Hawthorn has all but locked up a spot in the eight. Now it has a big opportunity to make its appearance in September more than fleeting.

As wobbly as Fremantle is starting to look, there’s no team that would particularly fancy a trip to Perth to take on the Dockers in an elimination final.

But if the Hawks knock them over in Launceston on Saturday, there’s a fair chance that will not be an issue.

Carlton and Sydney could both leapfrog Freo with wins next weekend. And given the continued absence of Michael Barlow, Hayden Ballantyne and Chris Tarrant, and concerns that Aaron Sandilands’ foot injury might take a little longer than first thought, the Dockers are more vulnerable than at any stage this year.

It’s a measure of just how vulnerable, not to mention how important to Freo is its home base, that if the Dockers enter week one of the finals at home, they’ll start at least even money, and if they limp in as the seventh or eighth-placed side, as a rank outsider.

That’s good for the Hawks, though they would obviously prefer to be taking on Carlton in Melbourne than Sydney in Sydney.

It’s been a funny old year for Hawthorn, producing some of the worst football it has played in years followed rapidly by some of the best, before another slump that yesterday’s tough win over Melbourne appears to have arrested. And the cards might just be falling into place.

Fremantle has perhaps its greatest challenge this week. The Dockers have had too good a year to be bundled out of the finals in week one, but that’s how things are shaping if they cannot somehow manufacture a victory at a venue – Launceston – at which they haven’t even played for more than four years.

Mark Harvey’s team went a long way over the first half of the season to removing the cloak of cynicism that has always surrounded his team. Never will it need more resilience to ensure the barbs don’t start flying again.

We’re sometimes a little too loose with that catchcry: “season defining game”. Not this week.

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