While the Eagles fell to the Magpies last Friday night in a Grand Final rematch, the reigning premiers are set to be big players down the stretch of the home and away season.
And the race to September is as close as it’s ever been, with just three wins separating second and 10th. The fight for those final couple of top eight spots is going to go down right down to the wire, and picking who will make the cut from here is near impossible. But there are two teams leading the premiership race as it sits.
West Coast and Richmond
Two of the form teams of the competition and the sides you wouldn’t want to run into for the rest of the home and away season are the last two premiers.
Punters are jumping on these teams and you can understand why. Prior to their loss to Collingwood, West Coast were considered the frontrunners to win the flag, even ahead of the ladder-leading Cats. Having won three of their last four and boasting one of the smallest injury lists in the competition, there is a lot to like about the Eagles’ chances of going back-to-back.
The Tigers endured their horror injury toll earlier in the season and are basically back to full strength now, other than the absence of Alex Rance, who was always expected to miss the remainder of 2019.
We are witnessing the impact of Richmond getting all their stars back, having won three in a row and looking like their undefeatable self from the back half of 2017. Punters are identifying this transformation and even bookies that have free bet offers are saying the same thing. While Geelong and Collingwood shouldn’t be discounted, it feels like the Eagles and Tigers are gathering momentum at the right time of the year.
The loss of NicNat
West Coast are a much stronger team with Nic Naitanui back in the fold. But Adam Simpson’s side may have to emulate their efforts from last year and play another finals series without their stack ruckman.
Naitanui went down with an ankle injury against Collingwood on the weekend in just his third match of 2019. It places him in doubt for the rest of the season, dealing a major blow to the Eagles’ chances. Coming off a second knee construction, it is not great news for the reigning premiers and they will need Tom Hickey to step up in his absence. Naitanui’s presence on the field is irreplaceable, but if there was anything we learnt from last season, it’s that this team’s system can shine no matter who is out there.
West Coast went all the way without Naitanui and Andrew Gaff in 2018 and it would be foolish to write them off from here. It would be remiss not to mention that Brad Sheppard didn’t play in the premiership either too, plus key defender Tom Barrass has barely played this year and makes their defence look that much stronger.
Should West Coast finish in the top two and secure a home final, they would have to get beaten at Optus Stadium to not make the Grand Final, arguably the hardest task in football. Yes, West Coast will be one of the teams to beat come September.
The Bottom Line
As is the case with any sport, AFL is as unpredictable as it gets. Just look at the last three premiership winners. Realistically, anyone in the eight could win it from here, and maybe even one of the teams on the outside of it.
While the Eagles may look the best on the run home, staying hungry is imperative, and being off one or two per cent could prove costly in the business end of the season. Realistically, it’s anyone’s flag from here.