The Eagles kept alive their slim top four hopes with a 25 point win over Hawthorn.
The win has come at a huge cost though, with the Eagles losing number one ruckman Nic Naitanui for the rest of the year. The big Fijian tore his anterior cruciate ligament, meaning that he is likely to miss the majority of 2017 as well, in what is a massive blow to West Coast’s premiership ambitions.
Josh Kennedy recouped some bragging rights over Hawks defender James Frawley to boot five goals as the Eagles best forward. Frawley had managed to hold the reins on Kennedy in their past two encounters, keeping the Eagle sprearhead scoreless in last year’s Grand Final, and just one goal in the other clash for 2016.
Matthew Priddis was industrious in the middle for West Coast with 29 disposals, that included eight clearances and 9 tackles. Priddis’ work on the inside was well complemented by Andrew Gaff on the outside, who had 38 possessions and Chris Masten who finished with 30.
The Eagles victory was set up by a fanatical attack on the Hawks that saw many senior players make uncharacteristic mistakes. Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge were two players guilty of basic turnovers, with the Hawks also squandering a number of chances in front of goal.
That said, the Eagles 25 point win was probably not a fair representation of a game that was firmly within their keeping form early in the match. The Eagles had the better of Hawthorn in most key areas, and also seemed to have learned from the prior two losses. The Eagles smashed the Hawks in contested possession, with 45 more and importantly was able to translate that into 12 more clearances and 13 marks inside-50.
The Eagles were dominant in the air as well, with 18 contested marks for the evening which prevented the Hawks from playing their style of football. Hawthorn were continually under pressure in the back half, and were unable to generate clear scoring chains for much of the game.
From the outset, the Eagles were clear with their plans. Mark Hutchings went straight to Sam Mitchell, and Jackson Nelson went to Cyril Rioli as West Coast looked to clamp down on the two players that have demoralised them in the previous two encounters. Sam Butler also went to Paul Puopolo, as the Eagles looked to restrict the Hawks small forwards.
The match-ups had the desired effect, as Mitchell and Rioli both struggled to get into the game. West Coast got the early break, as they controlled the contest in both the contested possession and clearances. Despite the hit-outs breaking even, West Coast won the clearances 14-5 in the opening quarter, and doubled the Hawks in contested possession, winning the count 45-22. This culminated in a 15-9 advantage in inside-50’s, with the Eagles booting five goals to two and take a 20 point lead at the first change.
Jack Darling booted the opening goal midway through the second quarter to make it five in a row for West Coast, before Paul Puopolo broke the drought for Hawthorn. The Eagles managed three more to stretch the lead to 38 points, although it could have been more for West Coast. Elliot Yeo squandered a golden opportunity when he had an open goal at his beckon. James Sicily scored a goal on the siren to bring the Hawks back to 32 points at the major break.
The Hawks started to come into the game through the third quarter, but the half-time lead would be too much. The Eagles continued to dominate the contested possession and clearance numbers, and the Hawks’ cause wasn’t helped when Jonathan Ceglar went down with a torn ACL. Minutes later, Naitanui went down in almost the same spot on the ground, but despite the setback, West Coast were able to finish the game off with late goals to Le Cras and Shuey.
The Hawks booted three goals to one in the final quarter but a run of consecutive behinds put paid to any final quarter comeback. Josh Kennedy kicked his fifth goal of the night, after a James Frawley fumble on the half-back line, which was symbolic of the two sides on the evening.
Priddis was ever reliable, and his inside work at the stoppages was a key factor in the Eagles being able to win the contested possession and set up their forward press. Priddis had 8 clearances and 9 tackles, to go with 29 disposals and was able to put the likes of Gaff and Masten into outside space. With Luke Shuey relatively well held through the night, Priddis provided much of the Eagles grunt on the night.
Gaff accumulated 38 disposals to lead all players on the night, and his ability to carry the ball across all areas of the ground was vital to the Eagles breaking the Hawk lines. Gaff had six inside-50’s and three rebound-50’s highlighting Gaff’s influence across the ground. Gaff has also been spending more time at the centre bounce in recent weeks, and had four clearances against the Hawks.
McGovern was impenetrable in defence halting a number of the Hawks forays forwards. McGovern finished with nine marks, five of which were intercept marks, as well as a number of spoils. McGovern’s ability to zone off McEvoy and Ceglar in defence meant that the Hawks lost confidence in actually kicking the ball into the forward line. His marking also prevented the likes of Rioli, Puopolo and Bruest from getting into the game.
Deserving of a mention due to the stopping role on Sam Mitchell. Mitchell has previously been a thorn in West Coast’s side, with the Eagles choosing not to man him up. However, the tactics well and truly changed, with Hutchings lining up alongside Mitchell from the outset. Mitchell finished with 22 disposals, his lowest tally against the Eagles since 2007. Importantly, Mitchell had only two touches in the first quarter, when the game was on the line, and even when he was switched to half-back, Mitchell was unable to wield his usual influence.
Edge of the Nest?
Josh Hill has had a quiet fortnight, with just four disposals against the Hawks, following a seven-possession display in the win against GWS. Hill has also been goalless in both of those games and laid just five tackles. Unlikely that Hill will lose his spot despite the low patch, with his forward pressure imperative to the Eagles defensive set-up.
Jackson Nelson may be the other that could find his way back out of the side, as he has yo-yoed throughout much of 2016. Nelson didn’t do too much wrong in Friday’s game with 11 disposals in a mostly defensive role. However, Jack Redden managed 18 disposals, 9 tackles and a goal in East Perth’s narrow loss to Claremont, and could come in as an experienced option coming into finals.
At East Perth, it was a mixed bag for many of the Eagle-listed players. Jamie Bennell showed some of his pre-season form, booting three goals from 17 disposals, while West Coast’s first draft pick from last year, Luke Partington topped the Royal’s disposal count with 30. Partington has been an interesting case through 2016, missing a number of weeks with a mystery injury, whilst also spending time in the Royals reserves.
Liam Duggan returned from a calf problem to have 20 disposals and a goal, and Tom Lamb had 18. Malcolm Karpany struggled to have an impact with just 11 possessions, as did Brandt Colledge. Eric Mackenzie was solid down back, but with Tom Barrass likely to be available, he will most likely stay in the WAFL. Mitch Brown is also destined to stay with East Perth, gathering just five possessions.
The Question Mark?
Where do the Eagles go now without Nic Naitanui?
The Eagles worst nightmare became a reality with a knee injury sidelining their most influential player for the rest of 2016, and most likely 2017 as well. Naitanui’s torn anterior cruciate ligament means that the Eagles match committee will need to determine their best ruck option on the eve of the finals.
During a six-week period earlier in the year when Naitanui was sidelined, the Eagles tried a number of options. Jon Giles, who was brought to the side for this situation, was tried in two separate games, but was unable to have an influence as either a ruckman or a forward. Jeremy McGovern was tried during the last quarter against Essendon, and also against Collingwood, but he appears to be too vital to the Eagles defensive structure to take out.
Fraser McInnes was given the game against Brisbane when both Naitanui and Lycett missed, but had just six hit-outs and was well beaten by Stefan Martin. Mitch Brown has been tried, but seems out of his depth, while there has also been discussion about whether Eric Mackenzie could be tried there. Jack Darling was given some time on the ruck in the last quarter against Hawthorn following Naitanui’s injury although it would be surprising to see him held in that role.
West Coast have one regular season game remaining, where they travel to Adelaide for a second consecutive Friday night clash. The scenario for West Coast seems relatively straight forward. A loss to Adelaide will relegate the Eagles to seventh, with the Bulldogs expected to account for Fremantle. This will mean an away elimination final against either the Bulldogs or GWS. The Bulldogs seems the most likely outcome, but if the Kangaroos can upset GWS, then the Bulldogs could leapfrog both West Coast and the Giants, sending the Eagles to Sydney.
A West Coast win against the Crows will probably result in a home elimination final unless the Giants and Hawks both lose. This scenario would squeeze the Eagles into the top four, but Hawthorn would be expected to take care of Collingwood, while Sydney and Geelong are both anticipated to win against Richmond and Melbourne, respectively. An Eagle win could see them get past the Crows, but it would have to be roughly around 105 points to counter the 13% difference that currently splits the two teams.
Match Details Friday 19 August 2016
West Coast 5.3 9.4 12.13 13.14 (92)
Hawthorn 2.1 4.2 7.2 10.7 (67)
Best: WC Priddis, Gaff, McGovern, Kennedy, Masten, Sheed, Shuey
HAW Lewis, Burgoyne, Hodge, Birchall, Whitecross
Goals: WC Kennedy 5, Darling 3, Le Cras 2, Yeo, Shuey, Jetta.
HAW Burgoyen, Sicily, Gunston 2, Bruest, Lewis, Puopolo, Whitecross.