Sunday, September 1, 2002. The West Coast Eagles ventured to Canberra for the first time in their AFL history for a game that holds prime place among the club’s round 22 ‘finals busters’.

It was a simple equation. Beat North Melbourne and they would play finals. Lose to North Melbourne and it was season over.

The club’s first game at Manuka Stadium in the national capital is one of four occasions when an entire Eagles season has rested on the outcome of round 22.

Twenty-one times in the Eagles’ first 24 years in the AFL from 1987-2010 round 22 was “it”. The end of the home-and-away season. The last chance to confirm a ladder position from which to launch a finals campaign, or time to start playing for the following year.

It was different only in 1991-92-94, when the AFL played a 22-match/2 bye season over 24 rounds.

Ten times in these 21 years the Eagles were guaranteed a finals berth going into round 22 and seven times they were out of the face. Four times nine months of hard work came down to the last round of the home-and-away season.

And thrillingly, in each of those four years - 1988-1998-2002-2004 – the Eagles qualified for September action.

Together these four rounds share top billing for the ‘Best of the Eagles’ flashback series for round 22, with 2002 the most thrilling because the Eagles needed not only to win but they had to rely on other results going their way.

After round 21 Brisbane (68 points), Port Adelaide (68), Adelaide (56) and Collingwood (52) were guaranteed a finals spot and barring a huge percentage swing were locked into the top four.

This left six teams chasing four finals positions - North Melbourne (48 points and a percentage of 99.5), Essendon (46/102.0%), Melbourne (44/99.1%), Geelong (44/96.0%), West Coast (40/97.0%) and Hawthorn (40/90.9%).

Without considering the impossible scenario of what a draw would do to things, sixth-placed Essendon (46/102.0%) needed only to avoid a huge loss to be safe, given that two of North, West Coast, Geelong and Hawthorn had to lose.

Three and possibly four matches in round 22 would decide the last four spots. On the Friday night it was Geelong v Hawthorn at Docklands. On Saturday night it was 15th-placed St Kilda v Melbourne at Docklands. And on the Sunday it was North v West Coast in Canberra, followed by 16th-placed Carlton v Essendon at the MCG.

It was a three-part equation which could possibly stretch to four. West Coast had to beat North to be assured of a finals berth. Plus they needed to cover Melbourne and Geelong for percentage, and hope that Hawthorn, 6.1% behind them, didn’t have a massive win over Geelong.

Part one. Hawthorn beat Geelong by 18 points. This made Essendon safe, left Geelong vulnerable and Hawthorn needing a miracle. Geelong’s percentage had fallen 0.7% to 95.3% and Hawthorn’s percentage had climbed only 1.1% to 92.0%. As it stood West Coast were 10th a game out of the eight but with a better percentage than Geelong and Hawthorn.

Part two. Melbourne accounted for St Kilda by 18 points. With 48 points and a percentage of 99.9 the Demons were safe.  North’s superior percentage of 99.5%, well clear of that of Geelong and Hawthorn, meant that Hawthorn were out. North were safe unless they copped a hiding from West Coast. If West Coast beat North it was all over. Geelong could only sneak in if West Coast lost.

West Coast were to play North at 1.10pm eastern time on the Sunday. Or 11.10am Perth time. It was an awkward time in the WA capital for anxious Eagles fans.

The good news was that Dean Cox was back after he’d missed the round 21 loss to Port Adelaide through illness.  The bad news was that Andrew Embley, David Wirrpanda, Trent Carroll and Andrew Williams were ruled out with injury. Williams had played his last game for the club.

So, in his first season as coach, John Worsfold announced six changes for the ‘win or bust’ clash with North. Most notably, aside from the return of Cox, he included 19-year-old forward Andrew McDougall for his AFL debut and recalled Kane Munro for his second AFL game of the year and his first since round six.

Richard Taylor, who had played only once since round five, also found himself back in the side with Troy Wilson and David Haynes. Quentin Lynch and Ashley Sampi were omitted.

Shortly before the first bounce Darren Glass was forced out with illness, opening the door for Jeremy Humm to play his eighth AFL game and his first since round 10.   

North, coached by Dennis Pagan, lost Glenn Archer to injury and Byron Pickett to suspension but welcomed David King back from suspension and recalled Shannon Watt.

The Kangaroos, with a 26-year-old Adam Simpson in his 158th game, started warm favorites against a patched up Eagles side.

But the visitors hadn’t read the script. After King kicked the opened goal for North West Coast piled on five goals in nine minutes and led 5.2 to 1.4.

It was a typical round 22 clash. North were not about to lie down. They pulled within three points at the first change, hit the front 20 minutes into the second term and led by 11 points at halftime.

West Coast got the first two of the third quarter and North the next two before what turned out to be a match-winning 11-minute burst which produced five unanswered goals through Phil Matera, Michael Gardiner, Munro, Daniel Kerr and Wilson. Eagles by 13 at three-quarter time.

Again North rallied. It was even four minutes into the fourth quarter before 10 goalless minutes.

Then, with their finals hopes on the line, West Coast found something. Wilson kicked his fourth goal and then his fifth after Callum Chambers slotted one in between.

Phil Matera put West Coast 23 points up with eight minutes to play. It was goal for goal thereafter, but Kerr’s fourth and Matera’s sixth ensured a 22.11 (143) to 18.18 (126) win.

Ben Cousins, with 33 possessions, a goal and a team-high 10 clearances, headed the Brownlow Medal votes from Kerr (24 possessions, four goals) and Phil Matera (15 possessions, six goals).

So, North fell from fifth to seventh, behind Melbourne on percentage, and West Coast took eighth spot on percentage from Geelong and Hawthorn.

There wasn’t a lot in it. The West Coast percentage was 97.96, with Geelong at 95.27 and Hawthorn 91.98. If West Coast had kicked 10 goals less or conceded 10 goals more over 22 games, or a combination of both, they would have missed.

At least, after two years out of the finals under Ken Judge, the Eagles were off to the finals. Even if they were beaten by the Western Bulldogs in the qualifying final.

This was the third of four round 22 matches that have carried the hopes of a season.

In 1988, when a five-team finals system was in place in a 14-team competition, West Coast were fourth on the home-and-away ladder with 48 points and a percentage of 110.8 after round 21. They were 10.2 percentage points ahead of Melbourne, and a game plus percentage ahead of Essendon, Footscray and Sydney.

After Melbourne upset second-placed Carlton and Essendon accounted for wooden-spooners St Kilda on the Saturday there was only one consideration for West Coast on the Sunday. Beat Footscray at Whitten Oval in the last game of the home-and-away season and they were in. Lose and they were out.

It would be only the second time the Eagles had played at the home of the Dogs after they’d lost there by 22 points in round 11, 1987.

Coming off a 60-point round 21 win over Collingwood and up against the man who would later coach them for 10 years, the Eagles included Joe Cormack for his seventh game to replace the injured Don Holmes.

After leading 3.3 to 2.5 at halftime and 4.7 to 3.8 at three-quarter time West Coast added 4.4 to 0.3 in the final term to win by 24 points despite a free-kick count that favored the Dogs 40-29.

Chris Mainwaring, with 30 possessions, took three Brownlow Medal votes and Steve Malaxos (32 possessions) one vote, while captain Ross Glendinning did his bit with four of his side’s seven goals and Guy McKenna, Murray Rance and John Worsfold led a resolute defensive unit.

So, West Coast qualified for the first finals campaign, finishing fourth on the home-and-away ladder behind Hawthorn, Collingwood and Carlton and ahead of Melbourne. They lost by two points to Melbourne in the elimination final before Melbourne went on to cop a 96-point grand final hiding from Hawthorn.

Ten years later West Coast found themselves going into tound 22 1998 with their finals hopes in the balance in what by then was a 16-team competition and an eight-team finals system.

After round 21 Adelaide, West Coast, Essendon and Richmond were deadlocked on 48 premiership points and filled positions 6-9 on the ladder. They were one win behind Sydney, St Kilda and Melbourne, who filled positions 3-5. Remarkably, the four chasing sides each had a better percentage than the three sides above them.

North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, already guaranteed the top two spots, were set to meet on the Friday night so were not in the equation. Bur potentially four other games were.

West Coast were drawn to play Adelaide at Subiaco on the Saturday night.

Before they started 12th-placed Geelong had beaten Essendon to leave them on the borderline. They were level with the Eagles and 2.9 percentage points behind them.

Before the West Coast game had finished against Adelaide, bottom side Brisbane had done them a giant favor, upsetting St Kilda by a point at the Gabba in what was the 282nd and last game for ex-Geelong captain turned Brisbane recruit Andrew Bews.

St Kilda were still a game ahead of West Coast but their percentage of 102.1 was significantly inferior to the West Coast percentage of 111.5 after round 21.

If West Coast could beat Adelaide they would go to bed safe and knowing they could finish as high as third if 14th-placed Collingwood beat third-placed Sydney and ninth-placed Richmond beat fifth-placed Melbourne on the Sunday. Two long shots but at least something to aim for.

It didn’t matter. With AFL fans on the east coast following the scores coming in from Perth, Adelaide led West Coast at every change and won 15.16 (106) to 12.9 (81).

Ashley McIntosh collected two Brownlow Medal votes, Dean Kemp led the possession count with 26 and Drew Banfield and Brett Heady kicked three goals apiece.

Aside from the gaping hole Worsfold would leave, what did it all mean? Sydney were safe regardless of what happened against Collingwood. West Coast were safe. Just. Their percentage had finished at 109.4. Essendon were at 108.6. The Bombers were on the ropes. If Richmond upset Melbourne Essendon would miss.

As it turned out Melbourne thumped Richmond to take the double-chance with West Coast seventh.

West Coast were eliminated the following week by second-placed  Western Bulldogs, who themselves would fall victim to eventual premiers Adelaide in the preliminary final.

The last of the round 22 finals busters came in 2004 when the Eagles, after going out in week one of the finals in 2002 and 2003, were out to atone.

After round 21 five teams were safe. Port Adelaide, Brisbane, St Kilda, Geelong and Melbourne. Sydney and West Coast had 48 points, Fremantle and Essendon 44 points and North Melbourne 40 points and a percentage better than the four sides above them.

West Coast, drawn to host Melbourne at Subiaco on the Saturday afternoon, knew shortly after the start of their game that Sydney had beaten bottom side Richmond. They were the sixth finalist locked in.

West Coast led all the way against Melbourne to win by 40 points, with Chris Judd (34 possessions), Chad Fletcher (35 possessions) and Michael Braun (30 possessions) taking the Brownlow Medal votes. They were the seventh finalist.

Later on the Saturday night St Kilda beat Fremantle which meant that if Essendon beat 14th-placed Western Bulldogs on the Sunday Fremantle would miss out. And they did.

West Coast were beaten by Sydney in the elimination final as one of the great finals rivalries of the 21st century started to take shape.

Round 22 at a glance

Round 22 games were not as significant in 1992-93-94, when the AFL played a 24-round season. Or since 2011, when Gold Coast and then GWS Giants joined the competition, again meaning that the home-and-away season stretched beyond 22 rounds.

Still, over 33 years in the AFL West Coast have had a 16-17 win/loss record. It’s one of only three rounds in which the club has a negative all-time record. Round 14 has been the worst, with 13 wins, 19 losses and a bye. Round 11 has delivered 14 wins, 16 losses, a draw and two byes.

At home they’ve gone 12-7 in round 22 matches – 10-4 at Subiaco, 2-2 at the WACA Ground and, oddly, are 0-1 in Round 22 matches at Optus Stadium, having lost to Melbourne at their new home in 2018.

They are a combined 3-6 in Victoria, having gone, 1-0 at Whitten Oval, 1-2 at the MCG and Kardinia Park and 0-1 at Victoria Park and Princes Park. They are 0-2 in South Australia, having lost in round 22 at Football Park and Adelaide Oval, are 0-1 at the SCG and 0-1 at Sydney Showgrounds for a 0-2 wipe in NSW. They are 1-0 in Canberra and have never been required to make the long trip to Queensland in round 22.

West Coast has played every opposition club in round 22 except Gold Coast. Even Fitzroy. They have been multiple winners against Hawthorn (2-0), Essendon (2-0), Richmond (2-1) and Melbourne (2-2), and have a 1-1 split against St Kilda and Fremantle. They have gone 1-0 against the Western Bulldogs, Fitzroy, Brisbane and North Melbourne, and 0-1 against Carlton, Sydney, Port Adelaide and GWS.  They are 1-2 against Collingwood, 1-3 against Geelong and 0-3 against Adelaide.

Headlines everywhere

There were big stories everywhere in the Eagles’ first round 22 clash against St Kilda at Subiaco in 1987, with Rob Wiley and Steve Malaxos sharing top billing.

The pair had been key recruits to the club for their entry to the AFL, and had played pivotal roles in helping what was basically a WA side to settle into the national competition.

Wiley, a 95-game player at Richmond from 1979-83 and a 1980 premiership player, had returned in 1984 to Perth, where he had started his career. He was content playing in the WAFL until lured back to the big-time by the Eagles and played 18 games with the new club before one last season with Perth in 1988.

His last game with the Eagles was round 22, 1987 and fittingly they sent the then 32-year-old warrior off with a bang, beating the Saints by 88 points. Wiley, who won a staggering eight fairest and best awards at Perth, was one of the Eagles best with 24 possessions and three goals.

Despite his impressive statistics Wiley didn’t figure in the Brownlow Medal votes that went to Adrian Barich, who picked up 24 possessions and kicked four goals, and Ross Glendinning, who had 17 possessions playing in defence, where he held Stewart Loewe to seven possessions. Greg Burns took one vote for 37 possessions and a goal for the Saints.

But Wiley shouldn’t feel too badly. His was among several outstanding performances to miss out.

Most notably was the 48 possessions of Malaxos. It was a club record at the time and 33 years on is still a club record. And he kicked two goals.

Andrew Macnish and 29 possessions and kicked five goals without getting a vote, and an 18-year-old Chris Lewis kicked a career-best seven goals in his 18th game without a vote. Dwayne Lamb had 33 possessions, more than every player except Malaxos and Burns, and didn’t get close to the votes.

It was a game a lot of people will remember fondly, including Sean King and Paul Mifka, who each played their one and only game for the Eagles.

Mifka, a 1995-99 WAFL premiership player with West Perth and four-times a WA State of Origin representative, was drafted three years later by the Brisbane Bears without playing a game for his second AFL club. He had a tidy 14 possessions on debut aged 22.

King was a year older on debut at 23 and was even more impressive. He had 21 possessions and kicked two goals. He later played for the Australian Amateurs at the 1988 Bi-Centennial Championships in Adelaide where Mifka played for WA.

A key win

In 1990 West Coast headed to Kardinia Park to play Geelong in round 22. They were third on the ladder but had no room for error against the 10th-placed Cats. A loss could mean they would forfeit the double chance in the finals.

Things didn’t look good when they trailed by 18 points at three-quarter time but a 5.2 to 1.1 final quarter saw them win by seven points. Chris Lewis took three Brownlow Medal votes and Chris Mainwaring one after Dwayne Lamb topped the possession count with 26 and Peter Sumich kicked three goals.

A great win for Mainy

It was a huge day in round 22, 1991 when West Coast hosted Hawthorn at Subiaco. It was the top-of-the-ladder Eagles against the second-placed Hawks in what looked for all money like a preview to the grand final.

With two home-and-away rounds still to play, West Coast were already assured of a top two finish. Hawthorn, though, were in a dogfight with third-placed Geelong and seemingly had more to play for.

But if the punters thought that would be enough they were sadly mistaken. West Coast had their own special motivation – the 100th game of club favorite Chris Mainwaring.

The 25-year-old blonde wingman, from Geraldton via East Fremantle in the WAFL, was the third Eagle to 100 games behind Dwayne Lamb and Michael Brennan.

He celebrated with a 24-point win 15.9 (99) to 11.9 (75) in which Chris Lewis had 27 possessions to pick up three Brownlow votes and Peter Wilson kicked three goals for one vote.

Building to a flag

West Coast were building nicely as they got to round 22 in 1992. As low as fourth at Round 18, they’d beaten second-placed Geelong in round 19, smashed Brisbane in round 20 and accounted for Richmond in round 21. But still they were only third on the ladder.

In round 22 they faced Fitzroy at the WACA, leading all the way to post a 30-point win that saw them jump to second in a campaign that six weeks later would finish with the club’s first premiership.

Chris Mainwaring topped the stats with 30 possessions while Tony Evans and Ashley McIntosh picked up the minor Brownlow votes behind Fitzroy’s Paul Roos, who had 26 possessions and kicked three goals.

A wake-up call

It was first playing second again in round 22, 1994. The Eagles were on top of the ladder when they travelled to Princes Park to meet second-placed Carlton. They trailed at every change and travelled home after a 64-point loss.

Oddly, Carlton beat Richmond by 113 points the following week and didn’t win another game for the year, going out in straight sets in the finals after finishing second on the home-and-away ladder. West Coast recovered to win the minor premiership and go on to take the big one.

A derby double

Football in Western Australia had changed in 1995 when the Fremantle Dockers joined the competition. And after winning derby #1 in round seven by 85 points the Eagles were keen to make it a clean sweep when they met again in round 22.

With the season back to 22 rounds and the Eagles already assured of a finals berth, they did just that. And one Eagles player had extra special reason for celebration.

Who was it? In derby #1 he’d kicked five goals and in derby #2 he kicked another five.

Brett Heady, already a dual premiership player and in his 110th game at 25, was the most dominant forward on the ground in the Eagles’ 16.15 (111) to 8.10 (58) win.

He picked up three Brownlow Medal votes in derby #1 but this time the umpires went with Dean Kemp, who had 24 possessions and a goal, and Guy McKenna, who was a driving force off half back.

One last win

Peter Sumich was only 29 going into round 22 of 1997. He’d been a 1992-94 premiership player and in 1991 had become not just the first Eagles player to kick 100 goals in a season but the first left-footer in AFL history.

Seemingly, there was more to come, but Sumich decided otherwise. And as it turned out he was in his final days as an AFL player when the Eagles hosted the Brisbane Lions at the WACA.

It was his 149th game, and as fate would have hit, he would play his 150th and last game in the finals the week after. But not before kicking three goals in a come-from-behind win over the merger club, and banking a significant personal milestone.

The Eagles were seventh going into the match and guaranteed a finals spot. The Lions were eighth and needing a win to be assured of playing in September. They led 6-.1 to 6.5 at half-time before West Coast piled on 6.4 to 1.2 in the third term and cruise to a 39-point win.

Jarrad Schofield picked up three votes for 33 possessions and Sumich became just the 10th player in Eagles history to reach 100 AFL wins for the club.

Two bright moments

It wasn’t a good time for the Eagles when they played Melbourne at Subiaco in round 22 2000. Already out of the finals they lost by 70 points. But there were two memorable moments, with Ben Cousins playing his 100th game and Adam Hunter making his debut.

Cousins, 22 years and 37 days old, was at the time and still is the Eagles’ youngest 100-gamer. And that was despite missing 14 games between his first game and his 100th.

He’d debuted at 17 years 296 days and was younger than every Eagle except David Wirrpanda (16/268), Andrew Embley (17/274) and Michael Gardiner (17/288).

Hunter, later to play 151 games for the Eagles and share the 2006 premiership triumph with Cousins, had arrived at the club without anything like the fuss or fanfare of his milestone mate.

Born in Bunbury and a product of Bunbury Football Club via WAFL club Swan Districts, he was pick #29 in a 1999 AFL National Draft in which the Eagles also picked up Darren Glass (#11), Travis Gaspar (#14), David Haynes (#16) and Kane Munro (#41).

Hunter joined the Eagles with the pick immediately before that which Brisbane had allocated for 288-game champion Jonathan Brown under the father/son rules.

Interestingly, while 12 200-gamers were drafted that year ahead of Hunter, Brown was one of another 12 200-gamers drafted after him.

Hunter was preferred at the time to pick #31 Paul Chapman, a 280-gamer at Geelong and Essendon, with Western Bulldogs 265-gamer Daniel Giansiracusa at #32, Collingwood 225-gamer Leon Davis at #34, Geelong 246-game premiership captain Cameron Ling at #38, Bulldogs’ 206-gamer Lindsay Gilbee at #43, Geelong games record-holder and 332-gamer Corey Enright at #47, Sydney 286-gamer Ryan O’Keefe at #56, Collingwood 235-gamer Ben Johnson at #62, Melbourne/Hawthorn 234-gamer Cameron Bruce at #64, Dogs 203-gamer Ryan Hargrave at #66 and Carlton 201-gamer Ryan Houlihan at #73.

Rookie superstar

Dean Cox played his 100th AFL game in round 22, 2005 in what was otherwise another disappointing end to the home-and-away season for the Eagles.

It was first-placed West Coast against second-placed Adelaide at Subiaco. Both were assured of a top two berth, but with the minor premiership on the line West Coast trailed at each change and lost by eight points.

Cox, not exactly expected to be a world-beater when he arrived at the club via pick #28 in the 2000 AFL Rookie Draft, was the second rookie product to play 100 games for the Eagles behind Chad Fletcher and four weeks later he won the first of six All-Australian blazers.

Twenty years on, the 204cm ruckman from Dampier via East Perth ranks second all-time in the AFL most games by rookie. His 290 is headed only by the Western Bulldogs’ Matthew Boyd at 292.

West Coast knew early on they had a beauty when they drafted Mark LeCras. He’d been an all-Australian under 18 selection in 2004 before joining the Eagles via pick #37 in the 2004 National Draft.

It just took him a little while to earn a chance to show it. And then to do it. After two games in his first season in 2005 it was round 22 in 2006 before he really stamped his mark as a goal-kicker.

Having kicked two goals on debut and then going goalless in his next three games, he broke back into the ladder-leading Eagles side for his fifth game in round 22, 2006 against Richmond at the MCG.

He showed his undeniable class with five goals in an 88-point win and picked up his first Brownlow Medal vote. Ben Cousins (30 possessions) and Dean Cox took the major votes as Quinten Lynch and Tony Armstrong kicked four goals.

Interestingly, among 39 Eagles to have kicked five or more goals in a game for the club, LeCras’ fifth-game ‘handful’ has been bettered by seven others. Daniel Metropolis and Steven Jackson joined the “five-plus club” on debut, Lynch did so in his second game, Phil Matera and Troy Wilson in their third, and Laurie Keene and Ben McKinley in their fourth.

LeCras, third on the all-time Eagles goal-kicking list with 441, went on to be one of six AFL 200-gamers to come out of his all-Australian under-18 side and the leading goal-kicker among this group.

The six 200-gamers were Jordan Lewis (319), Brett Deledio (275), Ryan Griffen (256), Heath Grundy (256), Le Cras (219) and Angus Monfries (211). The LeCras goal tally headed Monfries’ 248.

The 2004 All-Australian Under 18 side listed state by state was:-

WA: Mark Le CrasMitchell MortonAlan Toovey. Vic Country: Brett DeledioMarcus DrumRuory KirkbyJordan LewisDean Polo. Vic Metro: Jayden AttardJarred MooreBen SharpJesse W. Smith. SA: Ben EckermannRyan GriffenHeath GrundyScott McMahonAngus MonfriesCameron Wood. NSW/ACT: Edward Clarke
NT: Richard Tambling. Qld: Will Hamill. Tas: Justin Sherman.