The West Coast Eagles have been labelled flat-track bullies over the course of this season, and fair enough.
After all, they have won eight out of their nine home matches at Domain Stadium. These wins have also predominately been against lesser sides, with the margins blown out in dramatic proportions.
But travelling has proven a more difficult task in 2016. Out of their seven away matches this season, the Eagles have only won three: against Port in Adelaide, Brisbane at the Gabba, and the Blues at the MCG.
That win against the Blues in Round 17 finally broke West Coast’s MCG hoodoo. They came away with the four points at the home of footy for the first time in a year.
But they were less than convincing. The Eagles lost the final term, five goals to two, allowing the spirited Blues to almost run over the top of them. The final margin, a measly seven points, showed a far from dominant performance.
Coach Adam Simpson acknowledges his side still has plenty of “work to do”.
“We’re not elite, we’re not in the top couple in the comp in terms of form,” Simpson said. “We’re realists, we don’t assume that we’re playing like a top-two, top-four side at the moment.”
But top four is where you need to be in September. While the Eagles will certainly make the eight, if they keep up this form, top four will most likely be out of the question. Finishing outside the top four will seriously hinder the chance to play in another grand final, despite how wide open the premiership race seems.
They simply look off the pace. The Eagles travel poorly and falter against the top eight sides.
In their six matches against the likely finalists, West Coast have only managed one 32-point win against North. In the other games, they have lost on average by a staggering 41.5 points. This hardly looks promising come finals time.
Add travelling into the equation and the stakes become even more dire. The way it’s shaping up, West Coast might have to travel to Adelaide, or Sydney, and almost certainly Melbourne.
The supposed ‘flat track bullies’ won’t be feeling bullish for too long.
Now, there’s no doubt 2015 went like a dream for the Eagles. While they didn’t win the premiership, they brought excitement to the competition and certainly exceeded expectations.
But 2016 is a very different year. West Coast appears to have stagnated while other fresher sides in Adelaide, GWS, and the Bulldogs have surpassed them. The see-sawing Eagles have simply been out classed.
So yes, this season might be anyone’s for the taking. But unless West Coast flick the switch and bring their dominant performances to the better opposition, they won’t have a large role to play in September.
(First published on The Roar on July 19th 2016)