West Coast rocketed into flag favouritism off its devastating round eight defeat of Collingwood, but just as impressive was its ability to grind out victories with mass injuries in the latter rounds. The Eagles will regain several stars and be confident of repeating the dose and ending the season of Nathan Buckley's Magpies. Collingwood has had its own personnel issues throughout the year, but of more interest are losses to fellow finalists Brisbane and Port Adelaide in the last two rounds. Those results made it three consecutive defeats to top-eight rivals after being unbeaten in that category at their first four tries in 2020.
WHERE AND WHEN: Optus Stadium, Saturday October 3, 8.10pm AEST
TV AND RADIO: Click here for broadcast guide
WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?
Round eight: West Coast 18.3 (111) d Collingwood 6.9 (45)
Scott Pendlebury suffered a quad strain in the pre-game warm-up and was a late withdrawal – with fellow stars Jordan De Goey, Steele Sidebottom and Jeremy Howe already out – but the Pies still led by 20 points in the first quarter. Everything changed from there, as the Eagles kicked 17 of the next 18 goals to win by 66 points. Josh Kennedy kicked seven majors, with Tim Kelly, Nic Naitanui – who comfortably beat Brodie Grundy – Luke Shuey and Oscar Allen also starring.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Eagles should back themselves to beat the Collingwood midfield, particularly with Nic Naitanui in red-hot form, but might have to plan for Pies defenders Darcy Moore and Brayden Maynard. Moore might go to Josh Kennedy, but may also serve as the third man in at marking contests, such is his expert ability to read the play. Making him accountable will be important. Jamie Cripps' return – after missing four matches to be with his pregnant wife – will be vital to limiting Maynard, while also giving him something to worry about.
The Pies rank in the bottom four for score per inside 50 percentage, a problem West Coast's stout defence only heightens. Jeremy McGovern is set to return for the Eagles to join Tom Barrass as an intercept threat. Throw in All-Australian small defender Brad Sheppard and you start understanding what Collingwood is facing. Mason Cox's late-season form spike and past finals performances offer hope he can give the black and white a genuine target. However, Buckley and co. might want to consider the different ways other sides bring the ball inside 50 against West Coast, including avoiding kicking high to contests where possible.
WHAT THE STATS SAY
West Coast is unbeaten in seven games this year at Optus Stadium and 28-6 since the venue opened in 2018. Collingwood was 1-2 there in 2020 and split its six matches overall, including one victory from three outings against Saturday night's opponent.
The Eagles rank 15th this year for disposal differential, but won the disposal count by 27 and uncontested possessions by 33 over the Pies – their third and second-best differentials in 2020. They were both the worst differentials for Collingwood.
West Coast's round eight score of 18.3 (111) was their highest of the season, while also being the most points the Magpies conceded.
Collingwood retains the Sherrin on 58 per cent of All-Australian midfielder Taylor Adams' kicks inside 50, and marks it 26 per cent of the time. That ranks fourth and fifth, respectively, among the top 50 players for kicks into the forward 50.
The Pies mark and play on 28.3 per cent of the time this year (ranked third), but cranked that up to 34.4 per cent in their past six games (first). The Eagles do so 27.2 per cent of the time, which places 11th.
Liam Ryan went to a new level in the final four matches of the season, with his AFL Player Rating spiking from 6.6 to 16.4 in the run home. The All-Australian kicked eight goals in that time.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR …
It's been a strange season for Josh Kennedy. His form was questioned early in the season, but he roared back into form the week before playing Collingwood in round eight, then slammed through seven more goals at the Pies' expense. However, Kennedy's kicked only four majors in his past five starts, including sustaining a game-ending ankle setback in round 18. The veteran is set to play in the elimination final and will be crucial to the Eagles' fortunes.
West Coast ruck combination Nic Naitanui and Oscar Allen easily got the better of Brodie Grundy in the earlier clash, so much so that the star Magpie ended the game up forward. Grundy didn't make even the All-Australian squad of 40 this season after making the final 22 the previous two years. Saturday night's result might come down to Grundy's ability to return to his 2018-19 heroics and restrict Nic Nat's influence.
PREDICTION: West Coast by 20 points. The Eagles will welcome back a galaxy of stars and should be too strong at home for a Pies line-up that hasn't reached the heights of recent seasons.