It is the AFL’s equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, but Carlton coach Mick Malthouse says it’s now the Blues’ to lose.
Essendon’s expulsion from the top eight over the supplements scandal has left Carlton with the inside running to take their place.
If the Blues beat Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium on Saturday, they will play finals.
A defeat leaves the door open for others – Brisbane, North Melbourne or even Adelaide or West Coast – to sneak in.
Malthouse’s answer to whether his side deserved to make finals, given their chances had appeared to vanish with last weekend’s narrow loss to Essendon, was to look at the ladder after this weekend.
“I don’t make the rules,” he said on Friday.
“At the end of round 23, the AFL produce a ladder which says final eight … when they say that’s your final eight and you happen to be in it, you’re in the finals.
“If you’re out of it, you’re out of the finals, regardless of how it works.”
With Carlton’s finals destiny back in their hands, and opponents Port Adelaide already booked for September regardless of the result, Malthouse reminded his side they had their hands on a top-eight spot.
“We’re currently eighth, so we own it,” Malthouse said.
Malthouse also confirmed star midfielder Chris Judd, who has been battling a knee injury, was most definitely a chance to return should the Blues book their finals place.
Port will be without key defender Alipate Carlile with a back injury.
Assistant coach Shaun Rehn said it was a legitimate injury, rather than a case of resting the backman for next week’s first final.
“(Coach) Ken (Hinkley) has been pretty clear on how he wants the boys to play all year,” Rehn said in Adelaide on Friday.
“We had areas of our game that dropped off last week (in the 74-point loss to Fremantle) and getting form in the key areas that Ken rates is really important going into a final.
“Other sides might be looking at resting players going into a final, but we want to show we have learned from Fremantle and have some solid form under our belt.”
Tall defender Jack Hombsch is a straight swap.
It is also the last AFL game to be played at AAMI Stadium – the old Football Park – before Port and the Crows move to Adelaide Oval from next season.