WEST Coast was in danger of an unfortunate case of déjà vu at quarter-time on Thursday night.
With a top-four berth again on the line entering a final-round match-up, Adam Simpson's Eagles were scoreless in the opening term against lowly North Melbourne.
KANGAROOS v EAGLES Full match coverage and stats
A year ago, of course, a rampant Hawthorn spoiled West Coast's premiership defence with a major upset that cost the Eagles a top-four spot and derailed their finals assault.
This time Simpson's men escaped with a 15-point win to provisionally leapfrog Richmond and Geelong into third spot – but need one of them to lose this weekend to score a double chance.
If not, West Coast will finish fifth and host an elimination final at Optus Stadium.
The Eagles rallied from an early 17-point deficit – before they'd scored – to hit the front by half-time, then stood up in the final term for the second straight week.
The scores were locked at three-quarter-time, but West Coast reasonably should have trailed, given the Kangaroos missed a series of sitters and had 13 scoring shots to eight at that stage.
Enter Oscar Allen, the Eagles' talented young Swiss Army knife.
He kicked his second goal from a clear free kick against North defender Josh Walker, and soon after he snapped accurately for another, after West Coast pressured Aaron Hall into a turnover.
If Allen hadn't killed the Roos' resistance, Liam Ryan – one of the Eagles' best after failing to touch the ball in the first quarter – made Todd Goldstein pay for a handball error to seal the result.
Andrew Gaff (26 disposals, four centre clearances) and Dom Sheed (23, five clearances) paced West Coast's understrength midfield, while Nic Naitanui won his ruck battle with Goldstein.
Defenders Shannon Hurn, Jackson Nelson and Brad Sheppard also played their role in the greasy conditions.
However, It was one last disappointment in North Melbourne's season, albeit on a night its endeavour was vastly improved.
Tough onballers Jed Anderson (30, eight score involvements) and Jy Simpkin (32, five tackles) were strong performers from the start and emerging midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke (24) was good again.
Luke McDonald also made one last bid for the Roos' club champion award with 28 possessions, although Ryan gave him a few headaches after quarter-time.
They could yet claim the first wooden spoon in 48 years if the in-form Crows can upset Richmond on Saturday evening.
Injury watch on Kennedy
The Eagles were already sweating on key men Jeremy McGovern, Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey and Jack Redden being fit to play in the first week of finals. Now, there could be some concern about spearhead Josh Kennedy. He landed awkwardly from a marking contest late in the second term and tweaked his left ankle in the process. Coach Adam Simpson didn't rule him out when he spoke to Fox Footy at half-time, saying he wasn't feeling any significant pain, but that there was already swelling. Ultimately, Kennedy didn't return to the field and the seriousness of the setback will be a talking point in the next fortnight. West Coast will naturally be desperate for Kennedy to be available.
The All-Australian ruck battle
A strong case can be made that West Coast's Nic Naitanui and North Melbourne's Todd Goldstein were the top two big men in the competition through this season. Demon Max Gawn has a say, too, but his three-game absence with a knee issue might be the difference. Naitanui has probably already locked away a spot in the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian 22 and Goldstein would love to make the team for a second time. Gawn and Brodie Grundy both fit in the past two seasons, but there's no guarantee the selectors will go with two ruckmen again. Goldstein started well on Thursday night before Naitanui worked his way on top. The spring-heeled Eagle won 10 contested possessions to seven and the hit-outs 24 to 21, while West Coast claimed the centre clearances 10-4. Goldstein will regret his straightforward set-shot miss in the third term from a free kick against Naitanui, as well as a handball turnover that cost his team a goal.
Short, sharp and physical
There's always a keen watch on what rival teams try to avoid West Coast's intercept kings down back. Rhyce Shaw's Kangaroos opted for a version of keepings off and recorded 20 marks to quarter-time, after averaging 64.5 marks per game in the first 17 rounds. They also operated on almost a 50-50 ratio of kicks and handballs, and more than doubled the Eagles in uncontested possessions (62-30). However, there was so much more to why North Melbourne kept West Coast scoreless in the opening term. Enforcers Jy Simpkin and Jed Anderson threw their weight around, the Roos won seven of the first nine clearances, they ran in waves, Todd Goldstein got the better of Nic Naitanui, and their kicking inside 50 was largely impressive. The problem? North kicked four behinds from its six scoring shots and left the door ajar for an Eagles fightback, which happened in quick fashion in the second term.
NORTH MELBOURNE 2.4 2.6 3.10 4.10 (34)
WEST COAST 0.0 3.1 4.4 7.7 (49)
North Melbourne: Higgins, Larkey, Zurhaar, Anderson
West Coast: Allen 3, Ryan 2, Darling, Ainsworth
North Melbourne: Anderson, Simpkin, Higgins, McDonald, Davies-Uniacke, Polec
West Coast: Gaff, Ryan, Allen, Sheed, Hurn, Naitanui, Nelson
North Melbourne: Larkey (right shoulder)
West Coast: Kennedy (left ankle)