Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale has helped the Brisbane Lions give themselves the chance of finishing in top spot on the ladder with a 17-point win over Carlton at the Gabba.
- The Lions’ victory gives them a chance of finishing on top of the ladder heading into the finals
- The Tigers secured third spot with a 44-point triumph over the Crows
- The Demons, who beat the Bombers, will play finals if the Bulldogs lose to the Dockers on Sunday night
The prolific Lions midfielder was shadowed by Ed Curnow for most of Saturday night but racked up possessions at will in his side’s 11.12 (78) to 10.1 (61) victory.
While the Lions already had a crucial top-two spot sewn up, their seventh successive win sent them to the top of the ladder ahead of Port Adelaide’s final match of the home-and-away season.
The Lions will claim their first McClelland Trophy — something Leigh Matthews’s famed triple-premiership team never achieved — if the Power loses to Collingwood on Monday night.
A win over the Magpies will be enough for the Power to clinch top spot, as they have a superior percentage to the Lions.
There was movement elsewhere inside the top eight on Saturday when Richmond beat Adelaide by 44 points to lock down third place, while the Demons gave themselves a chance of playing in the finals with a 19-point victory over Essendon.
At the Gabba, Neale had 29 disposals and five clearances, and defender Daniel Rich impressed for Brisbane with two goals and 22 disposals.
Brandon Starcevich, Jarryd Lyons and Dayne Zorko were also important for the Lions, who dominated general play for large periods after quarter-time.
Lincoln McCarthy, Cam Rayner and Mitch Robinson each kicked two goals.
Carlton veteran Kade Simpson copped the brunt of an accidental head clash with Daniel McStay in the opening exchanges of his final appearance.
The 36-year-old veteran had 19 disposals and kicked the first goal of the second half to spark a full-team celebration.
But Simpson did not get the result he sought before being given a guard of honour by both sides alongside fellow Blues retiree Matthew Kreuzer.
The Blues could have rolled over in their final match of the year but stuck it out despite being outclassed by the Lions.
Sam Walsh was their best with 31 disposals and a mammoth 21 contested possessions.
Matt Kennedy and Curnow also found plenty of the ball, while Harry McKay kicked three goals.
Tigers claim top-four spot
Dustin Martin’s stunning 17-disposal first-half underpinned the Tigers’ 12.5 (77) to 4.9 (33) triumph at Adelaide Oval.
The reigning premiers will finish third on the ladder and meet Brisbane or Port Adelaide in a qualifying final.
The Crows’ loss in Adelaide meant they collected the club’s first wooden spoon since entering the competition in 1991.
The Tigers booted three majors to two in the opening term then added two more while holding Adelaide goalless to take a 14-point lead at half-time, 5.0 to 2.4.
Martin was significant in that gap, his first-half feats including three inside 50s and a goal. He finished the match with a team-high 28 touches.
The Tigers accelerated in the third quarter with four goals to one to effectively seal the result.
Richmond midfielder Shane Edwards made a seamless return in his first match since round five, with his 18 disposals featuring eight clearances.
Adelaide ruckman Reilly O’Brien capped his breakout season with 19 disposals, seven marks and 29 hitouts.
Midfielder Brad Crouch, now a free agent considering offers from rival clubs, gathered 27 disposals and eight clearances in what could be his last game for the Crows.
Former Crows captain Taylor Walker became the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, passing Tony Modra’s tally of 440 with a first-term major.
Walker achieved the feat in his 203rd AFL match, while Modra took just 118 appearances.
Demons stay in finals contention
The 10.8 (68) to 7.7 (49) victory over the Bombers lifts the Demons to eighth, a position they will retain if the Western Bulldogs lose to Fremantle in Cairns on Sunday night.
The Bulldogs will leapfrog the Demons into eighth place, however, if they can beat or at least draw with the Dockers.
Both the Bulldogs and Demons sit on 36 points, but Melbourne has a superior percentage.
The Demons have already turned their attention to the Bulldogs-Dockers clash, cheekily backing Fremantle to get up for the win.
Saturday’s defeat marks the end of John Worsfold’s coaching reign at the Bombers, with the 51-year-old finishing with 45 wins from his 107 matches at the helm.
Assistant coach Ben Rutten will take over at the Bombers, who won just one of their final 10 matches of the season and last triumphed in a finals match way back in 2004.
Jayden Hunt kicked four goals for the Demons, while Bayley Fritsch booted three as Simon Goodwin’s team did their bit despite a fourth-quarter fightback by the Bombers.
Melbourne appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win with a 34-point lead in the third term but a goal after the three-quarter time siren to James Stewart sparked the Bombers into life.
Stewart collected two more goals, and Devon Smith and Dylan Shiel all kicked fourth-quarter majors as the Bombers closed the gap to seven points.
With Melbourne’s chances of playing in finals hanging by a knife edge, Fritsch stood up with two late goals to halt the Bombers’ momentum and secure the win.
Stewart finished with three goals for the match, with Melbourne’s Alex Neal-Bullen (two) another multiple goalkicker.
Former Bomber Mitch Brown had 13 marks, while a trio of Bombers — Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett and Shiel — topped the disposals tally with 25 touches each.
Demons star Christian Petracca was the leading possession winner for his team with 23 disposals and he also kicked a bomb of a goal in the second quarter from outside 50.