The West Coast Eagles are considered to be one of the best teams in the AFL. They made the Grand Final last season, coming from outside the eight and taking advantage of an intimidating home ground advantage, and they entered the season on the second line of premiership behind the indomitable Hawthorn.
They have won 14 of their last 15 home games, but just 11 of 25 away games under coach Adam Simpson. This mediocre away record includes winning just 1 of 8 games since the beginning of 2015 against teams who were inside the top 8. That win was against Richmond in Round 12 last season; there have been losses to Adelaide, Sydney, Geelong, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
This season they have played three games away, losing all three by an average of 43 points. In those three games the Eagles have conceded more than 60 inside 50s in all three games. Compare that to their home record, where they have won all four games by an average of 56 points per game, and conceded just 35.5 inside 50s in those games.
Clearances are regarded to be a good indicator of how a team performs, and with the Eagles it shows a distinct drop off in performance away from home. They are +28 in clearance differential in their home games but -31 in clearance differential in their away games. Rewind to last season and the Eagles actually won clearances more often than not, away from home against top 8 sides. Conversely they were -75 in uncontested possessions differential, so they were losing these games in a different manner.
When playing away in 2015 they lost the disposal efficiency by an average of 2% per game despite playing bottom 8 teams Melbourne, St.Kilda, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide, Collingwood and Brisbane among those rivals, and are losing this statistics by an average of 7% per game this season 'on the road'. The quality of opposition has been far greater early in 2016, but the numbers prove that this side is not efficient away from home.
The Eagles average 83.8 points a game in 14 games away since the start of 2015, but just jut 62.5 points against the top 8 teams away during that same time period. At the same time they have averaged 106.7 points against top 8 teams at Domain Stadium and almost 117 against all teams at home.
While it seems a little unfair to place heat on the forward line when the entire team struggles, the breakdown of how they perform at home and away cannot be ignored. Josh Kennedy has kicked 4 goals or more in 8 of 17 home games since the beginning of 2015, but has kicked more than 2 goals in just 6 of 14 away games during that same time period. Mark LeCras and Josh Hill perform even more poorly when they hop on a plane; LeCras has kicked multiple goals in 12 of 17 home games but just 3 of 14 away games since the start of 2015, while Hill has done likewise in 8 of 17 home games but just 3 of 14 away games
Jack Darling is shaping as the exception to the rule, having kicked multiple goals in 8 of 12 home games but also in 5 of 9 away games, including 4 hauls of three or more away from Domain Stadium. This reflects more on his improvement and development into the player that he should be, rather than the player he has long promised to be.
Perhaps the most damning statistic of all, and one that raises as strong an argument as any against them being anything but flat-track bullies is their inability to stop good sides getting momentum when they play away from the comforts of Domain Stadium. In those losses against top 8 sides away from home over the last two seasons, the Eagles have allowed their opponents to kick at least four unanswered goals in every game. This season, they have allowed 'runs' of five goals against Hawthorn and six goals against both Sydney and Geelong, while last season they allowed Fremantle to kick 11 straight and Adelaide and Hawthorn to kick 9 goals without reply. In the latter match against the Hawks, those nine goals came after Luke Shuey kicked the first goal of the Grand Final. A premiership contender would be better at halting momentum, especially one with so much experience on its list.
The Eagles arguably have only one member of their best 22 (Dom Sheed) unavailable due to injury, and from the side against Geelong on the weekend there were 15 players with more than 100 games experience plus three others between 70-100 games. Of that team, 18 players were aged between 23-28 years of age, making this list seemingly primed for success both from an age and experience profile. While the Eagles should be primed for premiership success, they instead seem set for a mid-table finish, and would have no confidence of winning an away final. Actually, they would presumably have confidence but that would be based on falsities.
West Coast have not lost one game to a non-top 8 side since Round 10 2014. That they have won enough games since then to be considered a good team cannot be argued, but the quality of their wins and the fact they habitually beat bad sides is there for all to see. It is probably semantics whether you call them that's front-runners, downhill skiers or flat track bullies but one thing cannot be debated - on exposed form, it is a team that will not win a flag as currently put together as the Grand Final is not played at Domain Stadium.