of course, this is all hypothetical at this stage but if a team outside the eight is given the chance to play a significant role in September, it’s these two sides that are the biggest contenders.           

Twitter: @justinkeane92

Cover image credit: North Melbourne FC/Facebook

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