For the second year in a row North Melbourne have come from outside the top four and stormed into a preliminary final after defeating the Sydney Swans last Saturday. They face a rested West Coast team that has defied early season predictions to vault into premiership favouritism on the back of slick ball movement, a diverse forward line and smothering team defence. The Eagles will rightfully start firm favourites, but the Kangaroos are making a habit of overturning the odds.
WHERE AND WHEN: Domain Stadium, Saturday September 26, 5.45pm AWST
TV, RADIO AND BETTING: Click here for broadcast guide
West Coast: With midfield aces Matt Priddis (quad) and Chris Masten (hamstring) expected to return from injury, the Eagles will be missing just key defenders Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown, who they've learnt to cope without all season.
North Melbourne: The Kangaroos are in great shape for this time of year. Forward Drew Petrie (knee) and defender Robbie Tarrant (quad) are both expected to be available, giving them a near full list to choose from.
Round 10, Blundstone Arena: North Melbourne 13.7 (85) d West Coast 10.15 (75)
The Kangaroos showed real mettle to hang on and win, kicking four goals to three in the final term despite kicking into the teeth of a howling gale. Shaun Higgins kicked four goals and Jack Ziebell had 24 disposals, including 11 clearances.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS (the five meetings prior to 2015)
R11, 2014, North Melbourne 12.10 (82) d West Coast 6.8 (44) at Domain Stadium
R8, 2013, West Coast 12.18 (90) d North Melbourne 13.10 (88) at Domain Stadium
1EF, 2012, West Coast 24.18 (162) d North Melbourne 9.12 (66) at Domain Stadium
R15, 2012, West Coast 12.14 (86) d North Melbourne 13.6 (84) at Blundstone Arena
R6, 2012, West Coast 17.18 (120) d North Melbourne 15.5 (95) at Domain Stadium
THE SIX POINTS
1. It was a battle of two of the competition's best ruckmen in round ten. Todd Goldstein had 10 disposals, one goal and 47 hit-outs, while Nic Naitanui had 13 touches and 30 hit-outs, but was inaccurate in front of goal, kicking 0.4.
2. West Coast and North Melbourne have played four times previously in finals for two wins each. The Eagles won the most recent final, a 2012 elimination final in Perth, by 96 points.
3. The Eagles are ranked second for marks inside 50 this season, averaging 13.7, and fourth for inside 50s, while the Kangaroos are sixth for marks inside 50 but ninth for inside 50s.
4. West Coast lost their last preliminary final in 2011 to Geelong at the MCG and hasn’t won through to a Grand Final since 2006. North Melbourne has lost their past three preliminary finals by 50, 87 and 71 points.
5. Both teams have been strong in contested marking this season. North Melbourne is ranked third, averaging 11.7, and West Coast isn’t far behind, fourth with an average of 11.5.
6. Jarrad Waite just continues to get better, with his three goals against the Swans taking him to a career high 121st overall – and 13th among key forwards – in the Official AFL Player Ratings.
KEY MATCH UPS
1. Nic Naitanui v Todd Goldstein
This could well be the most crucial duel on the ground. Unanimously the best two ruckmen in the competition, both are adept at supplying their midfielders will silver service from stoppages. The winner of this battle will go a long way towards helping their team into a Grand Final.
2. Matt Priddis v Ben Cunnington
While they're unlikely to go head-to-head, these two inside midfielders are critical. Priddis was second this season in the League for overall clearances, while Cunnington was third. This pair is best equipped to take advantage of any ruck ascendency and give their team first use of the ball.
3. Scott Thompson v Josh Kennedy
Both teams are loaded with forward line weapons – tall and small – but Coleman Medallist Kennedy looms largest, capable of single-handedly winning games. Thompson is the obvious matchup, although Robbie Tarrant might also see some time on Kennedy.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR …
West Coast: Jeremy McGovern
All season the Eagles have defied a lack of height in their back six to be among the league's best defences - led by McGovern's brilliant breakout season. Up against Drew Petrie, Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite, they will get the ultimate test against the Kangaroos, and while West Coast's stellar defence is a team-based approach, McGovern must marshall the troops in the back 50 for the Eagles to succeed.
North Melbourne: Nick Dal Santo
It might not be at the forefront of his thinking, but Dal Santo's 300th is an enormous milestone and one he'd love to celebrate by getting into another decider. The skilled midfielder is no stranger to this time of year, lining up for his fifth preliminary final in eight seasons, and fresh off 29 touches against the Swans, is running into form at just the right time.
WHERE THE EAGLES CAN WIN IT
They've built their success on a midfield that likes to run, run, run – in both directions. And on the bigger Domain Stadium surface, it will be hard to stop if Naitanui and Priddis extract the ball consistently. In Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Chris Masten, Matt Rosa, Elliot Yeo and Mark Hutchings, the Eagles have a deep midfield that spreads quickly and gives their multi-dimensional forward line plenty of chances.
WHERE THE KANGAROOS CAN WIN IT
While the Eagles' great defence is about far more than their back six, if the Kangaroos can cut even in the midfield, they have the weapons to take advantage. Petrie, Waite and Brown have all looked promising during the finals, while Shaun Higgins and Brent Harvey have been reliable goalkickers. Like always, it comes down to getting enough quality ball in the midfield, but if North Melbourne's prime movers can do that, the forward line is more than capable of kicking a winning score.
PREDICTION: West Coast by 22 points.