It is often stated that premierships are not won in April, and while getting a fast start to the season is a viable goal for teams intent in securing a finals berth, it is not the be all an end all to achieving the ultimate success on the last Saturday in September.
Now that is not to say teams that do win games early cannot win the flag – far from it – rather that the form produced at the tail end of the season is far more important to the prospects of any team realistically wanting to win a premiership.
Take the case of Brisbane in 2001 as an example. After nine rounds they sat with a record of 4-5, and outside the top eight, while Hawthorn and Essendon occupied the top of the table with 8 wins each.
While both the Bombers and the Hawks were there at the tail end of the season, their form was not as it was earlier in the year. Thus it was Brisbane with their sixteenth straight win, which culminated in their first premiership as they sailed past Essendon after half time on their way to winning the flag.
So given Collingwood’s second loss in the last three weeks, and West Coast’s consecutive defeats, the question needs to be asked – have the Magpies and the Eagles peaked too early?
Collingwood’s streak of ten consecutive wins, beginning in Round 4 and ending at the hands of the Blues in Round 15, placed them at the pointy end of the ladder, but their recent form in big games at the MCG simply must be worrying for coach Nathan Buckley.
Given some winnable matches in coming weeks, the ‘Pies should not be in any danger of surrendering their top four spot. However, hitting peak form and fitness at the right stage of the season is a priority for teams interested in winning premierships and this doesn’t appear to be where the Magpies are heading.
Collingwood suffered a similar fate last season, where upon losing just one home and away match coming into the last round, the Magpies were belted by 96 points by eventual premiers Geelong, and lost all momentum moving into September, ultimately failing on Grand Final day despite being arguably the best team all year.
West Coast seemed almost infallible early in the year, heading the ladder after round twelve. Unfortunately, injuries seem to have taken their toll on the Eagles, as their most recent form includes a narrow come-from-behind win over North Melbourne, followed by heavy losses to fellow top four contenders Sydney and Adelaide.
The Eagles were the big improvers of 2011, reaching a Preliminary Final, however it seems they are out of petrol tickets at this stage of the season. Given the excellent form of Sydney, Adelaide, and Hawthorn around them, they will be fortunate to retain their spot in the top four. They will most likely rival Collingwood for that prize, and thus securing the all important double chance.
This isn’t to write off Colingwood and West Coast totally as injuries and a form slump could also affect the other main contenders, and both the Magpies and Eagles are quality units. However, if the recent trend of their results continues, it will not be the Magpies and the Eagles appearing at the MCG on Grand Final day.