Clutch goals from ice-cool duo Steve Johnson and David Mundy have helped ensure an ever-increasing logjam on the AFL ladder.
GWS have replaced slumping Adelaide as premiership favourites, although the Giants needed a last-minute goal at home from Johnson on Saturday to see off a spirited challenge from a Collingwood side who have won only two games and sit in second-last spot.
The Crows suffered a second straight loss – this time by 41 points at home to rank outsiders Melbourne – but stay in top spot on the table with a 6-2 win-loss record, ahead of the Giants and West Coast on percentage.
The next six teams are all at 5-3, including ninth-placed Fremantle, who won for the fifth time in six matches on Sunday.
Mundy kicked a winner after the siren against Richmond on Sunday for the second time in three years.
It enabled the Dockers to sneak home 10.12 (72) to 10.10 (70) after they had held what seemed like an unassailable 30-point lead at the final change.
“The competition is very even – I think we’re seeing that on a weekly basis and within games, quarter to quarter,” said Dockers coach Ross Lyon.
“If you’re not near your best or you drop off, you can get exposed pretty quickly.
“It’s a fortunate position for all clubs because if you prepare well and you’re committed, you can be competitive.”
That synopsis could just as easily have applied to Saturday night’s game at the MCG, when Essendon belied a recent poor run of just one win in their previous five matches by downing tackle-shy Geelong 17.8 (110) to 13.15 (93).
Like Richmond, the Cats have now dropped three games on the bounce after starting the year with five straight wins.
Geelong now face a season-defining run of three straight matches at the redeveloped Simonds Stadium against fellow top-four aspirants the Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide and Adelaide.
“I hope we don’t try to pretend that playing at home we fix all of our problems,” said coach Chris Scott.
“We’d like to play 11 games there, we haven’t played there at all until round nine and I’m confident we play it pretty well.
“But once again I probably shouldn’t even say that because we need to concentrate on what we are now, not reflect on what we were four weeks ago and certainly not what we were years ago.”
Port Adelaide belted Gold Coast 16.14 (110) to 4.14 (38) in Shanghai on Sunday to move up to fourth.
The free-scoring Power boast the best percentage in the competition (150.8).
Sydney ended the round with a comprehensive 18.12 (120) to 11.12 (78) win over North Melbourne.