On the eve of Round 7 of the 2018 AFL season, the West Coast Eagles sit in second place on the ladder, the only side able to match reigning premier Richmond’s points tally and with 5 wins in a row since an opening-round loss against Sydney.
And yet, the Eagles have barely been mentioned in early discussions to take out the flag come September. Does their record up until now flatter to deceive, or are they the real deal? The next month should tell us one way or the other.
After barely scraping into the final 8 in 2017 by just 0.5 percentage points over Melbourne, the Eagles went on to cause a boilover in one of the great finals matches in recent years, defeating Port Adelaide by 2 points after extra time.
They went on to a heavy defeat the following week at the hands of Greater Western Sydney, and the common consensus was that West Coast had produced one last great win to see off some retiring stars, and would drop into the bottom third of the competition this year as they begin to transition into a new era with a younger generation of players.
The Eagles don’t seem to have read the script, however, and nearly 2 months into the season have caused many to re-evaluate their predictions. The difficulty (or lack thereof) of their early fixtures has caused some hesitation to view them as genuine contenders for the premiership, and in particular a lacklustre performance against Carlton at the MCG in Round 5, typical of their poor efforts in Melbourne and feeding doubts of their ability to perform in the Victorian capital come September.
As of May 4th the Eagles are at 16/1 with Betway to take out the Premiership, which will likely look like incredible value should they come through their next few matches strongly. Rounds 8 through 10 see the Eagles take on each of the other 3 teams occupying the top 4 prior to Round 7, in what will undoubtedly test whether they’ll still be in the mix in late September.
After Port Adelaide visit Optus Stadium in Round 7 seeking revenge for that Elimination final defeat last year, Round 8 sees the Eagles travel to Sydney for another rematch from last year’s finals series. West Coast are notorious for being unable to take their home form with them to the eastern states and will need to be at their best against a Giants side eager to take themselves to the next level in 2018, after 2 Preliminary final losses in the last 2 years. GWS will be strong favourites, though their shock draw with the lowly Saints in Round 5 will give West Coast reason to be optimistic.
It doesn’t get any easier the following week as reigning premiers Richmond travel to Western Australia. The Tigers have started 2018 in much the same way they ended the previous year and sit on top of the ladder after 6 rounds. Were the game being held at the MCG it would be hard to make a case for the Eagles, but Victorian sides often struggle in Perth and Richmond’s only loss so far came in their only interstate trip, as Adelaide exacted some Grand Final revenge in Round 2, so there’s every chance this could be a tight one.
The make or break run of fixtures is rounded out with a trip to Melbourne to face Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium in Round 9. The Hawks have made a strong start to the season, winning a typically epic encounter with Geelong by a point in Round 2 and easily brushing aside the likes of Collingwood, Melbourne and St Kilda, all sides hoping to break back into the 8 this year. This match could be the most evenly poised of the stretch, with Hawthorn also tipped to fall away from the top 4 reckoning as the season goes on, both sides will be desperate to keep up the pace as long as they can.
If the Eagles can come out of that 3 game stretch with 1 or 2 wins – and perform strongly away from Western Australia – West Coast and their emerging youngsters can force themselves into the conversation on making the top 4 and earning themselves a double chance at September glory.