The stars aligned ahead of round 15 to see the fixture split and pin each top eight side against a fellow ladder-leader for just the fifth time in VFL/AFL history as the bottom 10 battled it out to stay in contention.
It made for a salivating weekend of footy with some nail-biters throwing the race towards the finals into a frenzy.
An Eagles favourite stood up when his side needed it, the Tigers’ small forwards did their best to turn the tide and the return of an embroiled Demon reminded fans of the difference he provides down back.
The weekend kicked off with a top-of-the-table clash re-cementing the reigning premiers as top of the perch.
- Thursday June 23
Melbourne 117 – 53 Brisbane – MCG, Melbourne
Separating the hunters from the hunted, Melbourne quickly shook off poor form and any debate over their chances of back-to-back flags with a mauling of the then ladder-leading Lions.
Steven May returned to help stem Brisbane’s high scoring, picking up where he left off as the archetype of loose man defending.
May found plenty of the footy with 22 touches, while small forwards Kysaiah Pickett and Toby Bedford snuck in two goals apiece.
Brisbane swingman Keidean Coleman continued with his development taking 10 marks amongst his 19 disposals, close to best-on-ground for the Lions.
Melbourne reclaimed top stop and go one game clear entering the back end of the season while the visitors slumped to third spot.
- Friday June 24
Western Bulldogs 125 – 83 Hawthorne, Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
The first of Friday night’s double-header, the Dogs reestablished themselves in the finals race as Hawthorn’s recent run of scaring teams above them came to a dramatic end.
It was an evening of almosts for former number one draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
The 195cm star had a far larger impact than reflected on the stats sheet.
Despite a modest return, his presence in the front half took attention away from teammate Aaron Naughton who snagged three for the night.
Ugle-Hagan flew for endless forward entry marks and crashed a handful of packs to give his teammates first use in front of the sticks along with a major of his own.
His thankless efforts should bolster his claims ahead of team selection later this week.
West Coast 107 – 97 Essendon – Optus Stadium, Perth
The Eagles made a dramatic return onto the winners list against the Dons in the West.
In what presented as a potential wooden-spoon decider, both teams hit the scoreboard in spades to give the contest some grunt.
Tim Kelly was serviceable while collecting lower than usual numbers, but contributed to the hosts forward drive.
Jermain Jones made his presence known, shutting down opposition players with a gutsy eight tackles along with 15 disposals off half-back, and Liam Ryan booted a pair of goals following his re-selection into the starting 18.
It was Willie Rioli’s night, however.
After the Bombers kicked away early the 27-year-old added two second quarter majors as the game hung in the balance to set up the home side’s resurgence.
Rioli added front half pressure with four tackles to help his Eagles nab a much-needed win.
- Saturday June 25
Carlton 81 – 50 Fremantle – Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
Freo missed out on a chance to entrench themselves in second place as they let things slip against a Carlton outfit marred by injuries in their back half.
The Dockers took an early lead before Michael Voss’ men puffed their chest to show signs of their potential as a September threat.
Liam Henry did his best for the visitors collecting the football 15 times throughout, while the Bagger’s Jesse Motlop had a quiet afternoon.
The Blues set the tone early in the second half to cruise towards the four points and sit a game clear of sixth place.
Geelong 89 – 86 Richmond – MCG, Melbourne
Amongst the stacked fixture, Saturday afternoon’s Victorian blockbuster heralded as match of the round proved a classic with wild shifts in momentum throughout.
The seesawing contest saw a pair of Richmond small forwards stand tall in a heartbreaking loss as Shai Bolton and Maurice Rioli kicked five goals between them for the Tiges.
Daniel Rioli had a huge impact despite missing out on a score of his own amassing 27 touches around the ground.
For the victors, Tyson Stengle carried on with his brilliant season, adding three goals, a clearance and 18 touches as the Cats leaped on a top four spot six weeks out from finals.
The contest saw Richmond drop to ninth on the later after their recent form surely sent shivers through the competition.
Sydney 83 – 32 St Kilda – SCG, Sydney
The annual Pride match supporting the LGBTQ+ community treated Sydney fans to glimpses of their teams best following a disappointing loss to Port Adelaide the week prior.
The Swans dominated from early while the Saints left plenty on the park as their season looks to unravel.
St Kilda’s go to man in 2022 Jade Gresham couldn’t quite get it together with his output dropping from recent weeks and adding no real impact.
Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera was up with the visitors’ best collecting 22 touches and laying a handful of tackles, while Ben Long battled his way to 12 disposals off the bench.
Despite his sides dominance, Lance Franklin failed to break his lean stint adding just 1.1 for the hosts.
The eight-shaping contest see’s Sydney go a game clear in the eight and the lumbering Saints drop to 10th on the ladder.
Sunday June 26
North Melbourne 58 – 115 Adelaide – Blundestone Arena, Hobart
An exciting return to Tasmania turned sour for North Melbourne as their best chance at a win in some time was spoiled by a Crow’s side looking to put on a show.
While the contest remained tight early-on North’s pressure plummeted to give Adelaide an easier than expected victory.
Shane McAdam had a presence up front for the Crows despite just eight disposals of his own, while Jye Simpkon continued on with his valiant season getting plenty of football and adding his share of defensive pressure.
Jed Anderson continued his patch of consistency for North with 19 disposals though the match was underlined by the poor performance of Tarryn Thomas.
The 22-year-old laboured to just three touches for the match, collecting a chorus of critique from fans and commentators alike.
News emerged in the post-game press conference where Kangaroos coach David Noble defended the young star for currently grieving the loss of a loved one.
Port Adelaide 93 – 91 Gold Coast, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
You could argue it was a case of ‘best till last’ as finals hopefuls Port Adelaide and Gold Coast rounded out week 15 in a quietly captivating tussle.
Karl Amon ticked every box for the Power collecting a hearty 26 touches to go along with 10 marks, 10 tackles and a pair of clearances.
Jeremy Finlayson and Malcolm Rosas Jr found a goal each for their sides and Izak Rankine dazzled in his home state kicking three of his own, including a near impossible wrong-side snap to put the Suns back into the drivers seat half way through the third.
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The Power eventually surged back in front after a nail biting final term to clinch a tight victory.
A match-saving tackle from Sam Powell-Pepper with a minute on the clock continued Port’s race up the ladder.
The race to the finals kicks off in round 16 as Brisbane look to make amends for their loss against the impassioned Bulldogs at the Gabba on Thursday evening.