Following their crushing win over Adelaide the week before, the Eagles solidified their premiership claims with an impressive 39 point win over the fourth-placed St.Kilda.
On a Friday night at Docklands, the Eagles star trio of Ben Cousins, Chris Judd and Daniel Kerr were the stars, as West Coast dominated the last quarter.
Cousins led the game with 35 disposals, Judd had 28 with three goals and Daniel Kerr had 26 with two goals as the Eagles midfield had too much run for their opponents.
Kerr also provided the highlight of the evening, when he brought down Saints spearhead Fraser Gehrig with a tackle in the back pocket. Initially brushed aside by Gehrig, Kerr went again, despite conceding 31kg and brought the forward down earning a free kick.
After a tight first half, the wrestle continued through the third term. With just over a minute remaining in the quarter, the Eagles led by a point. But two quick goals to Ashley Sampi and Brent Staker, put the Eagles 13 points up at the last change, before a strong final quarter had the game in West Coast’s keeping.
For coach John Worsfold, the win was pleasing in a finals-like game. “.. all wins are good wins. We came here to play our best footy and i thought we weren’t far off that. There was a lot of pressure from both sides. It was pretty intense, tight.”
Earlier the Eagles made two changes to the team that beat Adelaide. Andrew Embley returned to the side after being a late withdrawal the previous week, replacing his replacement in Mitch Morton. Chad Fletcher also returned to the line-up, initially replacing Brett Jones, but Jones was later reinstated for veteran Drew Banfield, who was left out of the side pre-game.
The Saints were on a five game winning streak, on the back of a midfield group of emerging youngsters in Luke Ball and Nick Dal Santo, coupled with the experienced Stephen Powell and Robert Harvey. But they were overshadowed by an Eagles team who carried on from the previous week’s efforts.
The Eagles continued with the high handpass game that underpinned the win against Adelaide, racking up 61 in the first quarter. West Coast had plenty of the ball early, but weren’t getting the rewards up forward.
Daniel Kerr booted the Eagle’s second goal as the quarter ticked down, but when Fraser Gehrig received a contentious free kick on the quarter time siren, the Eagles led by just 9 points.
Ashley Sampi kicked the opening goal of the second quarter before setting up Steven Armstrong, but inaccuracy in front of goal kept the Saints in the contest, and with St.Kilda booting the only other two goals of the quarter, it was just 11 at the main break.
The Eagles continued to threaten to pull away in the third quarter, but it wasn’t until the late majors, that West Coast got some separation. Kerr goaled in the opening minute of the final term, and West Coast ran away with the game from there, finishing the game with seven final-quarter goals.
The midfield were the drivers for much of the game, winning the clearances and contested ball, against a side that under Grant Thomas had made it their mantra. But as well as the efforts by the Eagle’s premier players, the defence stood up strong.
The Saints could only manage eight goals from 50 inside-50’s with Beau Waters collecting plenty of the ball across half back. Waters had 21 first half possessions, before finishing the game with a career high 34. David Wirrpanda had 22 from a back pocket, and held Saints goalsneak Stephen Milne to just a behind.
Darren Glass was a rock at full back against Fraser Gehrig. The Saints full forward had booted 10 goals against Richmond the previous week, but could only manage the one and had limited impact on the game. Without Gehrig and Milne hitting the scoreboard, it was left to Nick Riewoldt to provide the avenue for the Saints. With Adam Hunter still absent, Riewoldt was too much for Jaymie Graham, booting 4.3 from 16 disposals and 11 marks.
Jason Gram was one of the Saints best with 25 possessions and a goal and Nick Dal Santo finished with 22, but the Eagles had too much midfield depth and too many winners around the ground.
The round only got better for West Coast following their win. Third-placed Melbourne had a shock loss to the bottom of the ladder Blues, giving West Coast a two-game buffer in second place with just four games remaining.
The Eagles still remained a game behind Adelaide, but the Crows were fortunate to scrape past the Magpies by just four points. In a blow to their flag aspirations, both Ben Hart and Brett Burton injured hamstrings, meaning they would join Andrew McLeod on the sidelines for a considerable amount of time.
In a week when the Eagles announced their best ever team as part of their 20 year celebrations, the current installment were considered serious contenders for their own piece of history.
Match Details Friday 4 August 2006
West Coast 2.5 4.9 7.11 14.14 (98)
St.Kilda 1.2 3.4 5.10 8.11 (59)
Docklands Attendance: 40,177
Best: WC Kerr, Cousins, Judd, Waters, Glass, Wirrpanda, A Selwood
STK Riewoldt, Gram, Ball, Dal Santo, L Fisher
Goals: WC Judd 3, Sampi, Kerr 2, Stenglein, Fletcher, Hansen, Wirrpanda, Lynch, Armstrong, Staker.
STK Riewoldt 4, Gehrig, Fiora, Gram, Montagna.
Brownlow: 3. D Kerr (WC)
2. B Cousins (WC)
1. B Waters (WC)