Geelong coach Chris Scott can't recall an AFL season where more teams were in genuine contention heading into the latest instalment of the fabled rivalry against Hawthorn.
With three rounds to go, Richmond are red-hot favourites to claim the minor premiership, while West Coast are likely to finish second.
But only a game separates fourth-placed Melbourne from 10th-ranked North Melbourne.
Hawthorn (48 points) are fifth and Geelong (44) are ninth ahead of Saturday's epic showdown at the MCG, with both teams still in the running for a top-four spot while also in some danger of missing the finals altogether.
"If anything the position we're in really sharpens our focus," Scott said on Thursday.
"The other thing that gives us optimism is that if we can play well enough it's not as if we'll be limping into the finals.
"I may be proven wrong, but I'm firmly of the view that there are still a lot of teams in it, more than any other year I can think of.
"I can see a team finishing eighth and getting no more disadvantage than if they finished fifth and you roll on from there.
"Those sorts of things are possibilities."
The modern-day rivalry between the Hawks and the Cats burst to life when Hawthorn recorded an upset victory in the 2008 grand final against a Geelong team that had lost only one previous game for the year.
The Cats went on to win the next 11 matches between the two clubs, a run that was finally snapped in the 2013 preliminary final.
Scott was wary of over-playing the rivalry between the two clubs on Thursday, while acknowledging it was a real thing.
"It's self-evident that they're a good team, that they're in contention and we have a really storied history," he said.
"But we do promote the fact that we like players who enjoy the big moments in the big games against the big opposition on a big stage.
"That's the part we don't want to shy away from."
The Cats are set to welcome back important defender Tom Stewart and ruckman Rhys Stanley for the finals-shaping encounter.
All-Australian contender Stewart missed last weekend's narrow loss to the Tigers with an ankle injury, while Stanley was a late withdrawal.