Melbourne has been the story of September to date as a result of their fairytale return to the big time for the first time in 12 years. With a Grand Final berth on the line for the winner a fit and rested West Coast, with the backing of a large and vocal Optus Stadium crowd, will provide a much sterner test than what they have faced to date.
Melbourne has won the last two contests between the two teams including the Round 22 encounter at Optus Stadium that saw them seal their return to September. Prior to this it had been all Eagles with nine victories in a row dating back to 2010.
Home Ground Advantage?
With 10 wins from 13 games, Optus Stadium has been a fortress for West Coast in 2018. With a large, loud and passionate crowd behind them, the Eagles will be looking to extend their proud home Preliminary Final record which has seen them win all three played in Perth to date. A trip to Perth will hold no fears for the Demons though, with victories over the Eagles from their last two visits.
Melbourne and West Coast are two of the more attacking minded teams in the competition with them ranked first and third for points scored respectively. Their last two matches have seen nearly 200 points scored each time which suggests, with good weather conditions, that this looms as a high scoring affair.
Can Melbourne’s defence break even with West Coasts twin towers?
When the two sides last met in Rd 22, West Coast were without Josh Kennedy and lost Jack Darling to injury early in the match. While the Demons victory was built upon a dominance of the clearances, possession and Inside 50’s, not having to contend with Kennedy and Darling would have definitely been a big help. Can Oliver McDonald and Sam Frost contain the dangerous duo? If they can, it will go a long way towards Melbourne securing their first Grand Final appearance since 2000.
Can West Coast tame Melbourne’s on-ball brigade?
Having been dominated at the stoppages the last time the two teams met, the Eagles will know firsthand that the Demons have one of the deepest midfield groups in the competition. Even without the missing Andrew Gaff, Adam Simpson doesn’t lack for weapons either in this part of the ground either. If his midfielders can match it with the visitors at the stoppage it will ensure that the Eagles have the best chance possible to qualify for another Grand Final.
Entering the 2018 Finals campaign the Eagles had a 6 & 5 record without Josh Kennedy, a completely different team to the 10 & 1 record they enjoyed with him. As if to highlight his importance to the team in the Qualifying Final, West Coast ascendancy in the match coincided with him finally being able to impose himself on the contest. Kept on a tight leash by Tyson Goldsack, Kennedy’s two goals came as a response to Collingwood’s two biggest leads of the game in the third and fourth quarter respectively. Expect the two-time Coleman Medallist’s performance to have a major bearing on the result.
In a finals series full of players making triumphant returns from injury, the Demons skipper might be the best of all. He was at his tough, hard ball-winning best against the Hawks in a performance that belied the fact he was just two games into his comeback. Leading by example, he would finish the night with 27 disposals (17 contested), eight clearances, seven inside 50s and five tackles. Not content to just play a part in September, Viney has set about tearing it apart.
Herald Sun: West Coast 14, Melbourne 16.
The Age: West Coast 6, Melbourne 6.
The Pinch Hitters: West Coast 6, Melbourne 2.
Betting: West Coast $1.85, Melbourne $2.00.
What a difference a month makes? When the Demons made the trip west in Round 22 their finals hopes were on life-support and questions persisted about their ability to compete with the best teams. Since this time they haven’t missed a beat and will believe that the momentum built upon four consecutive victories over top eight teams can propel them past another and into a Grand Final. The Eagles on the other hand have just quietly gone about their business, like they have for most of the 2018 season. They have been among the competitions front-runners for much of the year and will have the confidence that their best can compete with the elite in the competition. West Coast will win by 17 points.