Following on from my piece on this topic in the NRL – whereby the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys could potentially face off in that code’s first ever all-Queensland grand final – can anyone stop the AFL’s first ever all-WA grand final from eventuating?
The Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles remain on track to finish one-two on the ladder.
This comes despite both clubs enduring unusual fortunes in Round 18, whereby the Dockers weren’t at their usually dominant best against the Greater Western Sydney Giants, while the Eagles were held to a draw against the cellar-dwelling Gold Coast Suns.
After many predicted that the Dockers would suffer a decline in form following their straight-sets exit from September last year, Ross Lyon’s men have bounced back to be sitting at the top of the ladder with a 15-2 record.
With club icons like Matthew Pavlich and Aaron Sandilands in the twilight of their careers, the club’s premiership window will close sooner rather than later. The lure of featuring in Fremantle’s first premiership team is not only driving them as individuals, but also the club to win their maiden flag in 2015. If the Dockers can continue on their current form this year, then it shapes as a huge possibility.
However, their poor record against Hawthorn, to whom they lost by 72 points in Launceston in Round 15, remains their Achilles heel. What hasn’t helped the Dockers in recent seasons is that seven of the last ten meetings between the two clubs have taken place either in Melbourne or Tasmania.
Freo’s nine-match winning streak to start this season was not only their best ever start to a premiership season, but also their equal-best winning streak, matching the record they set in 2006 en route to a third place finish and first ever preliminary final.
Despite missing the recent win over the Giants, and being unlikely to face St Kilda at Etihad Stadium this Sunday, Nat Fyfe has emerged as the hot favourite to take out this year’s Brownlow Medal, though one more minor indiscretion will render him ineligible, having been fined for two other on-field incidents earlier this season.
Currently six points clear of the West Coast Eagles in first place, the Dockers can all but wrap up the minor premiership by beating their more successful neighbours in the Round 20 Western Derby.
Before that, however, they must face another recent bogey side in St Kilda. The Saints have won their last two against the Dockers by huge margins, including by 58 points in the corresponding match last year and by 71 points in the final round of the 2013 regular season.
After that, North Melbourne, Melbourne and Port Adelaide await in the run home for the Dockers, with the match against the Power to be played at the Adelaide Oval.
Switching to the Eagles now, and the club have this year reemerged as a premiership contender under second-year coach Adam Simpson, despite being decimated with long-term injuries to several key defenders, in addition to captain Darren Glass retiring midway through last season.
Eric Mackenzie’s season was over before it even began after he went down with a knee injury in the pre-season, while Mitch Brown suffered the same injury in their 10-point loss to the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in Round 1.
However, the Eagles haven’t allowed these injuries to prevent them from surging to second on the ladder, on the back of several dominant performances from reigning Brownlow Medallist Matt Priddis and full-forward Josh Kennedy, among others.
Kennedy ran riot against his old club, Carlton, in Round 2, kicking 10 goals to take the lead from Adelaide’s Taylor Walker in the goalkicking chart. He now leads the next best player, the Giants’ Jeremy Cameron, by 12 goals and is on track to become just the second Eagle, after Scott Cummings in 1999, to claim the Coleman Medal.
Despite the Eagles’ injury-plagued backline, the club managed to keep the Giants to the season’s lowest score to date, 4.9 (33), in Round 5, while piling on 18.12 (120) themselves, with Kennedy providing a third of that score with six goals.
Priddis was best-on-ground as the Eagles ended their eight-match hoodoo against the Swans in Round 17, that coming the week before their shock draw against the Gold Coast Suns last week.
The six-day break that came after the Swans match, and the long trip across the country, could have been factors in the Eagles’ sloppy display on the holiday strip. It could also have been argued that they were looking ahead to their looming matches against Hawthorn and Fremantle.
Those two matches will really determine just how far the Eagles have come this season, especially with their backline being led well by Jeremy McGovern, who has missed the past fortnight due to injury.
So who can stop the Dockers and Eagles from meeting in a Western Derby grand final?
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Hawthorn would become the first team since the Brisbane Lions in 2001-03 to claim a hat-trick of flags after they thrashed Carlton by 138 points in Round 17 to notch up their eighth consecutive win.
However their shock 18-point loss to Richmond last week, coupled with the Eagles’ potentially costly draw with the Suns, has seen Alastair Clarkson’s men fall a game-and-a-half behind the Eagles on the ladder ahead of their blockbuster showdown at Domain Stadium this Saturday night.
After the trip west, the Hawks face the Geelong Cats and Port Adelaide, two teams desperate to keep their finals hopes alive, before ending the regular season with an easy pair of games against the Brisbane Lions and Carlton.
If the Hawks are to avoid a trip west in the first week of the finals, they must win every one of their five remainders, and hope that Adam Simpson’s Eagles drop at least the Derby against the Dockers in Round 20 to overtake them on the ladder.
At present they possess the best percentage in the competition, with 164.2, and their recently broken eight-match winning streak, which included their 72-point win over Fremantle in Launceston, buried the demons of their poor start to the season in which it took them until Rounds 9 and 10 to win consecutive games.
The Swans are equal on points with Hawthorn on the ladder, but recent heavy losses to the Hawks and the West Coast Eagles see them sitting fourth on the ladder with a percentage of 115.9.
Prior to that their form since the Round 12 bye had been average, coughing up a 32-point half-time lead to lose to Richmond by 18 points in Round 13. A pair of unconvincing wins over Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions followed, before the aforementioned pair of losses to the Hawks and the Eagles.
Having been in the headlines following the Adam Goodes booing saga, the Swans bounced back in the best way possible last Saturday night, thrashing the Adelaide Crows at home by 52 points to remain in the hunt for a top-four finish.
Their run home is a tough one, with matches against the Geelong Cats, Collingwood and GWS Giants, three teams still in finals contention, as well as a potentially tricky match against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium before a winnable home match against the Gold Coast Suns.
Thus, while it’s possible both the Hawks and Swans could finish the minor rounds in third and fourth place (or the other way around), the two still face the daunting task of heading west to start their finals series.
The Swans may have to travel west a further two times during the finals series, having already trekked west in Rounds 4 and 17 for two losses. To avert this, they may have to face, and defeat, Fremantle in the qualifying final; that’s assuming the Swans finish fourth and the Dockers as minor premiers.
Meanwhile, for the Hawks this Saturday night’s trip west will be their first for the regular season; if it is to be their only trip west all year, then as explained above, they must beat the Eagles, hope that they lose the Western Derby a week later, and then win their four remainders. That will go a long way towards the Hawks finishing in the top two for the third consecutive year, which means the two-time defending premiers won’t have to travel at all during their finals campaign.
And so, with the likelihood of an all-WA grand final looming, it’s up to the Swans and Hawks to sabotage those plans.