Shield seasons on the line in round nine

Defending champions Victoria could earn hosting rights for this summer's Sheffield Shield final, or slip as low as fifth

Victoria will all but guarantee themselves a spot in the Sheffield Shield final with a win in Alice Springs next week and they could also secure hosting rights with one round remaining if other results go their way.

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But the log jam at the top of the Shield ladder means the two-time defending champions are also in danger of missing the decider altogether and – while highly unlikely – they could conceivably finish the season as low as fifth place.

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The uncapped nature of the Shield's complex bonus-points system, which was introduced two summers ago, has again helped orchestrate an unpredictable finish to the season with any number of scenarios still possible.

The system sees teams earn a bonus of 0.01 for every run scored above 200 within the first 100 overs of their innings, and a bonus 0.1 for each wicket they take within the first 100 overs.

With two rounds remaining, last-placed Tasmania is the only side out of contention for a spot in the final on March 26-30. The other five states are separated by roughly 12 points – or two outright wins without bonus points – heading into Round Nine, which starts on Tuesday.

The Vics will enter the penultimate round with 44.67 points, more than five points clear of South Australia (39.1) in second place, while WA (35.96), New South Wales (34.15) and Queensland (32.49) are still within touching distance.

Victoria will take on Western Australia in Round Nine at their second home in Alice Springs, a week after the Warriors romped to a comprehensive victory against them inside two days at the WACA Ground.

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Revenge for the Bushrangers at Traeger Park will earn them a minimum of six points and move them past 50 for the season, which should put them out of reach of all teams except the Redbacks. And in the event of a Victorian win, anything less than an outright victory to the Redbacks in their match against NSW will almost guarantee the Vics a return to Alice Springs later in the month to host the final.

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And should the Bushrangers and Redbacks both win, they could possibly secure a repeat of last year's final between the two sides, bonus points permitting.

While the Vics hold their fate in their own hands, another defeat to the red-hot Warriors – who are on a three-match winning streak – could leave them in very real danger of missing the final completely.

A second-consecutive loss for the defending champions will break the competition wide open and could see the top five sides within one win of each other heading into the final round.

Wins to WA, NSW and the Bulls over Tasmania in Round Nine – bonus points permitting – could mean all five teams will enter Round 10 in contention to not only reach the final but also host it.

The final round will see Tasmania host South Australia, Queensland take on Victoria in Brisbane and WA play the Blues at the WACA Ground.

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The Redbacks last season showed just what was possible under the bonus-point system when they earned almost nine points – worth one-and-a-half wins – in the final round to vault from fourth to first and earn hosting rights.

SA thrashed Tasmania by an innings and 78 runs in Glenelg, routing the Tigers for just 91 and 177 having themselves raced to 346 in just 74.2 overs, earning a total of 8.96 points.

And the Vics know as well as anyone just how unpredictable the competition can be under the current points system.

The Bushrangers were unbackable favourites to host the final heading into Round Eight last season having lost just one of their opening seven matches. But heavy defeats in rounds eight and nine left them in danger of missing the final completely, and they only secured their spot in the decider after they held on for a thrilling draw against the Blues in Round 10.

Having won the Shield in 2014-15 and 2015-16, the Bushrangers are aiming to become the first Victorian side and just the fifth overall in the 124-year history of the competition to win three consecutive titles.

The legendary Queensland side of the early 2000s was the last team to go back-to-back-to-back.

Most consecutive Shield titles

9 - NSW (1953-54, 54-55, 55-56, 56-57, 57-58, 58-59, 59-60, 60-61, 61-62)

6 - NSW (1901-02, 02-03, 03-04, 04-05, 05-06, 06-07)

3 - WA (1986-87, 87-88, 88-89)

3 - Qld (1999-00, 00-01, 01-02)