Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 12.
Can the Eagles kiss the 2021 premiership goodbye?
Rohan Connolly: Yes. I never felt like West Coast could win this flag without at top four finish, at a minimum, and they're now two games adrift of that. They've been getting by on forward efficiency, their finishes to games have been shocking, and now even their big home state advantage isn't getting them over the line. I really rate the Eagles when they're on-song, but this season there's been too much of a "do it when it suits us" feel about their football. How are they going to win big away finals if that's the case?
Jake Michaels: It would be easy to say yes after that horror loss to the Bombers on the weekend but I'm not prepared to write this side off just yet. They have the largest and most substantial injury list of any team in the league, and we all know how good they can be when healthy. I'm confident they will get some big names back and make a serious run. And hey, with the situation in Victoria, who's to say this year's Grand Final won't be in Perth...
Matt Walsh: All clichés about their form outside of Western Australia aside, the Eagles are not consistently good enough -- anywhere -- to suggest they're a legitimate flag threat anymore. Even if they get some big names like Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern back, there are too many teams better than West Coast ... think Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Brisbane, Geelong and perhaps Richmond and Port Adelaide.
Jarryd Barca: With a glass half full approach, the Eagles are 6-5 after 11 games and sit seventh on the ladder with 12 rounds to go. Their best is powerful but they rely on crazy efficiency to get over the line. Their issues? They coughed up a 29-point lead against the Bombers on the weekend after recording just 18 inside 50s in the second half for a return of 2.5, and they're now 3-8 in final quarters this season. You can't keep falling away late in games -- it doesn't bode well in September -- and they'll continue to play undermanned in the short term after the Tim Kelly injury and Oscar Allen concussion. Absolutely they can kiss the flag goodbye, and probably the top eight, too.
Who has been the coach of the season thus far?
RC: Honourable mentions to Luke Beveridge, Chris Fagan, John Longmire and Ben Rutten, but it simply has to be Simon Goodwin given the Demons have come from outside the eight to 10 wins and a narrow loss from 11. This is the most complete line-up Melbourne has had since that last flag in 1964, structurally sound, playing a very balanced brand of football inside and outside, and their selflessness is a great indicator of a team right on board with its coach's message.
JM: How can it not be Goodwin!? Few people had the Demons making finals in 2021, let alone sitting atop the ladder after 11 rounds with just one loss, a game which they really shouldn't have lost... Don't forget, Goodwin came into the year under extreme pressure. It's time we pay him some serious credit for turning this side around.
MW: Goodwin is the obvious choice, but Fagan deserves some massive kudos. After the heartbreak of last season (with a young list), the Lions started 1-3 with a COVID-interrupted start to the season, and things looked grim. He's managed to galvanise his charges -- all without Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale for the most part -- and have now won seven straight games. A huge effort from Fagan and the Lions.
JB: It's unquestionably Goodwin. He entered the 2021 season under immense pressure coaching a club that seemed only to know how to perennially disappoint its loyal fans, but at the halfway mark the Demons are sitting pretty at the top of the table and playing an impressive brand of footy that is right now the envy of the competition. After an underachieving couple of years, you have to tip your hat to him. Honourable mentions to Longmire, Fagan and Beveridge.
Can you make the case the Bombers will play finals?
RC: I don't think they will, but it's hardly a long shot, just a game outside the eight, and growing in confidence by the week. COVID could be a big factor here, as the Dons were scheduled to have all of their remaining games in Victoria. Who knows now? But their run home is still pretty handy, with games against all of the bottom five teams on the ladder. I suspect they'll miss, but the gains from 2021 are already looking considerable.
JM: I can and I will. The Bombers have a pretty solid backline and a young, exciting midfield group, which is still missing some key personnel. My only really reservation is with the forward line, as I feel they're another Jake Stringer injury away from falling back into the AFL wilderness. Keep the forward line trio of Stringer, Cale Hooker and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti healthy, and with the midfield in red-hot form, they'll back themselves to win more games than they lose from here.
MW: The Bombers are getting contributions coming from all corners - including fresh young recruits Harry Jones, Nik Cox and Archie Perkins. It reminds me of Port Adelaide when Connor Rozee, Xavier Duursma and Zak Butters came through the door and had immediate impact for the Power. Port didn't make finals that year in 2019, but they shot up to be minor premiers in 2020, so perhaps the Bombers -- with that sort of inspiration -- can make a late run at September action. Consistency from all 22 players is key.
JB: The Bombers are riding an incredible wave of confidence right now and are playing in a relentless, high-pressure game style that does looks made for finals, but I need to see more. it's this next batch of four games that could prove season defining; they play the Tigers, Hawks, Dees and Cats with a bye buried in between before clashing with four of the current bottom five sides in the run home. West Coast was their first major scalp against a team above them on the ladder, so I'm still not convinced, albeit they are exciting to watch.
How would you improve the mid-season draft?
RC: Not trying to be smart here, but by not having it. Free agency, supplementary selections etc. has opened up player movement enough already, not to mention made the whole system too complex for most people to fully understand. I'm also a big believer in the element of fate in football. Bad luck happens. And clubs have to be smart enough to put together a playing list flexible enough to cover all contingencies. That's part of what winning premierships is about.
JM: How about not hold it on a Wednesday night when most of the footy world is either not watching or unaware it's even on.
MW: Why not have a competition-wide bye round and hold the mid-season draft that week(end)? Expand it to become a mid-season trade period(!), and players who move then have a few days to settle into new cities or clubs. It would be an absolute hit - and give the comp the chance to breathe before the the second half of the season.
JB: I wouldn't, I love the concept. Every AFL club deserves the chance to replenish their list and remain as competitive as possible. There is serious talent running around at the lower levels so the more chances they have to live out their dream, the better.