The AFL season is shaping as one of the most exciting in years, having become even more intriguing over the weekend. With one round to go before the finals, it’s hard to remember a year where it was so hard to pick the likely premier.

The Crows were bounced by the rebuilding Port at home yesterday, and lost key forward Trent Hentschel to a nasty knee injury. It’s a major blow as he is an under-rated and dangerous performer. Over the past five weeks, Adelaide has lost four and had one win, only just edging Collingwood at home. Hardly premiership form, even if coach Neil Craig saw positives.

Meanwhile, the only team ahead of them, West Coast, is trying to hold it together. The Eagles are 5-2 since and including Round 15. They looked listless against the rampaging Dockers yesterday but it might have been the Gabba factor coming into play. Geography still plays a major role in AFL fortunes and West Coast had beaten Brisbane at the Gabba last Sunday, while Freo enjoyed life at home since a shorter Adelaide trip two rounds ago.

The Dockers are shaping up as the only red-hot team in the finals race, currently unbeaten since Round 13 and the only question is whether Fremantle can handle the nerves and extra pressure of September.

Drawing lines through form, Collingwood looms as the under-rated Victorian challenger. Melbourne has had three wins, three losses and a draw since Round 15. St Kilda has been 5-2 for the same period, but only travelled west once – pounded by Freo.

Collingwood’s loss to Fremantle at the MCG in Round 15 was regarded as the beginning of the end for the Magpies at the time, but now looks more respectable, given the Dockers’ continued excellence, at home and on the road.

The Magpies have since managed four wins and two losses and went agonisingly close to upsetting the Crows in Adelaide. They did well to seal victory against an aggressive and physical Carlton with nothing to lose, on the field or at the tribunal, on the weekend.

What does all this mean? Only that the Bulldogs, having run at 3-4 over the past seven rounds, look off the pace in eighth place. Everything else is up for grabs, and much will depend on where the teams land on the ladder after next weekend.

This is a finals series where the ability to travel well is going to seriously matter. It’s worth noting that the reigning premier, Sydney (5-2 since Round 15) has won in Adelaide and Melbourne and just lost to the Eagles in Perth during that time.