Two of last year’s finalists are struggling five weeks into the season, with only two wins between the sides. Both North Melbourne and West Coast find themselves below even Gold Coast on the ladder. The two teams which had every right to aspire for the finals in 2013 already find themselves requiring three victories to get back to an even ledger for the season. It is for this reason that North Melbourne and West Coast’s match in three weeks’ time shapes up to be a defining moment for both clubs’ seasons.
West Coast finished last season within touching distance of the top four before defeating North Melbourne in an Elimination Final. Their season came to a conclusion in a tightly fought Semi Final against Collingwood, however the wooden spoon recipients from only two seasons prior had confidence for something more leading into season 2013.
West Coast began 2013 with the Western Derby against rivals Fremantle, a match which ended in a 28-point loss, which could have been far worse had Fremantle capitalised better on their 23 extra inside 50s. The Eagles lost their next match to Hawthorn by 50 points, despite the home ground advantage. A subsequent win against struggling Melbourne has been the sole high point in an otherwise disappointing start to the season, compounded by losses to Carlton and the surprisingly undefeated Port Adelaide.
North Melbourne’s early draw has appeared to be even more difficult than West Coast’s, with matches already played against the four most recent Grand Finalists. Despite coming within a kick of Hawthorn and Geelong, coming within three goals of Collingwood, and leading Sydney at half time, North Melbourne failed to escape any of these tough matches with the win. The Kangaroo’s sole win for 2013 has come in the form of a 63-point victory over Brisbane, and has left North Melbourne with more wins than only GWS.
At one win and four losses for the season, West Coast and North Melbourne have been put firmly into the spotlight. Teams with finals aspirations have the same premiership points as Melbourne, and are seeing their top four ambitions slip away already.
Most teams with only one victory five rounds into a season inevitably fail to finish in the top eight, as shown last year in the cases of Port Adelaide and Richmond, who finished 14th and 12th respectively. In 2011 it was a similar case for Adelaide, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide, as well as North Melbourne who finished in 9th position, missing out on the finals that year due to their poor start to the season.
However, there is still hope for them, because as recently as 2010, Hawthorn, a team that had only one victory seven rounds into the season, salvaged their season to finish seventh.
North Melbourne’s next two rounds include a match against undefeated Port Adelaide in Tasmania before returning to Victoria to play fellow cellar dweller Western Bulldogs. West Coast also plays Western Bulldogs at home before making the trip north to face Brisbane. These four matches have the possibility to jumpstart the seasons of North Melbourne and West Coast, or derail an already unstable season.
Whatever happens in the next fortnight, the round eight Friday night clash between the two sides is already shaping up to be the defining match of both teams’ seasons, for better or for worse.