The Eagles bounced back from a poor loss last week to claim the 44th Western Derby against Fremantle.
West Coast were challenged early, but eventually powered away against a young Dockers side, who tired through the second half. As the opposition dropped off, the Eagles were able to play some of the best footy they’ve played in a number of weeks, after half time.
Early on though, the Eagles weren’t getting it their own way. In front of their home crowd (albeit the lowest derby crowd since 1999), the Dockers were harder at the ball, and controlled much of their play in their forward half. Many of Fremantle’s early match-ups were also working in their favour.
Tom Sheridan was running a tight tag on Andrew Gaff, and bobbed up for two goals in the first half. Jack Darling failed to get into the game against Chris Mayne and Alex Silvagni, and Aaron Sandilands had the better in the early battle of the returning ruckmen.
The Dockers led at the first change in contested possessions and clearances and had five more inside-50’s. Only the Eagles efficiency going forward kept them in the contest, Josh Kennedy booting both of West Coast’s goals.
West Coast were lucky to only be six points down at the start of the 2nd quarter, as many of the factors that had plagued them in previous weeks were once again exposed by Fremantle. Shannon Hurn got the Eagles level after just one minute courtesy of a 50m penalty, but then Fremantle took control.
The Dockers booted two goals, but gettable misses from Pavlich and Mayne would prove costly. Further, Zac Clarke had a chance to toepoke home from the goal square, but a desperate Eagles defence denied him, and for all of Fremantle’s dominance, they held only a 15 point lead midway through the quarter.
West Coast then clicked into gear. The Eagles booted the final four goals of the half in quick succession, and took a nine point lead into the main break. Luke Shuey was the main driver, with the Eagles midfielder having a commanding quarter, to start a number of scoring chains.
Ballantyne kicked a goal inside 30 seconds of the restart, but Josh Kennedy then wrested the game from Fremantle’s grasp. Kennedy kicked the next three goals in 15 minutes, and West Coast continued to extend their lead as the quarter went on. Josh Hill booted his third and Mark Le Cras had his first, to get to a game high 36 points.
Matthew Pavlich nabbed one on the three quarter time siren, before a costly two goal turnaround early in the final term looked to bring Fremantle into the game. With Le Cras lining up for a set shot, Jackson Nelson got involved in an altercation off the ball, giving Fremantle possession. The Dockers made West Coast pay as Pavlich kicked truly to reduce the margin to 24 points.
But the Eagles were unperturbed, and as the Dockers players tired, the Eagles were able to stretch the final margin to 46 points. Jack Darling, who had just one possession at half time, finished with 18 in the game and a number of other Eagles showed the form that propelled the side to the 2015 Grand Final.
Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass were impenetrable down back collecting 13 marks between them, Luke Shuey finished with 23 disposals through the middle, and Jamie Cripps found space on the wings to gather 20 possessions and five inside-50’s.
The 2nd half had signs of the Eagles best footy, and with a tough finish to the season, the timing couldn’t be better for West Coast to find their best form.
Kennedy took out his first Ross Glendinning medal, with his best tally against the Dockers. Kennedy booted 7 goals, and could have finished with 10. Kennedy was particularly important during the first half as the Eagles main focal point, with Jack Darling failing to have an impact in the game. Kennedy took six marks inside-50 and was too much to handle for either Sam Collins or Alex Silvagni.
Priddis was his standard workmanlike through the middle, accumulating 33 possessions which included five clearances and six inside-50’s. Priddis also had three goal assists and was dragged the Eagles back into the game at the coalface, after Fremantle had the edge through the first half.
Masten has been one of a number of Eagles who have been unable to build on their 2015 season, but turned in his finest game of the season in the Derby. Masten recorded an equal season-high 33 disposals, and provided an effective link for many of the Eagles forward thrusts from their back half.
Edge of the Nest?
Mark Le Cras must still be testing the axe with another sub-standard performance. Le Cras’ numbers look handy enough, with 18 disposals and three goals, but many of these came during the last quarter when the game was safely in West Coast’s keeping. Early, when the game was still there to be won, Le Cras was less influential and had only a handful of possessions at half time. Le Cras also disposed of the ball at just 61% to be the fourth-worst for West Coast, and has been unable to transition into the midfield role that was expected of him.
Simon Tunbridge is another who may lose his spot with a 2nd quiet game since he returned to the senior line up. Although he had moments of creativity, and was able to boot a clever goal in the final quarter, Tunbridge went missing for large parts of the game, and missed several targets kicking inside the forward 50.
The Question Mark?
Is Tom Barrass ready for the next step?
Based on what he has shown this year, it seems as though he is. Barrass has pushed out the more experienced duo of Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown, and is forming a formidable partnership with Jeremy McGovern.
Both are intercept marking kings, which allows the Eagles to transition from defence quickly and catch out opposition defences who try to set up and lock West Coast in their defensive half. The Eagles were bullish on Barrass from the moment he was drafted and in just his third season at the club, Barrass is stamping himself as a long-term player for West Coast.
Barrass was pitted against Matthew Pavlich for much of the derby, and although Pavlich is in his golden years, Barrass held his own against the champion Docker. Barrass looks set to hold his spot and be a key plank in the Eagles finals campaign.
The Eagles will now stamp themselves as either premiership contenders or pretenders, with their tricky three week finish ahead of the finals, starting with the Giants at Blacktown. While the Eagles will know that many of the sides above them have easier runs to the finals, the fact they play sides around them on the ladder gives West Coast the chance to overtake those teams if they can win.
Match Details Sunday 7 August 2016
West Coast 2.2 7.5 12.7 17.8 (110)
Fremantle 3.2 5.6 7.7 9.10 (64)
Best: WC Kennedy, Priddis, Masten, McGovern, Barrass, Shuey, Cripps, Hurn
FRE Hill, D Pearce, Yarran, Neale, Sheridan
Goals: WC Kennedy 7, Le Cras, Hill 3, Gaff, Hurn, Naitanui, Tunbridge.
FRE Yarran, Pavlich, Sheridan 2, Walters, Apeness, Ballantyne.