Yep, you read that headline right. The West Coast Eagles have as good a chance as any to win this year’s flag and claim back-to-back premierships.
Their premiership flew under the radar in Victoria, but it was one of the greatest premiership wins of all time.
Without Nic Naitanui, Andrew Gaff and Brad Sheppard, they came to the MCG against a rampaging Collingwood team and came back from nearly 40 points down to win the flag.
Why weren’t they an outright favourite for the premiership at the start of this season?
Who knows, but one thing is for sure.
They are the best team in the competition, and by a very long way.
Of course, the main fear the year after winning a flag is that dreaded premiership hangover.
The Eagles would have done nothing to stop those fears from growing after being humiliated by the Lions in Round 1, but they’ve well and truly quashed them over the last two weeks.
They beat an in-form Greater Western Sydney team by 52 points, having 12 scoring shots to five in the second half, and then came to the MCG to play Collingwood in a grand final rematch, where they won with ease again.
It was a performance that made a statement to the competition.
Most expected Collingwood to win, and they won nearly every important stat in the game, apart from the most important one: the scoreboard.
West Coast had 50 inside-50s on Saturday night, and they scored from nearly half of their entries.
They’re so clean with ball in hand, which is what sets them apart from basically every other team.
Inside midfielders in Dom Sheed and Jack Redden – who aren’t supposed to be great with ball in hand – are going at around 80 per cent disposal efficiency since the back end of last year, and their outside midfielders in Lewis Jetta, Andrew Gaff, Elliot Yeo and Shannon Hurn are exquisite ball-users.
They’re a team – much like the Hawks in their three-peat years – that just doesn’t have many weaknesses.
We’ve covered off their midfield, and how they have a great balance on the inside with Luke Shuey, Sheed and Redden, and then outside with Jetta, Gaff and Hurn.
Their back line is no exception, led by superstar key defenders in Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass, who could potentially be the two best key defenders in the competition with Alex Rance injured.
They’re accompanied by Sheppard – who is a vital inclusion after missing out on a premiership – as well as emerging small defender Tom Cole.
The forward line is where they win games, though, evident by how frequently they score from inside-50s.
It’s not surprising when they’re led by two-time Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy, as well as Jack Darling, who is finally delivering on the potential he had as a younger player.
Oscar Allen – the young key forward who has jumped onto the scene this year – looks like a brilliant prospect, kicking six goals from three games.
The Eagles’ small forwards are as good as any, with Liam Ryan being the most electrifying player in the competition apart from Lance Franklin.
Willie Rioli is out with injury at the moment, but he went from strength to strength last year. Jamie Cripps is always good for around 30 goals a season, and they’ve found another good one in third-gamer Jack Petruccelle.
They’ve found the recipe that makes a group united and strong, with a great game plan by Adam Simpson, much like the Tigers of 2017 and 2018.
However, it remains to be seen whether they can go one better than the Tigers, who at this stage last year were the premiership certainties.
All we do know is that it will take a champion team to beat this West Coast side, and they’re the benchmark for season 2019.