Greater Western Sydney enter the 2019 Premiership Season on the backdrop of finishing seventh last year, but then winning the elimination final against Sydney before losing a tight semi-final against Collingwood, who in turn beat Richmond, and narrowly missed out on the premiership.
Analysing that alone, you could easily say that, with a bit of luck, it could have been GWS lifting the premiership cup in 2018, not eventual winners West Coast Eagles.
Football is a funny old game, and there are always moments, where one goal turns into two, one win turns into a run of form, and it is not always about who is the better team. If the better team won the premiership every year then in 2018 it would have been Richmond lifting the premiership cup.
In 2018 GWS were plagued by injuries, but they still fought back, so much so that after Round 21, with just two rounds to play, they were 3rd on the ladder, behind only Richmond and eventual premiers West Coast Eagles. Their last two matches, to finalists Sydney and Melbourne, were matches they could have and should have won, but they didn’t, perhaps instead focusing on preparing for the finals, which was probably why they did so well in the finals.
The problem was that they were coming from seventh instead of third. If they’d been coming from Third, they would have faced Collingwood at home in Sydney. Then, most likely, they would have won, and they could have faced West Coast Eagles in the grand final, and, perhaps, they might have won.
These are excuses, of course, and you aren’t supposed to look back at things like this, but it’s not like it was just 2018 either.
The year before, in 2017, GWS had a fantastic season and finished fourth with 14 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws, the draws being against first placed Adelaide and second placed Geelong. They were level on points with third placed Richmond, just two points – not even a full game – behind the top two. It was tight. In the finals, they lost to top of the ladder Adelaide, in Adelaide, then beat West Coast Eagles, then lost to eventual premiers Richmond. They lost to the premiers, so they can kind of think that they finished 2nd, sort of.
2016 was a similar situation, finishing 4th, one game behind top of the ladder Sydney, who they beat in their first final only to fall by a single goal to Western Bulldogs in the preliminary final, a single goal that they were very dirty about. Not only did they only lose to the eventual premiers, but they probably should have beaten them. No other team came as close to beating Western Bulldogs in the 2016 finals.
For three seasons in a row, GWS should have won the premiership. For three years in a row, GWS have been oh so close.
In 2019 GWS are facing another year where a lot is expected of them, and once again they are a chance of winning the premiership. The question is whether they can go all the way.
GWS have shown in the past three years that they can win finals, whether they are the higher-ranked team or the lower-ranked team, and it is hard to put your finger on why they lost each year.
Sure, in 2016, they were perhaps a bit inexperienced and a bit unlucky when they lost by a solitary goal to Western Bulldogs, while in 2017 they ran into a rampaging Richmond and then in 2018 they just had too much to do, but there is a message there, and they kind of know what to do. Finish high enough on the ladder that they can spend their last few matches preparing for the finals, and then go for it. They know what to do. The question is whether they can do it.
The chances of them being riddled with injuries in 2019 are slim. You don’t get such bad luck two years in a row. The chances of them stuffing it up in the finals yet again are another issue entirely.
There are teams that have a habit of losing finals. Port Adelaide at one point finished top of the ladder two years in a row and were out in straight sets in the finals both years. Richmond for years kept finishing 9th and when they did make it to the finals they kept losing them, with 2017 the one and only exception. If GWS do as well in the season as they have in the past 3 years, yet fail to win the premierships then they too could be in a similar situation. They could be called chokers, nervous wrecks who just can’t go that one extra step.
There are only so many years that a team has a chance of winning a premiership. Richmond won one but probably should have won 2 or 3, and perhaps, if football was fair, we would have had Richmond vs GWS grand finals, certainly in 2018 and 2017, but perhaps even in 2016, even though Richmond didn’t even make the finals. That year Western Bulldogs won from 7th, in a finals set up that felt like we just had a hat with different teams’ names in them.
This year we are faced with no clear premiership favourites. West Coast Eagles are reigning premiers but few think that they will go back to back, while Collingwood are confident in themselves but few think that they were really good enough to win this year. Richmond are a chance to win, of course, but the disappointment of their loss will hurt them and might affect their chances. Then there are teams like Melbourne and Geelong who fancy their chances but might not even make the finals. In that scenario, GWS could sneak in, perhaps finish the season top of the ladder and perhaps win their first ever premiership.
It’s hard to imagine GWS missing the finals entirely and, injury permitting, they should be serious contenders once the finals series starts. The question is whether they have the hunger necessary to win the premiership or whether instead they are going to just choke and lose matches they should be winning, as the nerves get the better of them.
Five Fearless predictions:
1: GWS will top the ladder after the end of the home and away season
2: GWS will win the premiership
There’s three others left, but I’m not going to bother with them, as those two predictions are big enough that they count for 5.
I’m not certain that they will win, nor am I particularly confident, but, if football is fair, then GWS should win this year.
The problem is that football isn’t always fair.