Analysis Winning the Premiership from 5th - How it can be done


Premium Platinum
Aug 14, 2004
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Cardiff City
Seven quarters.

That is how 1st becomes 5th. From being inside touching distance of repeat premierships to now facing a challenge that surpasses all others.

In order to retain the premiership, the team must now win three away matches in three weeks, a feat no team has managed in more than two decades.

Eleven goals in arrears over those seven quarters have all but eliminated any hope for this year – the rot however started far earlier.

When Triumph Clouds Judgment

A century ago, the colonial period was brought to a shattering end as the horror of industrialised conflict ravaged the Eurasian landmass. Faced with an invading force from the east, the French dug trenches, held their ground and prevented further occupation of their lands. It took four years until they could finally declare victory.

However, the lessons they took from the conflict were misguided. They became preoccupied with anchoring upon fixed locations and building massive fortifications as a means to prevent future invasion, forgetting that it was the mobility of their supply lines that enabled them to hold ground and exhaust the foreign advancement.

A generation later and the fortifications of the Maginot Line turned out to be one of the greatest follies of the 20th century as France fell in six weeks to a German force that was built around mobility.

Triumph has a habit of making one blind to reality. Overconfidence and confirmation bias over time lead to strengths being overestimated whilst weaknesses are no longer addressed. An unshaking belief in what previously has been successful inevitably leads to damaging exposure in other areas.

The 2018 Grand Final saw the West Coast Eagles take 104 marks, 23 of those contested, soaring to victory by controlling the ball through dominance of the air.

But there was another factor – the team became the best contested side in the competition:


Contested possessions are what delivered the 2018 Premiership.

As the following season has progressed however, it is abundantly clear that the increase in contested ball during the 2018 finals series was by good fortune rather than design:


This is a fall of 26 contested possessions per game compared to the 2018 Finals Series.

This year there has been an unhealthy obsession with trying to win games through dominating contested marks, at the expense of contested ball winning ability, which has been detrimental to the performance of the team.

This is the cause for the season being derailed.

Errors in Structure

The backline may have received criticism over the role it played during recent losses, yet its efficiency over the 2019 season is actually better than in 2018. Likewise, the same can be also said of the forward line:


Both defence and attack are more efficient this year compared to 2018 when inside 50s per goal are considered. [Lower figures equate to greater goal efficiency].

So, with that in mind, the reason for the drop in performance of the team if both the defence and attack are operating more efficiently, must be due to a deficiency in the midfield.

As shown above, West Coast are ranked dead last in the entire league for contested possessions per game this season.

It is clearly apparent in the losses this season that the lack of contested ability is a significant and contributing factor:


Low contested possession totals have been a feature in losses this season.

So how does the best contested team from last year’s finals series become the worst in the competition this year? The answer is structure. In all but a handful of matches this year the structure of the team has been overly top-heavy, with an excess of tall players utilised at the cost of midfield rotations.

Look at the difference in results this season when an extra midfield ball winner is added to the squad:


Definition of ball-winning midfielder has been generous - included are: Yeo, Shuey, Redden, Sheed, Hutchings, Gaff, Ah Chee.
In Round 22, Hutchings left the field playing only 22% time on ground.
5** equals totals with Round 22 added.

6** equals totals with Round 22 excluded.

That is having the best record in the league versus failing to qualify for finals.

Clearly, match squad selection should always have a minimum of six ball-winning midfielders – doing otherwise is reckless and harmful to the team’s chances of success.

It is also in my opinion a complete act of negligence that the team is now going into finals with four potential ball-winning options in Ah Chee, Brayshaw, Ainsworth and M.Allen only playing a single game in total between all of them this season. There have been several opportunities during the year when each of them could have been added to the senior team and show their capabilities.

I keep hearing comment about the lack of youth development in the midfield, but none of them have been given as much as a chance. If the club had drafted Worpel it is quite likely that he would have been playing in the reserves just the same.

With Hutchings missing through injury, at least one of the aforementioned four needs to be selected in order to fulfill the previously identified requirement for six ball-winning midfielders. That the team finds itself in a situation where it is only an injury away from being forced to add a debutant to the engine room in an elimination contest speaks volumes of how the list has been managed this year.

There is another piece to this structural puzzle however – the Maginot Line itself: key players up forward.

Starting with four tall forwards and two rucks in Round 1 against Brisbane, throughout the season the obsession with marking advantage in attack has driven the selection of the team for a negative return:


Average score differential across quarters for numbers of KPP used up forward.
Fewer numbers correlate with both greater scoring overall and in the later periods of matches.

2018 demonstrated without question that two specialist key forwards in addition to a resting ruck/forward was a platform for success – namely premiership success. It has also had the most success this season out of varying forward arrangements.

My question is why on earth would anybody deviate from it, when it is by far the best option available?

The Selection

So we have developed some simple guidelines to for the selection of the team:
  • Minimum of 6 ball-winning midfielders.
  • The number of key forwards plus resting ruckmen cannot be greater than 3.

Let’s now consider the impact of individuals:


Left: Lower figures represent greater offensive impact.
Right: Larger figures represent greater defensive impact.

Two things are immediately apparent from looking at the above:
  • Naitanui is without question the most important player in the team.
  • Petruccelle’s ongoing selection ahead of Cameron makes no sense at all.

I could continue to go on reporting insights from this data (for example a forward line containing each of Kennedy, Waterman and Petruccelle has resulted in the opposition scoring with far greater efficiency), but shall now move on to its use in determining selection.

Ruck: If Naitanui is deemed fit to play, he is in without question. However, with him probably only spending 50-55% time on ground there will be a requirement for another genuine ruckman to back him up – therefore Hickey gets a nod also.​

Forwards: Hickey as the resting ruck plus Darling and Kennedy equals identified maximum of three key players up forward. As a consequence, that rules out O.Allen and Waterman (a case could be made for retaining O.Allen instead of Kennedy here, however Kennedy’s proven record from last year should see him retain his place). That leaves four small forward positions available to be filled by Rioli, Ryan, Cameron and Cripps.​

Defence: Statistically, changes in defence this season have had little impact overall in comparison to other areas of the team. There is however an advantage for fielding two key defenders over three when it comes to the percentage of opposition inside forward 50s that are rebounded (76% - 72%) and last quarter scoring (+3 to -7). Referring again to the above, Barrass and McGovern are well ahead of Schofield and gain selection for the two key defensive positions. The remaining five defensive positions in the squad then go to Hurn, Sheppard, Duggan, Jetta and Nelson.​

Midfield: Six ball-winning midfielders. Yeo, Shuey, Redden, Sheed and Gaff equals five with Ah Chee the next best available to make it six. That leaves one position left to provide an additional rotation option for the midfield group, with the obvious best available option being Masten.​


With this selection in mind, I would then advocate for the tactical deployment to feature as the following:


There is a bit of Back to the Future about this; 2015 reimagined with a 2018 flavour.

What appears to be a back 7 with a sweeper is actually a back 5 in transition, with spares running through the centre corridor. This is an aggressive tactic that is setup to maximise scoring off opposition turnovers through rapid movement of the ball through the corridor on the counter.
  • With Barrass at home defensively goalside of any opponents in a sweeping role, the issue of opposition teams using dump kicks to get behind the defence is nullified.
  • Additional numbers in the corridor reduce the likelihood of turnovers ending up as opposition goals.
  • Anchoring the full forward close to goal stretches the opposition and forces any defensive sweepers to become accountable.
  • Positioning small forwards around the CHF target allows them to interplay and rotate with the midfield more efficiently and drags opponents away from the deep full forward, creating one-on-one opportunities.
  • As a tactic with relatively few moving parts, this should be one that conserves energy, particularly for the key-sized players.

And better yet, by simply moving one of the corridor runners off half back to half forward and pushing the sweeper into the hole in the defensive line, you end up with a gameplan that can spread the ground and control play like in 2018.

The gears can easily be switched; aggressively counterattack or sit back and control depending on what is necessary.


This is of course the 900lb gorilla the club will now need to deal with in order to retain the premiership. Defeat Essendon and there remains a requirement to win on the road three times in as many weeks against opposition who will be better rested and unaffected by travel fatigue.

Finding a means to address this will no doubt be a key determinant to the final outcome of the team at the end of the season.

So what is the enormity of the task at hand?

Since 1987 there have been 26 instances of teams travelling more than 500km (one-way) three times in succession over three consecutive weeks. In just four of those instances has the travelling club won each of the matches – most recently 21 years ago in 1998.

The last time the Eagles endured such a scenario was way back in 1992, before the club had won its first premiership.

What is being asked is completely unheard of in modern football and will require something truly remarkable and historic in order to achieve it.

The last time the club played two successive away matches in successive weeks ended with an 11 goal embarrassment at the hands of GWS in the 2017 Semi Final.

Prior to that you have to go back to the 2006 Grand Final, where the running power and endurance of one of the greatest midfields in the history of the sport were able to prevail by a singular point.

If history is anything to go by then the team may need to radically alter its current composition to accommodate more players with greater running capacity, particularly should it reach the Preliminary Final and beyond.

The obvious example would be to remove a key forward or ruck for an additional midfield ball-winner. If Naitanui is able to stay injury-free and increase his time on ground to the 70-75% mark by the Preliminary Final, then there may well be a case for O.Allen to come in for Hickey, as the backup ruck requirement will be significantly less. If that were to occur, the presence of O.Allen could well make Kennedy redundant, creating an opening for another midfield rotation to be added to the squad.


At the very least, executing a gameplan such as described above that conserves player energy could be vitally important in being able to finish matches without being overrun.

Only once has there been an Elimination Final scheduled on a Thursday – in 2016 when the club lost at home to the Bulldogs and played them into premiership-winning form.

The upside is should the team perform as expected and defeat Essendon on Thursday, it is likely there will be an 8 day break before it plays a Friday night Semi Final at the MCG against the loser of Geelong and Collingwood.

Win that and the likely scheduling of the Preliminary Final will create a 7 or 8 day break. Friday night at the MCG if against Richmond (7 days), or Saturday afternoon at the Gabba if against Brisbane (8 days).

The Grand Final as we know is always on the Saturday at the MCG and provides both teams with at least a 7 day break (2000 being the only exception).

A pair of 8 day breaks is not too bad considering the circumstances – especially so when the weather conditions for a day time final in Brisbane are very conducive to the strengths of the team.

If the team can get into the Grand Final they will be more than a chance of going back-to-back.

I still strongly believe that this team has the strongest list in the competition and what has been demonstrated this season to now has been a massive underachievement.

Now it is time to do things the hard way, but success will only come if changes are made first.

(Log in to remove this ad.)


Club Legend
Aug 12, 2014
AFL Club
West Coast
Other Teams
Swan Districts, Prescot Cables
I like it!
I don't think fatigue will be as big a factor with this finals series. We will have had a 12 day break between the final round and the EF, and if we win, it's an 8 or 9 day break before the semi. If we win the semi, we might pull a 7 day break if we're lucky. No excuses for fatigue for the first 2 finals at least.


Club Legend
Oct 6, 2005
AFL Club
West Coast
All of your small forwards bar camo push up in the midfield and win ball.

Do they equate to 1 ball winning mid? Which means we can roll 1 more marking target?
I wonder is that if the teams thoughts?

Sent from my SM-G930F using Tapatalk


All Australian
Sep 9, 2015
AFL Club
West Coast
Very logical. Unfortunately I think that in some ways our good form in the back half of the season (last two games withstanding) will prevent the club from playing with selection too much. We know that Simmo likes to back the system, and one game ago we almost beat Richmond at the MCG, so doubt they'll switch things up considerably. If we'd have dropped a few more earlier on the coaching panel may have played with the team a bit more.


Club Legend
Sep 22, 2016
AFL Club
West Coast
Sums up exactly what I've thought all season.

We play too tall.
Cameron is better than Petch.
We need more mids at the contest.
We don't win enough contests.

I doubt we will drop Allen to play a small. I think match committee see him as Lecras replacement.

Ideally I would like to see AhChee AND Cameron in for Petch and Waterman. But who gets dropped for Naitanui?


Norm Smith Medallist
May 23, 2016
AFL Club
West Coast
Give the OP a job at the Eagles I say! Lol

Well, there's a first for everything. Bulldogs in '16...but jeepers 18th is shocking. If we can improve that significantly, like we did last year, I think we can win it all. I don't think travel or fatigue will have as much bearing this finals series.


Club Legend
Sep 22, 2016
AFL Club
West Coast
Your ins make perfect sense. Maybe Hickey gets dropped for Naitanui, with Allen, Darling, and McGovern to help him out around the ground?
Ideally would love to see this. Just don't think the Match Committee would take such a big risk.

But we all know its the best thing to do to give us more runners around the ball.

We get killed off HB and in the midfield due to playing to tall.


Club Legend
Feb 1, 2016
AFL Club
West Coast
If we turn it over in our forward half we have to get back and defend or we will get murdered. If I were an opposition coach with speed as my weapon like Essendon I would exploit this glaring weakness in our defence....walk into an open goal 6 or 7 times and win the game.

(Log in to remove this ad.)


Club Legend
Nov 4, 2010
AFL Club
West Coast
In the latest episode of The Rundown on the Eagles youtube channel, I was a bit concerned when Gossage interrupted with “They (the club) don’t care!” when Ryan Daniels was describing just how big the challenge is from a travel perspective.

I really hope Gossage is wrong, because we need to be seriously creative in order to be both good enough & fit enough to reach & run out a grand final.

I think we’ll need to roll the dice and rest players in the semi and prelim (looking at Kennedy in particular). I agree with the OP that we need an extra ballwinner to share the load.


Club Legend
Mar 25, 2019
AFL Club
Good write-up OP. Very interesting.

Would've thought Allen/Waterman would be very stiff to not get picked as forwards for the finals series, they've been pretty impressive.

But as the analysis shows, Kennedy/Darling/Hickey and say, Allen is not a super efficient forward line. There would have to be some discussions around what to do with Kennedy as he ages. Would they have the discussion about maybe dropping JK?


Team Captain
Oct 7, 2011
AFL Club
West Coast
In the latest episode of The Rundown on the Eagles youtube channel, I was a bit concerned when Gossage interrupted with “They (the club) don’t care!” when Ryan Daniels was describing just how big the challenge is from a travel perspective.

I really hope Gossage is wrong, because we need to be seriously creative in order to be both good enough & fit enough to reach & run out a grand final.

I think we’ll need to roll the dice and rest players in the semi and prelim (looking at Kennedy in particular). I agree with the OP that we need an extra ballwinner to share the load.
If we are somehow able to make a prelim I'd like the club to look at chartering a flight or flights.

I know it will hit our soft-cap but there is a point where we have to realise we have the $ and any advantage we can buy (legally) we should.
Always considered work from you Dyl.

However it should be obvious to anyone who listens to Simmo regularly that the Eagles don't use the bulk contested possession metric for their analytics. We're not a club that runs a program around Champion Data, and we have our own architecture about what the makeup of 'contested ball' actually is and what it means in terms of generating our supply and limiting that of the opposition. It can of course be argued that the scheme is failing us, but this scope is something to be mindful of when appraising our midfield numbers in a more conventional manner.

Ambrose Burnside

Club Legend
Dec 8, 2006
AFL Club
West Coast
Great analysis. It's frustrating that we've known this all year in a gut feel sense (too tall, mids getting smashed etc), but to see the numbers like that makes it bleeding obvious.

I wish Simpson could see it too.


John Worsfold Medallist
Jun 5, 2004
AFL Club
West Coast
In the latest episode of The Rundown on the Eagles youtube channel, I was a bit concerned when Gossage interrupted with “They (the club) don’t care!” when Ryan Daniels was describing just how big the challenge is from a travel perspective.

I really hope Gossage is wrong, because we need to be seriously creative in order to be both good enough & fit enough to reach & run out a grand final.

I think we’ll need to roll the dice and rest players in the semi and prelim (looking at Kennedy in particular). I agree with the OP that we need an extra ballwinner to share the load.
I think what you've written indicates why we can't win from 5th. Simmo is a good coach but goes with what works and backs it no matter the scenario. I'm not sure he has the savvy in him to take a risk and do a horses for courses type gameplan.

If he can pull off the next 4 weeks with wins, he'd be an all-time great. I'd love to see, that goes without question. I just feel he's a good, solid coach, so I don't think he'll deviate and that means we'll slip up/run out of legs at some point.

Top Bottom