Eagles still need to prove themselves

IT'S not often a team arrives at the midway point of an AFL season on top of the ladder having won nine games out of 11, but still not mustering much popular support for its premiership chances.

Call it the tyranny of distance or plain ignorance, but you won't find too many pundits in this town giving West Coast much of a flag chance.

Matt Rosa and Scott Selwood of the Eagles celebrate after defeating the Blues.
Matt Rosa and Scott Selwood of the Eagles celebrate after defeating the Blues. Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, there's even some scepticism in Perth despite the win-loss record, as the Eagles have a particularly tough month leading into the finals.

John Worsfold's team is making a habit of defying the doubters, though. It did right through last year, turning a wooden spoon into a top-four finish, and in 2012 has survived a string of injuries to pivotal players such as Mark LeCras, Mark Nicoski, Josh Kennedy and Andrew Embley.

What it needs to prove now is that it can produce its best in a road trip to a ground that has proved a graveyard, and against the sustained pressure of the competition's best. Saturday's clash with Collingwood will be the perfect litmus test on both counts.

The Eagles took on the Pies on the 'G twice last year and came up short, the first time, in round 10, comfortably so, but had bridged the gap significantly by the qualifying final, when they were within eight points deep into time-on.


Their last appearance on the ground where the flag must be won came a fortnight later, a preliminary final belting at the hands of Geelong, their eighth defeat in nine outings there.

There are legitimate queries about the calibre of West Coast's wins so far, its best scalp being a narrow victory at home over Hawthorn. It copped a pasting at Etihad against Essendon, and is yet to play the Magpies, Adelaide or Sydney.

But where Worsfold's team might have been sold a bit short is its depth and evenness. That missing quartet all number among the Eagles' best handful of players. That they've been able to cover their absence so effectively speaks volumes to the quality of the overall list.

There's also a balance about this version of West Coast that might well exceed its grand final outfits of 2005-06. While rich in midfield star quality, they had obvious weaknesses, particularly in attack.

Big men Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui are this year's headlines, but the workmanlike efforts of Matt Priddis, Scott Selwood and Matt Rosa are not a lot less important, while names such as Gaff, Shuey and Masten are still seeping into the consciousness of much of the football world. That's often a slow process, but one that you can expect to be speeded up significantly should the Eagles land a scalp as notable as Collingwood's 3000 kilometres from home.


Crows' forward set-up continues to threaten and midfield as prolific as ever, but would want to tighten up defensively before September.

Made the most of early opportunities, but Lions faded badly after half-time. Young talent impressing, Zorko the latest to excite.

Nothing wrong with the Blues' effort the last two weeks, but failure to convert to wins will hurt with Hawks and Pies to come after bye.

Magpies rested and tanned after bye and Port Douglas training camp, will need to be switched on again for MCG clash with ladder leader.

Bye well-timed for Bombers given last two losses and largely flat performance. Big challenge in Perth given shocking record there and loss of speedster Davey.

Last win arguably Dockers' best of the season, but with only six not much room for error now, starting this week at home against Essendon.

Cats keep winning without overly impressing, but will need to have found their best post-break, with tough one against Swans at SCG.

From rock-bottom to within a kick of first win, Saturday night was a good effort from Suns, skipper Ablett outstanding again. Must keep it up now.

New kid continues to impress, pushed potential finalist all the way. Plenty of pluck about the Giants, Cameron looking a potential superstar.

Bit scratchy early, but Hawks turned it on when it counted. Go to break with form building nicely, Burgoyne on song and Buddy just being Buddy.

Demons' form improved markedly leading up to the bye with first win and long competitive spell against Collingwood. Must make it two against Giants.

Roos got the points against Gold Coast, but that was about all, skills poor and conversion shocking. Still too much left to veterans Harvey and Petrie.

Power kept plugging away, but lacked class and nous to pull off the upset away from home. Broadbent and Cornes keeping the flag flying.

Could have been massively embarrassed by Giants, but steadied enough at the death to hang on. Midfield stars saved day for Tigers.

Brave comeback by Saints on hostile turf, but narrow losses no comfort with race for eighth spot so tight. Can reflect on what's required with week's spell.

Turned around slump in great fortnight before bye. Swans definite top four chance; would press claims with win at home over Geelong.

Not in peak of form of late, but still getting the job done, best possible test of flag claims this week with game against Pies at MCG.

Fair response coming off break and morale-sapping previous smashing. Old hands great and young guns encouraging.