Only 16 rounds into the 2016 AFL season and the finals race have all but been decided.  

Ken Hinkley’s Port Adelaide has made vast improvements of late but even the most optimistic Power supporter couldn’t see them making up the 12 points and percentage to see action in September. 

The 2016 AFL Finals series unofficially begins Thursday night when heavyweights Hawthorn travel to Sydney as we witness the first genuine top two contest of the season.  

A win for Hawthorn would send a shudder through the seven remaining teams in contention and produce a compelling sigh from all non-Hawthorn supporters as Alistair Clarkson’s men shoot for a fourth consecutive premiership, an astounding achievement in modern day football.

On the flip side, what does a round sixteen exit really mean to the ten failed teams in 2016?

Football departments have a bonus two months period to re-evaluate playing lists, coaching staff and the many facets of running of football club.  

Players on the wrong side of thirty will be chasing shadows as they avoid that dreaded tap on the shoulder, whilst players who’ve struggled for a regular playing stint at senior level will be wanting for one last opportunity to display their unfulfilled talent.

For many of the ten clubs this presents a unique opportunity for fans to have a sneak peek into 2017 and the future direction of their club.  

In many ways Carlton have been looking far beyond 2016 since the appointment of Brendan Bolton but for clubs such as Fremantle and Richmond rounds 17-23 will be a reminder of how far two finalists of 2015 have fallen.  

For Richmond the topping up of recycled players has finally come back to haunt the proud club, whilst Fremantle have badly fatigued under the Ross Lyon brand of football.  

Both teams had high expectations for 2016 and to see their seasons spontaneously combust without even a whimper is concerning for all involved.

List management will be a term thrown around loosely for the remaining teams with issues such as early preseason surgery, retirements earlier than expected and coaches tinkering with positional matchups with 2017 solely in mind.  

We can look into a lottery for the draft or a floating fixture for the final month of the season but let’s call this season what it is, an anomaly.

As exciting as the seven week prelude to the finals series appears on paper it leads to an abnormally high amount of junk time fixtures.  

Out of the remaining 63 games of the season only ten are between top eight teams.  
North Melbourne who has slid from first to eight over during a horror form slump are involved in the most of any team with four, whilst West Coast finish the season with three key games.

For the remainder of the season Bruce, Dennis, BT and co will do their damndest to breathe life into some of these fixtures but a donkey is still a donkey, even if you dress it up in your finest silks. 

The 2016 Rio Olympics could become a pleasant distraction for even the most ardent football fans, whilst fans of all sports will welcome the Games of the XXXI Olympiad with open arms.

The beauty of our finals system is that it produced football of the highest order, from the best eight teams of the season, and we can be assured the best teams this year; even if it’s a little earlier than scheduled.  

This season is one of the closest in recent memory and without the usual few standout teams.  

On their day any of the top eight teams could feature in that last Saturday of September.
The next seven weeks could produce some disparaging moments but be assured September will be one to remember.