West Coast announced themselves as a contender for the flag, with a 29 point win over the Crows in Adelaide.
The Eagles win threatened to re-shape the finals, but with the required results not going their way, West Coast held their spot in sixth spot, ensuring a home elimination final.
The Eagles had shown signs of their 2015 defence and it was taken to another level in a finals-like game. Jon Giles surprisingly started in the centre, and with the Crows missing Rory Sloane in the middle, it didn’t take long for the Eagles to take the ascendancy in the middle.
West Coast were harder and stronger at the contested ball, but also had too much outside run. The inside work of Priddis and Shuey was providing plenty of ball for the likes of Gaff, Masten and Sheed, and Josh Kennedy was reaping the rewards up forward.
Kennedy booted five goals and was too much to handle for Daniel Talia and then Kyle Hartigan. At the other end, the Crows were unable to get any space in their forward line as Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass intercepted many of the Crows thrusts forward. The Eagles held a better structure down back, ensuring that there was always a player deep, preventing the Crows from goaling ‘out the back’.
The first two quarters ran a similar line, with the Eagles starting the stronger, before Adelaide pulled them back. Lewis Jetta hand a hand in the opening two goals to Kennedy and Cripps, but for all of the Eagles dominance, they managed just a one point lead at the first change, with Mitch McGovern and Rory Atkins each goaling for Adelaide.
Again, the Eagles came out with all of the momentum in the second quarter, as Jetta swooped on a loose ball to goal in the opening 20 seconds. Josh Hill goaled a minute later, before a brace to Josh Kennedy had the Eagles lead out to 26 points. The lead could have been more, if Jack Darling had been able to capitalise on some simple chances.
Jake Lever fumbled a simple pass back, and Darling pounced, only 25 metres from goal, only to miss his dribbled shot home. That was soon followed by a straight forward set shot that was missed, after also missing one from dead in front in the opening quarter. Lever’s missed mark was symbolic of the Crows early who looked nervous, and constantly missed targets by hand and foot.
For all of the Eagles efforts though, the Crows got their game going, and with four of the final five goals of the half, the lead was reduced to just 11 points.
After the major break, it was the Crows turn to control the play. With a home crowd roaring behind them, Adelaide piled pressure on a desperate Eagles defence, peppering the goals. However, for all of their play, Adelaide could only manage three behinds, before West Coast made them pay on the rebound.
Jack Darling booted his fourth behind for the evening from directly in front, before finally registering a goal after a strong mark. Adelaide continued to push the ball forward, but missed golden chances through Taylor Walker and Jarrod Lyons before the Eagles swung the momentum of the game, once again.
When Josh Kennedy’s fourth goal of the evening sailed through on the three-quarter time siren, West Coast had booted four goals in the last 15 minutes to stretch the lead to an unassailable 37 points.
Adelaide reduced the margin on the scoreboard in the final quarter, but never looked to be at the same level of West Coast, who were clearly up for the contest more than the Crows. With a run of finals-like games to finish the season, West Coast looked more adept to the contest, with Adelaide entering the game on the back of soft wins against Brisbane, Essendon and Fremantle.
The West Coast midfielders were simply outstanding, as they took care of the contested and uncontested possession, and while they were slightly beaten in the clearances, they were too good for an inexperienced Adelaide group.
West Coast were also able to strangle much of the Crows run, who start many of their scoring runs from the back half. With Brodie Smith sidelined, Rory Laird was shut down, and the Eagles defence prevented Adelaide from their usual quick movement of the ball. Throughout the night, the Crows were held up and forced to send the ball down the line, allowing the Eagles to pick off their passes and rebound the other way.
It was a coaching win for Adam Simpson against his former assistant, and many of the Eagle playmakers stepped up. Conversely, the Crows were unable to get enough from their important players, with the likes of Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins, Sam Jacobs, Tom Lynch and Taylor Walker all struggling to have an impact.
For many of the experts, the top five teams were the only realistic chances for the premiership, but West Coast’s win in Adelaide has surely made it a genuine six-team race for the flag.
Surely will secure the final rising star nomination for 2016, with easily his best game of his short career. In just his 12th AFL game, Barrass had 17 disposals and 10 marks – six of which were intercepts, and with Jeremy McGovern was a constant barrier to the Crows forward thrusts. Switched his time between Josh Jenkins and Taylor Walker, and both forwards had little impact on the game.
Gaff followed up his 38 disposals with a career high 41 against the Crows and was everywhere. Gaff had seven clearances as well as two rebound 50’s and three inside-50’s. Gaff continually provided the link around the ground and appears to back to his best following a dip during the middle of the year.
Much was made about what the ruck strategy would be following the injury to Nic Naitanui. Giles had been unimpressive in his first two outings with the club, but was outstanding when it mattered most. With Lycett being managed through a knee injury, Giles took the opening bounce and was the dominant big man on the ground, particularly in the first half. Giles finished with 15 disposals, 4 marks, 29 hit-outs and a goal, and completely diluted Sam Jacobs’ influence.
Shuey was queit against the Hawks, but bounced back in fine form against Adelaide. Shuey had 31 disposals and provided much of the impetus forward of centre, with six inside-50’s. Shuey was also strong around the contest laying 8 tackles but his ability break the lines was vital in West Coast being able to control the contest from their forward half.
Edge of the Nest?
Josh Hill had another quiet game, with just eight disposals and a goal against the Crows. Hill is never usually a huge accumulator of possessions, but seems to be all lost at sea in the past few weeks, with little desire for the contest. Generally, Hill’s biggest contribution is his manic forward pressure, but in the win over the Crows, he didn’t even register a tackle.
Elliot Yeo has had an inconsistent year at best, and was rarely seen against Adelaide. Yeo has spent more time in recent weeks as a forward than in the midfield, but could only manage eight disposals for the night, with several of these coming in the final minutes when West Coast were winding down the clock.
East Perth had a win over East Fremantle to replace the Sharks in the top five and qualify for finals. Luke Partington was the star for East Perth, gathering 30 disposals, to cap off a solid couple of weeks. Jackson Nelson was one of the best afield with 24 touches and could potentially push for a recall. The Eagles’ next opponents, the Bulldogs, generally have a smaller forward line, and Nelson could be seen as a better match-up in defence. Kurt Mutimer was another to get plenty of the ball, finishing with 25 possessions.
Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown were again strong in defence for the Royals, while Tom Cole provided plenty of run, despite going off during the second quarter with a leg injury. Fraser McInnes returned to the Royals line-up but struggled to have an influence, and finished the game reported for a high bump. Liam Duggan also failed to have an impact, registering just 12 touches.
The Question Mark?
Can the Eagles have an impact in the finals?
The Eagles did what they needed to do, winning against the Crows, but unfortunately for them, results didn’t go their way for the rest of the weekend. West Coast needed the Hawks and Giants to both lose to squeeze into the top four, but both sides won, keeping the Eagles in sixth position.
The Eagles will start their finals campaign at home against the Bulldogs, but if they can avoid elimination in the first week, but from there will need to travel in the final three weeks if they are to make it all the way to the Grand Final again.
Despite having to come from sixth, the Eagles enter the finals as one of the form teams of the competition. 9 wins from their past 10 games, and the final three against fellow finals combatants GWS, Hawthorn and Adelaide, has the Eagles full of confidence. The most encouraging aspect for West Coast is that the manic pressure and the web defence of 2015 seems to be back.
The Eagles play the Bulldogs in the 2nd Elimination Final, which is expected to be on the opening Thursday of the finals series. It is all knock-out from here, so the Eagles have no more slip-ups left if they are to match the efforts of last year, and potentially go one better.
If they get past the Bulldogs, a semi-final at the MCG against the loser of the Geelong-Hawthorn Qualifying Final awaits, with a trip to Sydney the week after against either the Giants or Swans.
Match Details Friday 26 August 2016
West Coast 2.4 7.9 12.12 14.16 (100)
Adelaide 2.3 6.4 6.11 10.11 (71)
Best: WC Barrass, Shuey, Gaff, Kennedy, Giles, Priddis, Sheed, Wellingham, McGovern
ADE M Crouch, Laird, Henderson, Lyons, Mackay
Goals: WC Kennedy 5, Darling, Le Cras 2, Giles, Hutchings, Jetta, Cripps, Hill.
ADE Douglas, Ellis-Yeoman 2, McGovern, Atkins, Betts, B Crouch, Jacobs, Jenkins.