West Coast tagger Mark Hutchings’ hamstring injury was a sliding doors moment in a game where Dustin Martin carried Richmond superbly.
The Eagles midfielder was ruled out at halftime of Sunday’s AFL thriller at the MCG, where the Tigers eventually prevailed 13.10 (88) to 13.4 (82).
Playing in just his second game back from an earlier hamstring injury, Hutchings spent most of the first half following Martin’s teammate Kane Lambert.
But after watching Martin lift the Tigers back into the game, there’s little doubt the Eagles would have switched it up had Hutchings been available.
Martin went on to rack up 35 disposals, 13 inside-50s and a goal in increasingly greasy conditions that suited the Tigers to a tee.
“He could run 60 per cent, which wasn’t going to cut it today,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said of Hutchings after his injury.
“It wasn’t ideal for us with the role he was playing. He wasn’t on Martin but it does take away (the option) – the reason he’s in the side is as a bit of a go-to for us.
“We had other avenues to try and quell his influence, which is difficult to do though. But they’re more about the collective, Richmond, and hopefully so are we.”
West Coast dominated the first quarter but were slowly ground down thereafter, and Simpson conceded his midfielders had lowered their colours.
The loss means West Coast remain third and must beat Hawthorn next week and hope other results go their way to secure a top-two finish.
Premiership teammate Chris Masten could be in line to replace Hutchings.
“I think last year we were playing up in Brisbane for second spot (in round 23),” Simpson said.
“We’re just trying to win. I’m not thinking about anything other than winning next week, to be totally honest.
“I don’t do the ladder predictor. We just want to qualify as high as we can and at the moment, top four is our goal so we’ll have a crack at the Hawks next week.”
THE AFL’S GRANDSTAND LAST ROUND:
* All positions in the top eight might change hands
* Seven clubs assured of playing finals (Brisbane, Geelong, West Coast, Richmond, Collingwood, GWS, Essendon)
* Four clubs can finish eighth (Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn, Adelaide, Port Adelaide)
THE DEFINING MATCHES:
* Collingwood v Essendon, MCG, Friday night. The Magpies must win, and hope West Coast and/or Richmond lose, to have a hope of a top-four finish and double-chance in the finals. An Essendon win might secure them a home elimination final, although it’s a long shot as it rests with GWS also losing to Gold Coast.
* Geelong v Carlton, GHMBA Stadium, Saturday afternoon. A Geelong win will ensure they get a home qualifying final – though it will be played at the MCG, not in Geelong – and give them a chance of finishing top, should Brisbane lose.
* Gold Coast v GWS, Metricon Stadium, Saturday afternoon. The Giants need to win or risk gifting Essendon home-ground advantage in their probable meeting in week one of the finals, should the Bombers beat Collingwood.
* West Coast v Hawthorn, Optus Stadium, Saturday night. An Eagles win will deliver them a top-four finish, and also a chance of finishing second and a home qualifying final. Lose, they might drop out of the top four. Hawthorn must win and rely on the Bulldogs losing to have any chance of reaching the playoffs.
* Western Bulldogs v Adelaide, Ballarat, Sunday afternoon. The Bulldogs will secure eighth spot and a finals berth with victory. Adelaide must win by a healthy margin, and sweat on Hawthorn and Port Adelaide results, to replace the Dogs in eighth spot.
* Richmond v Brisbane, MCG, Sunday afternoon. Brisbane will keep top spot with a win and, even if they lose, should still finish second and get a home qualifying final. Richmond will ensure a top-four spot with victory but lose and they likely slide to fifth should Collingwood win.
* Port Adelaide v Fremantle, Adelaide Oval, Sunday twilight. Port will know if they’re a hope of making the finals by the first bounce, with their fate resting with the Bulldogs – should the Dogs win, the Power no chance. A Dogs loss, and Port will know what winning margin they require to steal eighth spot.