There has been quite a bit of talk this week about a seriously under performing Western Australian team. A team that was expected to perform much better than what they have shown in the the first five rounds of the season. In a "two team town" such as Perth, the press and the public can be brutal, and no doubt Fremantle deserve much criticism. The fact that Perth is a two team town has been something of a blessing for their cross-town rivals, though.
Sure, they've won three of their first five games but their losses have been as concerning as their wins have been impressive. It could be argued that being defeated by Sydney and Hawthorn on their home grounds could be forgiven, but these are sides that the Eagles will need to overcome if they are to be a chance at a flag. They have not just lost those games either, they have been totally dismantled. In fact, going back to late last season a worrying trend has started to emerge.
Since Round 22 last year West Coast have lost four games out of 10 by an average margin of eight goals. In each of these games, against Adelaide, Hawthorn (twice) and Sydney, they have had to play the game on their opponent's terms. Rather than dominating the middle of the ground and using their team defence to have the game played largely in their own forward line, the better teams have forced the Eagles much wider.
The pressure that causes this pattern of play also greatly affects the Eagles' ball use. While their midfielders as a group are not what you'd call elite ball users at the best of times, in their last four losses their disposal efficiency sits at 66%. Not only is that low for an AFL team, it is only barely of AFL standard at all. To put it in some perspective Brisbane, who have lost five out of seven games in the same span of time, have a disposal efficiency in losses of over 72%. If West Coast's skills can be brought down lower than the level of a team that have finished 17th and 15th in the last two years, they could hardly be seen as a Premiership threat.
Also worrying is the lack of accountability on the part of their key forwards. On their day, the pairing of Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling are as damaging as any forwards in the competition. Throw in Mark LeCras, Elliot Yeo, a couple of goal kicking midfielders and a resting ruckman and you have a forward line with the potential to kick 15-20 goals a game. In their two losses this year, though, not only have their forwards failed to make an impact but they've allowed a key defender to zone off and collect possessions at will.
Against Hawthorn it was Josh Gibson who picked up a ridiculous 44 touches and nine marks, as well as kicking his first goal as a Hawk. In the Sydney game it was Ted Richards with 22 touches, 10 marks and only his second goal in five years. Even against Richmond, who West Coast beat comprehensively, Alex Rance was allowed to gather 26 possessions and 11 marks.
Jeremy McGovern, out of necessity, was used to brilliant effect last year in defence and while he is regularly named at Centre Half Forward, he has played predominantly in the backline this year as well. In his debut season, though, McGovern kicked 13 goals in 13 games as a forward. Perhaps he could be put to good use as a defensive forward or a decoy, taking a rebounding tall defender in the mould of Richards or Gibson away from the dangerous areas while making them more accountable.
While West Coast at this stage boast a positive win-loss ratio, and have a likely win this week against Collingwood, they have not yet shown any proof that they are a contender for this year's Premiership. Even if they win this week they will have four wins against bottom eight teams, and two losses against top eight teams. History tells us that two teams from outside the top eight at this stage of the year will play finals, which means two teams will give up their spot. On current form West Coast appear as though they could be one of the most likely. They should be thanking Fremantle for taking some attention away because we really do need to talk about West Coast