If six weeks ago I told you that West Coast would be a dark horse to go back-to-back, you probably would’ve laughed at me.
I would’ve laughed at myself.
The Eagles were shaping up as premiership favourites after another dominant season.
They were just about the only team you could trust to get the job done week in, week out.
That was at the end of Round 20 and West Coast were sitting second on the ladder – one game inside the top three and two games inside the top four.
But in what was such an even home and away season, every result and every margin mattered.
So much so that the reigning premiers and one of the in-form teams in the competition at the time found themselves outside the top four by seasons end.
West Coast lost its last two games of the season.
The first to Richmond by a goal.
West Coast might’ve lost the game but they certainly didn’t lose any admirers in what was one of the best games of the season.
While West Coast jumped to an early lead, the Tigers clawed their way back into the game and secured a thrilling victory.
But that game confirmed what many already believed – these were the two benchmark sides in the competition.
It was a loss at home to Hawthorn in round 23 that supposedly killed West Coast’s double chance and many believed it dashed their hopes of a second successive premiership as well.
Or did they?
West Coast took its first step towards September glory on Thursday night in an impressive 55-point victory over Essendon.
The scoreboard reflected a result that many expected, but the way West Coast continued to build as the game went on is what should get fans excited.
As opposed to their last four games of the home and away season, West Coast started strongly from the get-go in the Elimination Final and only grew stronger as the game lifted in intensity.
Thursday night was the first time since round 19 that West Coast outscored an opponent in the final quarter – something they had done all but once in their five games between Rounds 14 and 18.
We all know West Coast can often find ways to get the job done, but in Thursday night’s match, they appeared to get a bit of their mojo back.
And despite now needing three wins away from home to claim a fifth Premiership, the task doesn’t appear beyond them.
What will work in the Eagles’ favour is that they will play at the MCG for the remainder of the year.
There’s every chance that they’ll set up a base in Melbourne and not return until they cross paths with defeat.
The question is, how many more games will that be?
Well, West Coast should be in with an even chance against the Cats on Friday night.
West Coast surely proved the more impressive of the pair in the first week of the finals.
Plus, an early forecast is showing a 50 per cent chance of rain in Melbourne on Friday, so Nic Nat won’t have to worry about an opponent.
If West Coast can make it past the semi-final, they will meet a red hot Richmond outfit in the Preliminary Final.
That’s where the real challenge lies. No disrespect to Geelong as an opponent, but it’s clear that the Tigers are the team to beat.
They looked ferocious against Brisbane at the Gabba and were just the second team to knock off the Lions at home this season… and they did so in outstanding fashion.
They were fierce and intimidating.
While it will be a tough ask of the Eagles, I wouldn’t put it past them to take it up to the Tigers and even claim the victory.
But first, the semi-final.
The Cats thrashed West Coast when the two teams met at GMHBA in round six this year.
You couldn’t really see a similar scoreline but if the Cats can get their act together, then the semi-final promises to be an entertaining contest.
I still think West Coast will get up.
They have so many more answers than Geelong are providing at the moment.
West Coast’s evenness across the board is what makes them so dangerous.
Yes, their best players are brilliant but it’s the middle and bottom tier players that stand up and make the difference.
In the 2018 Grand Final, it was Dom Sheed.
In Thursday Night’s Elimination Final, it was Jamie Cripps.
Cripps is a very good player, but he doesn’t boast the same resume that Kennedy, Darling or Ryan do.
At the other end of the scale, Patrick Dangerfield is just about the only player impacting the game for Geelong.
They’re going to need a lot more to join him if they plan on making an impact this final series.
The 2016 Brownlow medallist was forced to carry his side against Collingwood on Friday night.
Look how that turned out.
Speaking of Collingwood, they too have a bit of work to do on over their week off.
Despite an impressive Qualifying Finals victory over Geelong, they were the only winners from the weekend who were outscored by their opponent in the final quarter.
Yes, the Pies were down to two rotations on the bench but there were a couple of moments in the final term where Geelong teased a big comeback.
Luckily for the Pies, it was merely a tease as they took the 10-point victory and place in a Preliminary final.
Unluckily, they will be without Jordan De Goey for at least one game and Levi Greenwood for the season.
The week off will give the Pies a much-needed opportunity to review their forward structure, which has been okay – but lacking wow factor – in recent weeks.
A Ben Reid return could be on the cards as the Pies desperately require some more firepower up forward.
As for who meets the Pies in the Prelim?
It’ll come down to the Giants and Brisbane.
It could go either way but given the Lions track record at the Gabba this year, it appears unlikely that they’d drop a second game in a row.
However, stranger things have certainly happened.
The Giants were an all-conquering force against an in form Bulldogs on the weekend.
GWS brought a hard edge to their game that had been missing for quite some time.
Was it sweet revenge or a sign of things to come for the Giants this final series?
Guess we will have to wait and see.
But if there’s one thing that’s for sure it’s that despite what some may say, this final series is anything but predictable.
And it could all start with the dark horse, West Coast, on Friday night.