Where and when: Optus Stadium, Thursday September 5, 6.10pm
What it means for West Coast: The last time the Eagles hosted a Thursday night elimination final in 2016 they were ambushed by the fairytale Bulldogs, and there is a sense of trepidation in the west about Essendon’s visit. Keeping the back-to-back flag bid alive is one thing, but some need convincing that West Coast remains a serious contender after missing the top four.
What it means for Essendon: Winning a final was probably the Bombers’ pass mark before 2019 started and would go some way to appeasing a restless supporter base. Essendon has been waiting 15 years for a September victory – the longest stretch in the competition – and has lost its past five finals by an average of 49 points.
The stat: The Bombers have won all five of their finals against West Coast by an average of 46 points, but none of those have been in Perth. The teams built an intense rivalry during Kevin Sheedy’s era at the Dons’ helm but haven’t met in September since the 2002 elimination final at Marvel Stadium.
The match-up: Nic Naitanui v Tom Bellchambers
Naitanui will return for his first game in two months after an ankle complaint and there is no doubt the talismanic ruckman will energise West Coast early. If Bellchambers can weather the storm and the Bombers get on top around the contest an upset could be on the cards.
It’s a big week for: John Worsfold
You couldn’t script a more intriguing storyline for 2019’s opening final. West Coast’s favourite son, who captained the Eagles’ first two premierships and coached the ’06 triumph, heads back to Perth amid reports his job at Essendon won’t be safe without a victory over his former club.
Big call: Adam Simpson to emerge from the coaches’ box waving his jacket above his head after West Coast holds on in a thriller.
Mottsy’s Tip: Eagles by 60+ points.
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