West Coast’s 2013 flag prospects will be made, or broken, in a brutal three-month stretch at the end of the season which will see them play teams from the 2012 finals seven times in 11 weeks.
In the stretch between rounds 13 and 23, the Eagles will face the entire top four from 2012 – preliminary finalists Adelaide twice.
They also play hometown rivals Fremantle and competition powerhouse Geelong.
That means the only top eight team they miss is North Melbourne, probably the foe they would have most welcomed having beaten them at home and away this season.
And on top of the finalists, they also face two games against Essendon, a 2011 finalist who may have made the eight again but for an horrendous run of injury which saw the Bombers unravel late in 2012.
The start – with the Dockers and Hawthorn at Patersons Stadium in weeks one and two, is challenging but manageable. The Eagles were 1-1 against Fremantle last year and beat the Hawks at home.
Round three through to the club’s bye in round 12 is a golden chance to set their season up. The opposition is moderate and, apart from one long trip to the Gabba in round seven to face Brisbane, the travel burden is no greater than any WA team would expect in any year.
There are also opportunities for the Eagles to build marquee games: They have a Thursday night fixture again – this time against Essendon in round 14. And they have a Monday night WA Day night fixture as requested – against Richmond in round 10.
But there are eight six-day breaks over the course of the season – more than any other club expect for North Melbourne, who also have eight.
And the run home is a doozy – tough opponents as mentioned above with a climactic finish in rounds 20 to 23, which will include back-to-back six-day breaks between Essendon in round 20, Geelong in round 21 and again to Collingwood at the MCG in round 22, before Adelaide rounds out the season at home on a date still to be confirmed.
Given West Coast’s depth, enhanced by their recent trading, the top four is reachable but their tough draw in the last three months make it a long run home.
Come finals, they will either be hardened or exhausted.