Epic race to AFL finals on the cards

Rob Forsaith and Steve Larkin

It's shaping up to be potentially the most demanding - and closest - AFL finals race in more than 25 years.

With five rounds remaining, two wins and percentage separates fourth-placed Sydney from 12th-placed Adelaide.

Four wins and percentage is the gap between ladder-leading premiership favourites Richmond and Adelaide, the team they conquered in last year's grand final.

There hasn't been that sort of congestion at this point of the season since both GWS and Gold Coast joined the competition.

The Swans and Port Adelaide have 11 wins, GWS 10 wins and a draw. Melbourne, Hawthorn and Geelong are all on 10 wins.

North Melbourne, Essendon and Adelaide - all with nine wins - also remain a genuine chance of reaching the finals.

It could mean some unlucky ends to the regular season - far more so than that experienced by Melbourne last year, when they banked 12 wins but memorably missed out on a finals berth because of half a percentage point.

Thirteen wins has long been considered the mark that will guarantee a team reaches the finals.

It's been enough during the 25 seasons that have followed Carlton's 1992 campaign, when they recorded 14 wins but missed out on what was the top six because of percentage.

It's possible, for the first time under the top-eight system, that 13 wins might not be enough to secure a finals ticket.

Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley can't help but marvel at the ladder.

Port climbed into fourth spot on Saturday, after Sydney's percentage dipped because of their shock loss to Gold Coast.

The Power were then back in fifth come the end of the round, with their own percentage having fallen after they were trumped by GWS.

"There's some pretty amazing games coming up in the next five weeks," Hinkley said after Port's 22-point loss to GWS.

"We have got some really tough opponents coming up. We have got Western Bulldogs next week in Ballarat, the Crows, WC, Collingwood, Essendon.

"It's a tough run. But other teams have got equally as tough a run.

"It's going to be quite fascinating to see where it all comes out. If you get there (to finals), you're going to deserve it."

There are eight-point games aplenty in coming weeks that will help cut the pretenders from the contenders, starting with Friday night's match between Essendon and Sydney at Etihad Stadium.

Other games that could reshape the top eight include Adelaide's home clash with Melbourne, a game in Hobart between North Melbourne and West Coast plus the Tigers' MCG blockbuster against Collingwood.