ON PAPER, there is no real reason West Coast and Sydney should be rivals.
However, despite being situated on completely opposing sides of the country and only really meeting once or twice per year, a series of nail-biting finishes and battles for premiership glory meant the Eagles and the Swans became the greatest football rivalry of the 2000s.
Between 2005 and 2007, six successive West Coast v Sydney games were decided by under a kick. Four of those games were finals. Two of them were Grand Finals.
In fact, aside from a 62-point Swans drubbing in 2008, the two sides played out nine games where the cumulative margin was just 35 points – decided by an average of 3.9 points.
With the two sides initially scheduled to meet this weekend – before the game's suspension due to the COVID-19 outbreak – we go back 15 years to when this great rivalry started.
Here are the six straight matches that defined one of modern footy's best rivalries.
September 2, 2005 – Qualifying final: West Coast 10.9 (69) defeated Sydney 10.5 (65)
West Coast earned the home qualifying final at Subiaco courtesy of a second-place finish on the ladder, but looked on the ropes at three-quarter time. Having trailed for the majority of the first half, Sydney kicked the only three goals of the third term to take a 14-point lead into the final change. However, Lewis Roberts-Thomson's horror mistake in kicking across the face from the last line of defence resulted in an Adam Hunter goal and the Eagles took full advantage of the momentum swing. The hosts kicked five of the next six goals to reclaim the lead, with Ashley Sampi's 30th minute snap on the run sealing the deal and sending West Coast into the preliminary final. Chris Judd (30 disposals, nine inside 50s) and Ben Cousins (29 disposals, four clearances) were the difference out of the middle, with Michael O'Loughlin (six marks, three goals) the thorn in their side for most of the night.
September 24, 2005 – Grand Final: Sydney 8.10 (58) defeated West Coast 7.12 (54)
Sydney had to take the long road to the 2005 Grand Final, having lost the qualifying final to West Coast. However, having beaten Geelong in a three-point thriller and accounted for St Kilda at the MCG in the preliminary final, its old foes awaited them again. The Swans led by 20 points at half-time thanks to three unanswered second quarter goals, before the Eagles kicked three straight majors after the break to ensure a tense final term awaited. That's where the pivotal moment of this Grand Final – and perhaps this era – occurred. Amon Buchanon had put the Swans in front with more than seven minutes remaining – a lead they clung to throughout the final minutes. Dean Cox sent the ball inside West Coast's forward 50, but Leo Barry took a stunning pack mark to seal the club's first taste of premiership success in 72 years. Chris Judd (29 disposals, 11 clearances) claimed the Norm Smith Medal in a losing side, with Nic Fosdike (26 disposals, seven tackles) not far from the best.
July 15, 2006 – Round 15: West Coast 9.13 (67) defeated Sydney 9.11 (65)
The first chance for West Coast to exact revenge – and what a way to do it. Given their history of low-scoring encounters, Sydney's six-goal opening term in this clash stunned the hosts at Subiaco. The Eagles were then held goalless in the second term, as the match reverted to type. It meant West Coast trailed by 32 points at half-time, before mounting its comeback after the main break. However, still three goals behind with seven minutes to go, a soccer off the ground from Beau Waters sparked the Eagles into action. Tyson Stenglein's scrubby goal, which was nearly touched on the line by Craig Bolton, gave West Coast its first lead of the night and ensured the hosts walked away with the four points after surviving a nervous final few seconds. Chris Judd (26 disposals, one goal) scored the three Brownlow votes, while Adam Goodes (22 disposals, two goals) was Sydney's best.
September 9, 2006 – Qualifying Final: Sydney 13.7 (85) defeated West Coast 12.12 (84)
West Coast won the rights to host the qualifying final after claiming the minor premiership, but Sydney – who only snuck into the top four on percentage – was on from the start at Subiaco. Five unanswered goals on either side of quarter time helped build a 15-point Swans lead at the main break, with Barry Hall and Michael O'Loughlin doing the bulk of the damage. The Eagles responded, kicking five of the next six goals after half time to reclaim the advantage. However, after Sydney plugged the momentum, a shootout erupted in the final term. The lead changed six times in the last quarter alone, as the two sides exchanged goals. Steven Armstrong's major with just over five minutes to play had West Coast five points to the good. But enter O'Loughlin again. His goal out the back put Sydney into the lead – and his celebration was a famous one, rubbing it in the noses of the Eagles cheer squad. The Swans held onto their one-point advantage for four minutes of playing time to book their spot in the preliminary final. Hall (12 marks, five goals) and O'Loughlin (nine marks, four goals) were the heroes, while Chris Judd (34 disposals, two goals) was West Coast's best.
September 30, 2006 – Grand Final: West Coast 12.13 (85) defeated Sydney 12.12 (84)
The sequel was just as good as the original. Having beaten the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide on the long route to the Grand Final, this time it was West Coast getting the jump on Sydney – kicking the game's opening three goals. It helped build a 25-point lead at half time, before the Swans gradually whittled away at their deficit. Four consecutive Sydney goals on either side of three-quarter time got the margin back to seven points deep into the last quarter, as the two sides again exchanged majors in a similar manner to how they did earlier in the month in the qualifying final. Swans goal, Eagles goal, Swans goal, Eagles goal, Swans goal. With just one point separating the two sides in the dying seconds, a bizarre West Coast passage – where Ben Cousins ran into pressure, Daniel Kerr kicked dangerously through the corridor and Quinten Lynch ran into trouble – looked to have given Sydney one last chance. But the siren sounded and the Eagles had their revenge and their premiership. Andrew Embley (26 disposals, two goals) was awarded the Norm Smith Medal, with Brett Kirk (27 disposals, nine tackles) the best for the Swans.
March 31, 2007 – Round 1: West Coast 11.8 (74) defeated Sydney 10.13 (73)
After playing in two thrilling Grand Finals in two years, West Coast and Sydney opened their 2007 campaigns with another beauty. The Eagles again raced away early, enjoying a six-goal first term before booting another four unanswered majors in the second quarter to claim a commanding 36-point buffer at the main change. However, the Swans again thwarted their momentum at Stadium Australia and rallied bravely. Sydney kicked seven of the eight majors in the second half, with Simon Phillips narrowing the margin to just one point in the 26th minute. Seconds later, Jarrad McVeigh was moments away from having a shot to put the Swans in front – before he was brilliantly chased down by a Daniel Kerr tackle. It was enough to ensure the Eagles secured a vital victory. Chris Judd (27 disposals, two goals) was West Coast's best, while Brett Kirk (29 disposals, one goal) was the star for Sydney.