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AFL round 22 : FIVE things we learned

1. The Crows are flying and a match for any side in SeptemberIn aceing their pre-finals test against West Coast, the Crows showed they are ready to cause damage in September. They are clicking on every line. Daniel Talia is as solid as ever deep in defence. Brodie Smith has hit his 2014 All Australian form and Rory Laird is in 2015 All Australian form rebounding off half back. Sam Jacobs is feeding Patrick Dangerfield, 
Scott Thompson and Rory Sloane; and their forward line looks as deadly as any in the competition. They'll fancy themselves against Geelong next week and if North Melbourne defeats Richmond then Adelaide would secure a home final. If the Tigers win, the Western Bulldogs would likely host the Crows in an elimination final at Etihad Stadium. 
That match-up was disastrous for the Crows in round four; their midfield couldn't get going and was badly out-possessed in the 57-point loss. The Crows are a far more confident side now, playing a fast-paced and high-intensity brand of footy.

2. The Sydney Swans are timing their runAfter three losses in a month, the Swans have won their past two and seem to be getting their key players in peak form at the right time. Lance Franklin returned in Sunday's thumping win over St Kilda, and while he was understandably rusty, he got through two and a half quarters unscathed before being subbed.
 Kurt Tippett took hold of Hugh Goddard and was good again after last week's five goals, and Josh Kennedy backed up with another devastating midfield display. They weren't troubled by the Saints, but with just a win over Gold Coast next week standing in their way of a confirmed top-four finish, they loom as a big threat come finals with their only current concern a suspected hamstring injury to Nick Smith. 

3. Fremantle's man management is already underwayThe Dockers did not even wait to confirm the result against Melbourne on Sunday before they started looking ahead to the first qualifying final. Matthew Pavlich was subbed halfway through the third term, 
Michael Walters was not risked pre-game due to calf soreness and David Mundy spent some time resting deep forward in the last quarter. Ross Lyon showed in 2013 that he is not afraid to rest players en masse ahead of the finals series and this time the Dockers have earned the right to rest key players ahead of a qualifying final after securing top spot for the first time in the club's history.

4. The Hawks have options
While facing the bottom two clubs in the last fortnight of the home-and-away season was never going to provide an early sharpener at 'finals-like' intensity, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson will be pleased the draw has given him a chance to test out a few different looks ahead of September. 
On Saturday he threw James Frawley forward and the former Demon repaid his coach with three goals as one of a dangerous trio of talls alongside Jack Gunston and Jarryd Roughead. And in a midfield missing Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell, Clarkson was well served by the returning Will Langford and ever-reliable Liam Shiels. Throw in a couple of flashes from second-game forward James Sicily, better output from Bradley Hill and workmanlike performances from a host of regular contributors and it seems clear the Hawks are ready to tackle whatever September throws at them.

5. It's not the size of the Dog in the fight ...
The Western Bulldogs' ability to negate the influence of North Melbourne star Todd Goldstein without a recognised ruckman augurs well for potential clashes with West Coast's Nic Naitanui and Fremantle's Aaron Sandilands this September. As Will Minson has fallen out of favour this season, 
the Dogs have been forced to share their ruck duties between defender Jordan Roughead and forwards Tom Campbell and Jack Redpath. Against North, Roughead and Redpath conceded 54 hit-outs to Goldstein, but the Roos ruckman did not give his midfield their usual silver service. The Bulldogs' midfielders deserve a lot of credit for their ability to shark Goldstein's taps and win the clearances 44-35. But the ability of Roughead, Redpath and third-man-up exponents such as Marcus Bontempelli to constantly keep charging in at Goldstein was also a factor. Campbell and Redpath might have been overwhelmed in round 21 by Eagles duo Naitanui and Callum Sinclair, but the undermanned Dogs could rise to this and other tall challenges in the finals.

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