Who will claim the final spots in the AFL's top eight?

SNEAK IN: Rohan Connolly predicts the West Coast Eagles will creep into the top eight. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
SNEAK IN: Rohan Connolly predicts the West Coast Eagles will creep into the top eight. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

With just three rounds of the AFL season remaining, the composition of the final eight is still very much in doubt.

The big difference this year, however, is the seeming inability of any contender for those last couple of spots to lock them away.

Over the last six rounds, five different teams - Richmond, GWS, West Coast, Essendon and now Fremantle - have all sat in eighth position, four of them immediately falling out again the following week after a loss.

Right now, there are seven teams from seventh position to 13th, separated by just two wins.

Are any of them about to jump up from the pack, say "enough's enough", and at least give themselves a chance of doing something in September?

The consensus, understandably, is that whoever finishes seventh or eighth is going to come and go pretty quickly come finals action.

But, as they say, you've got to be in it to win it.

With that in mind, I've run through the contenders for seventh and eighth, their remaining games, and their prospects of sneaking in.

It's doubtful, but just maybe one of these seven teams will use the next few weeks as a stepping stone to what would be, given how ordinary they currently look, an amazing September story.

WEST COAST 40 (10-9) play Melb, Frem, Bris

I have the Eagles staggering into eighth spot with 11 wins, losing this week against Melbourne and Brisbane away in Round 23, but winning the derby next week (they have won the last 11, after all).

That might well be a pyrrhic victory, though, because it would mean they'd won just one of their last four games, and were also sentenced to only away finals. This current West Coast outfit has many problems, but its inability to stay competitive away from Perth is front and centre of them. Could be a pretty quick September hello and goodbye.

FREMANTLE 36 (9-10) play Bris, WC, St K

Finally, one of the aspirants to a spot in the eight seized the moment, Freo's win over Richmond last week gripping stuff.

Eighth position is theirs now to lose. Which I suspect the Dockers will.

There's a critical home clash with Brisbane this week, followed by a WA derby and a road trip to play St Kilda, Freo 3-7 away from home this season. Then there's the injury toll, Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters gone for the season, Rory Lobb unlikely. They are massive absentees and I think in the end, the difference between Fremantle making it or not. I have them finishing 12th.

GWS 34 (8-10-1) play Geel, Rich, Carl

The Giants have been the proverbial yo-yo all season, lately upsetting both Melbourne and Essendon, yet losing to Hawthorn and Gold Coast. This week is as tough as it gets, Geelong at the Cats' own stamping ground, without the assistance of key players Jacob Hopper and Phil Davis, followed by games against two competitors for the final spot in the eight in Richmond and Carlton. I see the Giants winning only their last game against the Blues, which would be too little, too late. Likely to finish in 10th, six points outside the eight.

ESSENDON 32 (8-11) play WB, GC, Coll

If the Bombers didn't lose their chance of a finals berth in the brave but still critical seven-point loss to Sydney last Sunday, defeat against top-of-the-table Western Bulldogs this week will all but finish them off.

Wins against Gold Coast and Collingwood in the last two games might do it if others stumble, but the loss through injury of skipper Dyson Heppell and Kyle Langford certainly isn't going to help their chances. Whatever happens, Essendon will emerge from 2021 with plenty of plusses, but I think they finish 10th, a game off the pace.

RICHMOND 32 (8-11) play NM, GWS, Haw

It's hard to believe that a team riddled by injuries all season and having lost six of its past seven games could still be in contention for, let alone make, the final eight, but believe it or not, I think the Tigers will not only get there, but in seventh position, ahead of West Coast on percentage. That's as much a comment on the credentials of the others as Richmond's, because injuries or not, the Tiges have been a shadow of their old selves all season. That said, they weren't far off in Perth, and still good enough to beat all of North Melbourne, the Giants and Hawthorn.

CARLTON 32 (8-11) play GC, PA, GWS

I think the Blues are a chance in all three of their remaining games.

How many will they actually win? Just the one, I suspect, this weekend, the Power in Adelaide, I think a bridge too far, and GWS, despite its inconsistency, also boasting superior talent. Shocking against North a couple of weeks back, but four wins from six is a decent improvement in the last section of the season. I have Carlton finishing in 11th position, with nine wins, which would still be their best result since 2013.

ST KILDA 32 (8-11) play Syd, Geel, Frem

Let's be honest here, the Saints are a contender in name only, like Essendon, Richmond and Carlton also on eight wins, but a minimum eight percentage points even the closest of that trio, having lost three games straight and facing Sydney then Geelong over the next fortnight.

Injuries haven't helped, but it's been a bitterly disappointing season from a finalist of 2020, and the Saints have much soul-searching to do and some tough list decisions to make over the off-season.

I think they'll finish 13th, at least three games outside the eight.