Competition the winner as WAFL evens out
The evenness of the WAFL was underlined on Sunday when six clubs took part in the three grand finals.
And that recent equality was emphasised even more if you look back just four seasons which have thrown up four separate league premiers and six individual grand finalists.
Dinosaurs were roaming local football fields the last time the WAFL had more than four different premiers in a row.
Further proof of the WAFL being a genuine competition between a majority of its constituents can be gained by a quick look at the 2023 scoreboard which showed that 20 matches were decided by single figure margins and another 15 by three goals or fewer.
That’s more than one-third of the season’s games going to the wire.
No wonder there were a record five separate teams on top of the ladder at some point this season and poor old West Perth earnt the unenviable record of becoming the first team in WAFL history to win more than 60 percent of their matches but miss out on finals.
The competition has plenty of issues - finances are often parlous, the AFL’s midseason draft does far more harm than good, crowds are falling, Perth remain a basket-case and West Coast continue to test the league’s integrity on and off the field - but inequality at the top is not one of them.
Or is it?
One thing that has stood out since the top five system was introduced nearly a decade ago was the
clear advantage granted to the team finishing on top of the ladder after the home and away rounds.
Apart from 2016 and 2017, when a Peel team packed with 17 then 15 Dockers accounted for minor premier Subiaco, the top five has delivered the flag to the top team each season.
The reasons are simple.
They get a week off in the first round of finals and should they win the second semi, which has happened every year except for the two Peel anomalies, will have another week off to freshen up for the grand final.
Two games in a month is ideal to prepare players while the other contenders slog their way through three and maybe four games.
Of course the top team deserves an advantage but a virtually guaranteed premiership?
Perhaps it is time to revert to the top four and make the finals a contest again?
That is just one of the issues for the WA Football Commission to contemplate over summer.
West Coast remain a peculiarity.
Numerous football people wonder why Perth, who have embraced mediocrity for decades, get so little official support yet the Eagles have just received yet more recruiting concessions despite the likelihood that next year, with a far healthier AFL list, they will be considerably more competitive than the winless team put on the park this year.
And West Coast have the gall to threaten to sack three employees who play for other WAFL clubs.
When the Eagles said to East Perth’s Sandover medallist Hamish Brayshaw, their one-time father-son draftee Alec Waterman, who is considering a move back to Claremont, and West Perth defender Sam Rotham that their continued employment depended on their commitment to the club’s WAFL team, it was a clear breach of the arrangements that regulate their reserve team.
WAFL Rule 9.2 Overriding Principles of the Model/ Spirit of the Agreement states categorically that “West Coast Eagles will not use employment opportunities at West Coast Eagles and/or third parties as the primary source for the recruitment of players”.
Could it be any clearer?
IMAGE: WA FOOTBALL