Last week North Melbourne announced their eight-man leadership group for the 2020 season with four new names voted in.
Despite having played each other only once a year for the past four years, Saturday’s game between West Coast Eagles and North Melbourne will be the 50th encounter between the two clubs.
The Eagles have won 27 times to North Melbourne’s 22, with neither side able to put together a winning streak of more than five games against each other. The Eagles have made it five in a row twice, between 2005 and 2007 and between 2011 and 2013, and North Melbourne only once.
The current state of play the five last times they’ve met is three comfortable West Coast Eagle wins bookended by two North Melbourne victories. However, both these victories happened in home games for the Kangaroos held at Blundstone Arena in Hobart.
The Kangaroos have been gallant under caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw but have still had only two wins in the past five games. Although they’re currently only two games outside the eight, the Kangaroos have the daunting task of climbing above four other teams that sit in the bottom ten by one game, and there’s no doubt a loss this weekend would see any finals prospect evaporate.
West Coast’s form over the last five weeks has been good, with the only blotch on their record being a one-point loss to Collingwood in Perth in Round 17. But to finish second on the ladder and ensure a home qualifying final at their Optus Stadium fortress they need to either hope that Brisbane stop winning or try to close the 1.4 per cent difference in percentage to the Lions themselves.
If they do so, the double chance and a home final in the first round would go along way to ensuring a place in the grand final and a tilt at back-to-back premierships.
The battles in the forward lines will be telling. Josh Kennedy, who this week will equal the games tally of Chris Lewis, has been off form recently, but Jack Darling has stepped up to the plate in his place, scoring 16 goals in the last four weeks. The recovery from injury of Scott Thompson and the continued good form of Robbie Tarrant will be vital.
At the other end of the ground the exciting Ben Brown will be hoping for many long run-ups and the continued support of Mason Wood, who made it into the North Melbourne’s top 100 goal scorers after only 50 games. So far this season the Eagles have averaged only a little over one point more than the Kangaroos, but it has been the defences that have been the difference.
Led by captain Shannon Hurn, the Eagles have on average conceded aRound two goals fewer per game, enough to be significant after 18 rounds of football.
North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell has also been leading from the front, and the Kangaroos have been playing a tough game of football. Ziebell will this week pass the games tally at North Melbourne of former teammate Lindsay Thomas, who retired last year after one final unproductive year with Port Adelaide. Ben Cunnington, who sits only one game behind Ziebell, will draw level with Thomas.