FIVE does not go into three.
It may seem like simple mathematics, but that is what confronts sides battling it out for the sixth to eighth spots on the TAC Cup ladder.
With the top five all but locked away at least two wins ahead of sixth, the next five teams are within four points of each other and will be competing for the bottom three finals spots.
As valiant as Northern Knights and Gippsland Power have been this season, it is fair enough to rule them out of the finals race unless something drastic happens.
The five teams competing for the final three spots are Eastern Ranges, Calder Cannons, Oakleigh Chargers, Western Jets and Bendigo Pioneers.
Four of those sides have won four out for 10 matches this season, while the Pioneers have won three.
History tells us that the metro teams do the most damage in September, so there would be a fair few country teams at the top of the ladder more than happy to see Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers miss out.
On paper those two sides in my opinion are the strongest.
However paper means very little when the teams run out onto the ground.
Both the Chargers and Ranges have missed players through school and representative football at different stages of the year and have subsequently struggled.
Of the remaining three teams, the sides are relatively even.
The Cannons, Jets and Pioneers all have some top-end talent, but their depth is what will make the difference come the finals race.
All three sides have produced some impressive football over the course of the season, but they are all guilty of some poor games as well.
The Cannons are not starved of finals appearances like the other sides and often have enough depth to get the job done and sneak into the finals series.
Early in the year however they looked poor but have impressed in recent weeks, particularly the likes of Muhammad Saad who has been scoring at will.
The Jets were the most impressive side in the first round, destroying the Chargers and looked like a genuine premiership contender.
But since then they have been up and down and will look to gain consistency in the final rounds in order to secure a finals berth.
Missing their top player Daniel Venables to school and representative footy is never ideal, but others have stood up in a gritty midfield.
Finally, the Pioneers are arguably the outsiders to make the finals, being one win behind the other teams.
But when at full strength, they have greater depth than in previous years and seem to have more scoring power than in the past, which has led to more competitive efforts.
If they can get a full team on the park, they are very much in with a shot to make finals.
There are some crucial matches in the next seven weeks that will determine the make-up of sixth to 10th, which are:
Round 12: Bendigo vs Calder;
Round 13: Western vs Eastern;
Round 14: Oakleigh vs Bendigo;
Round 16: Bendigo vs Western;
Round 17: Calder vs Western.
This means that the Pioneers and Jets have their own fate in their hands, with three matches against the five mid-table battlers.
However Bendigo is the only side not to take on the Power out of the five sides in the remaining seven rounds, while the Jets are the only team not to front up against the Knights.
Therefore all five teams have four matches they should at least go in even favourite with and the side that is able to win the majority of those matches will qualify for the final three spots.
We look with interest as to which sides can stand up and squeeze into the bottom three spots in the top eight.