West Coast return to the MCG for the second time in three weeks to take on the Magpies. The Eagles have thrown away opportunities to work their way into the top four by missing out on possible percentage boosters in wins over Carlton and Melbourne. The Eagles are just four percent from 2nd spot, but a loss on the weekend could have them a game behind the top four, with the sides around them all favourites to win. Jeremy McGovern plays game 50 with the Eagles.
Collingwood sit four games outside of the top eight, with last week’s loss ending their season, if it already wasn’t over. The Magpies return to the MCG for the first time in a month and will want to finish the season strongly, with question marks remaining over Nathan Buckley’s coaching record. The ‘Pies have looked to build the list over the last couple of years, but the time is coming for them to push once again for finals. Collingwood play the remainder of their games for 2016 in Melbourne, and have winnable games in Richmond and Gold Coast to come. A scalp like West Coast this week would give supporters hope for next season.
The Eagles somehow notched the four points against Melbourne, in a game where they were largely outplayed in the game, and lost on many of the key stats. The win, however, made it five on the trot, keeping them in touch with the top four. Many players were below their best against Melbourne with Sharrod Wellingham and Shannon Hurn both uncharacteristically poor with disposal. Conversely, Matthew Priddis was a large factor in the win, laying 15 tackles to go with 24 possessions, 7 clearances and a goal.
Collingwood have continued their Jekyll-and-Hyde season, with a win over the Giants in Sydney being followed by a gallant effort against the Crows in Adelaide, and then a poor loss to North Melbourne last round. The Magpies looked as though they could challenge the Kangaroos after clawing back from a slow start, but ultimately couldn’t capitalise on opportunities and eventually ran out of steam. Taylor Adams and Scott Pendlebury have been consistent cogs in the Magpies midfield, but too many others have had inconsistent years.
The Recent History
West Coast and Collingwood met earlier this year in Round 6, with the Eagles winning by 62 points. It was a game of momentum, as West Coast got the fast break to lead by 33 points at the first break, before the Magpies slowly chipped away over the next couple of quarters. Collingwood closed within 10 points during the third quarter, but West Coast finished the game strongly, booting eight goals to one in the last term to win comfortably.
The win over Collingwood, made it three in a row for West Coast, with the two prior wins coming at Docklands and Subiaco. Prior to the three game winning streak, the Eagles won just once in ten attempts against Collingwood, dating back to 2007. At the MCG in their history, it gets worse for the Eagles. West Coast have won just the once against Collingwood at the MCG in 11 matches, with the sole win in 1995.
The Eagles have made four changes, with Dom Sheed leading the inclusions. A pectoral tear during the pre-season followed by a knee injury has halted Sheed’s season after an impressive 2015. Sheed looms as a potential missing piece in the midfield puzzle, with the Eagles
Will Schofield and Mark Hutchings both return after missing the win over Melbourne. Hutchings in particular may have considered himself unlucky to miss and returns after a solid performance at East Perth. Hutchings and Sheed both bring a harder edge to the side, which was decisively lacking against the Demons.
Simon Tunbridge is the last of the inclusions, and has come into the side as a bit of a bolter, with some steady performances at East Perth. Tunbridge plays just his eighth game with the club from five seasons on the list, but provides an alternative forward option. Interestingly, Malcolm Karpany travels with the side of an emergency suggesting he may be close to a debut.
Out of the side goes Jack Redden with a shoulder injury, Tom Barrass who has been rested, while Jonathan Giles and Jackson Nelson have both been omitted. The Eagles have opted to give Nic Naitanui another week before he returns to the side. In his absence, the Eagles match committee have juggled a number of combinations in the ruck, but with Brodie Grundy the sole ruckman at Collingwood, the Eagles have decided to just go with the one recognised ruckman in Scott Lycett.
The Magpies were forced into three changes with Alex Fasolo, Jarryd Blair and Ben Sinclair all ruled out through injury. Fasolo and Blair are blows to a forward line that hasn’t seen Jamie Elliott all year and have carried Travis Cloke and Jesse White through inconsistent form.
Travis Cloke holds his spot for the Eagles game, with three youngsters included for the game. Jordan de Goey returns to the side, Ben Crocker plays his seventh game in his debut year, while Rupert Wills makes his debut. Wills comes in with high hopes at the Magpies after being selected by the Magpies in the draft last year, following two years at Collingwood’s VFL side.
The Talking Points
Where Do West Coast Win This Game?
The middle of the ground seems to be where the major statistical imbalance lies. The Eagles average 15 more clearances than the Magpies and are number 1 for scoring from stoppage clearances. The Magpies on the other hand are the fourth worst team in the competition for scoring from stoppages and also rank third last for time in the forward half differential against their opponents.
West Coast lost the inside 50 count by a staggering 29 against the Demons, and in the prior fortnight, had just five more than Carlton and the equal amount to the Kangaroos, but still went on to win that game by 32 points. Efficiency once West Coast get the ball inside-50 has been the key, with the Eagles being the number one side in the competition over the past month for scoring once they get the ball in the forward arc. In Round 6, the Eagles had 28 more inside-50's, as well as 12 more clearances. West Coast must ensure they win the battle at the stoppages to give themselves enough opportunity to create scoring chances.
The concern for West Coast in that game was they were beaten by the Magpies in the uncontested possession. Collingwood had 37 more uncontested ball (and more disposals overall) and the Eagles can't afford to let Collingwood control possession on the MCG. If they do, the likes of Sidebottom, Adams and Crisp will be largely influential. West Coast won't want to concede the number of inside-50's they did against Melbourne, but If they allow Collingwood to get on the outside, then West Coast may find themselves on the back foot.
Are West Coast still haunted by the MCG?
The Eagles got the points on their last start, but had to withstand a Carlton comeback, and had the game gone another five minutes, the result may have finished differently. That win and the two previous losses to Hawthorn have all been underwhelming performances, but this team has shown they can perform in the ground, with their win over Richmond mid-season last year. The key observation is that the wider expanses don’t suit the Eagles web defence, and that there is too much space for opposition sides to work into, compared with Subiaco.
Individually though, some players seem to be unable to perform on the premier ground of the AFL. Josh Kennedy has just three goals from his past three outings. Jack Darling had a day to forget in the Grand Final and although he has been better in two games this year, Darling couldn’t capitalise against the Blues two weeks ago, booting 0.5. Josh Hill has also only managed two goals in three games. Mark Le Cras failed to have an impact in the two games against the Hawks but was better against Carlton, being close to best on ground, before fading after half time. Chris Masten is another that was better against Carlton, but struggled in the two outings against Hawthorn.
Elliot Yeo is one that does seem to have shaken off the poor Grand Final. Yeo was solid against the Hawks in Round 2, and was one of the Eagles’ best against the Blues with 16 disposals and two goals.
How Important is Dom Sheed?
Sheed will be a very welcome inclusion to the Eagles midfield. Last year, Sheed was seventh at the club for contested possessions, fifth for inside-50’s and fifth for clearances. Sheed also averaged just under 20 disposals per game.
Sheed becomes the perfect foil for Priddis in the stoppages, and allows the likes of Luke Shuey and Chris Masten to play more on the outside. The Eagles have dropped from 1st in contested possessions and 3rd for clearances in 2015 to 7th and 11th respectively in 2016. The absence of Naitanui has changed the Eagles structure around the ball in the past five weeks, but Sheeds return also provides a bigger body around the contest and the ability to release others into space.
On paper, the Eagles should have too much quality across the lines for Collingwood, particularly with the injuries that are starting to mount up. However, the Magpies have shown that on their day, they can match it with any side, having accounted for the Giants in Sydney and Geelong earlier in the year.
On the flipside, the Eagles have been guilty of not putting in four-quarter performances, and if they are off, they could fall victim to an upset. If the Eagles can get enough ball forward, they should have too many options up forward for an inexperienced backline.
West Coast by 8.
West Coast’s only win against Collingwood at the MCG, came in Round 2, 1995. The Eagles trailed by 20 points at three-quarter time, but stormed home to win by four points. Guy McKenna played his 150th game and Peter Matera, his 100th.