The Brisbane Lions may not have to leave the Gabba again in pursuit of this year’s AFL premiership after locking in a top-two position with a 32-point win over Sydney in Cairns.
- The Lions are guaranteed to play at least two finals at home in Brisbane
- The Bulldogs return to the top eight after defeating the Hawks by 32 points
- The Crows snare a 16-point win over the Blues for their third consecutive victory
Earlier on Sunday, the Western Bulldogs firmed as finalists after demolishing Hawthorn by 36 points to climb into the top eight, while Carlton’s finals dreams ended with a 16-point loss to Adelaide.
Up north, Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale will come under scrutiny from the match review officer over a tackle that left Nick Blakey nursing a sore head after it hit the turf.
But there did not appear to be any malice in the third-quarter incident and Blakey played out the match, as the Lions posted a 11.7 (73) to 6.5 (41) victory on a wet evening.
The result means Brisbane, who hosts Carlton at the Gabba in round 18, will receive two home finals for the second straight season.
It could prove to be a smooth passage to a unique October 24 grand final that will also be played on their home deck, with Victoria unable to host matches during its COVID-19 wave.
Just days after Brisbane coach Chris Fagan put perceived rough treatment of Neale by opponents on the agenda, his star ball-winner was frustrated by close-checking Sydney youngster Ryan Clarke.
Neale was limited to a personal season-low 15 disposals as torrential rain at times made life difficult for both sides.
Sydney held a narrow five-point lead at quarter-time despite losing Lewis Taylor to a foot injury early, with veteran midfielder Luke Parker and young forward Will Hayward making their presence felt.
Dayne Zorko constantly sought to give Neale space at stoppages and Brisbane gradually turned the tide, taking control during the second term as they kicked two goals and kept Sydney scoreless.
But the dogged Swans would not go away and cut the margin to two points during the final term when Parker kicked truly before Brisbane ended the contest with a flurry of late goals.
Charlie Cameron, Zac Bailey and Eric Hipwood kicked two goals each for the Lions.
Jarryd Lyons, Hugh McCluggage and ruckman Oscar McInerney were strong contributors in the middle.
Experienced trio Josh Kennedy, Jake Lloyd and Parker were Sydney’s best, with Parker and Hayward kicking two goals apiece.
Western Bulldogs back in top eight
The Bulldogs jumped from 10th to seventh spot on the ladder with an 11.10 (76) to 6.4 (40) victory over the Hawks at Adelaide Oval.
They will be assured of a finals berth if they beat Fremantle in Cairns next Sunday but they will likely be without utility Toby McLean, who suffered a suspected knee injury.
McLean kicked a goal just 17 seconds into the match but three minutes later he was stretchered off the ground in agony after his right knee buckled in a tackle from Hawthorn ruckman Jonathon Ceglar.
The injury took some gloss from a polished performance against the Hawks, whose season continues its dreadful spiral.
The Hawks won three of their first four matches but lost 11 of the next 12.
The Bulldogs held an 18-point break at quarter-time, then booted three goals to none in the second term for a 40-point half-time lead, 7.6 (48) to 1.2 (8).
The Hawks showed some pluck in the third quarter, kicking four goals to two, before being outscored by a goal in a tame last term.
Bulldogs Jason Johannisen, Aaron Naughton and Tim English kicked two goals each, while defender Caleb Daniel was superb with 28 disposals and a major.
Hawks stalwart Jack Gunston picked up three goals, and his teammates Liam Shiels (20 disposals) and James Cousins (19 disposals) did their best in a losing battle.
Carlton out of finals race
Carlton’s faint hopes of making the AFL finals have vanished, with Adelaide recording a third straight victory to boost its chances of avoiding the wooden spoon.
The Crows, winless for more than a year before this month, have now won three matches in 13 days after a brilliant first half set up their 10.12 (72) to 8.8 (56) win over the Blues at Carrara.
Lachlan Sholl (two goals, five inside 50s, 24 touches) dominated the opening quarter to set the tone, while Elliot Himmelberg (two goals) and Shane McAdam (one) were threats up front.
The Crows are still bottom of the ladder with one round remaining in the home-and-away season, but are now level with North Melbourne on 12 points.
The victory sent the retiring Bryce Gibbs out a winner against his former club, which needed a win to have any chance of qualifying for the finals.
The Blues kicked just one goal in the first half to trail by 44 points at the main break.
There were finally signs of life late in the third term when captain Patrick Cripps kicked a stunning goal, having surged through traffic before turning his defender inside out to spark their comeback.
But the Blues ran out of time as the Crows helped celebrate Gibbs’s AFL career in winning style.
Gibbs had 27 disposals in the victory, Rory Sloane selflessly offloading to him in the final moments for the fairytale finish, only for his shot at goal to sail just wide.
The veteran midfielder, who played 231 matches for the Blues, announced this week Sunday’s match would be his last in the AFL.
Traded to the Crows in 2017, the All-Australian had played just three matches for the club this year but was “happy to go out on his own terms”.
“It was a really special day and to get the win even better,” Gibbs said before being chaired off the ground.
“They’re my best mates, some of them were in my wedding party, so to share the last game together was pretty special.
“Hopefully fans at home can see that [young talent] coming to the fore the last couple of weeks … three on the trot now. It’s exciting times ahead for the Crows.
“You grind away all year … it’s great to see some reward for the boys.”