West Coast made it consecutive preliminary finals against the Crows, when they disposed of the Bulldogs in the first semi-final.
In a reverse of the 2005 meeting in the penultimate week of the finals series, the Crows will hold the home-ground advantage as they compete for a place in the 2006 decider.
The Eagles put on a defensive masterclass, restricting the Bulldogs to just five goals for the night as they romped to a 74 point win. The Eagles orchestrated their own version of the flood to halt the fleet footed Bulldogs, with the visiting team held goalless for nearly two quarters.
At the other end, Quinten Lynch booted six goals and Adam Hunter switched forward to finish with four as the Eagles booked a rematch with Adelaide and consigned the Bulldogs to the 2006 scrapheap.
Following their last-gasp loss to the Swans in the opening week, the Eagles welcomed back a host of stars for their contest against the Bulldogs.
Daniel Kerr, Andrew Embley and Ashley Hansen all returned from injury, while Mark Seaby was also included after being omitted for the Swans clash. The Eagles looked a far better side, particularly through the middle as they overwhelmed the Bulldogs in all areas.
The Eagles were too strong through the middle, with Dean Cox and Mark Seaby winning the hit-outs against Peter Street, as well as dominating the clearances with the likes of Cousins, Judd, Fletcher and Butler all prominent.
The return of important players meant a couple of tough omissions at the selection table. Jaymie Graham was omitted after playing all of the Eagles 23 games thus far in 2006, with no obvious match-up in defence against the smaller Bulldogs side.
Brent Staker was the other player left out who could feel a little hard done by, missing his first game since Round 6 2005. Ash Hansen’s return pushed Staker out following a poor fortnight that reaped just five disposals and one goal. Steven Armstrong was preferred to Mark Le Cras who was a non-factor against the Swans, with veteran Drew Banfield also left out for the running Brett Jones.
The Bulldogs arrived in Perth on the back of a thumping win over Collingwood in their elimination final, and reason to feel optimistic. The Bulldogs had upset the Eagles by 9 points at Subiaco earlier in the season, and were celebrating Rohan Smith and Scott West who were both playing their 300th games.
The first quarter was a tightly fought affair. Adam Hunter signalled his intentions for the night when he ran forward off Chris Grant to kick the opening goal of the night. Hunter then turned villain when he gave away a free kick against Grant in the goal square for the Bulldogs first.
A Bulldogs turnover gave Lynch his first before Hansen also hit the scoreboard. Brad Johnson then stamped his mark on the game. Johnson was the Bulldogs main focal point, having booted 70 goals for the year coming into the semi-final, and the Eagles put their best defender in Darren Glass on him to start the game.
Johnson proved too elusive early, booting a brace of goals either side of Hunter’s second goal of the quarter. The Eagles had controlled much of the play but led by just five points at the first change.
Lynch booted his second goal early in the second term, but the Bulldogs were sticking with the home side. Brad Johnson had his third late in the term, before the Eagles finally broke loose. Three goals in as many minutes gave West Coast a 25-point lead at half-time. Chris Judd booted the first after Rowan Jones outmarked two Dogs players in the middle, releasing Judd to kick truly from 50m.
Ben Cousins found Lynch from the next centre clearance, before Lynch booted his fourth for the half a short while later following a Bulldog turnover at half-back. For the visitors, turnovers were a common thread during the first half. The Bulldogs were overwhelmed by the Eagles pressure and constantly missed targets, particularly from their back half.
In the earlier meeting, the Bulldogs were able to punish West Coast by absorbing the Eagles press and countering on the break. West Coast had learned from this meeting, ensuring that they kept pressure on the Bulldogs who consistently turned the ball over. The Eagles also had control of the stoppages led by Judd and Kerr who both had 15 first-half disposals, and as a result were
The third term became a grind, as both teams struggled to kick a major. It took until the final minute of the quarter for Hunter to step up with a contested mark in the goal square to boot the only goal of the term, and give West Coast a 33 point lead turning for home.
The Bulldogs lacked any functionality going forward, particularly with Adam Selwood moved onto Johnson after quarter time. Adam Cooney had 7 turnovers from his 15 possessions and Chris Grant was well beaten by Hunter. Brett Montgomery had just five touches and Lindsay Gilbee’s run was well held at half-back.
The final quarter became a party for West Coast as the young Bulldogs tired. Andrew Embley and Ben Cousins both goaled in the opening minutes of the re-start, with the latter an excellent running exchange of handballs between the former captain and Kerr from the centre bounce.
Matthew Robbins finally broke the deadlock for the Bulldogs which had stretched to almost a half of football, after receiving a free kick opposed to Daniel Chick. It was just his third kick of the night, with Chick playing an excellent shutdown role on the goal sneak.
Beau Waters kicked a running goal moments later, before Hunter registered truly when Waters found him from the centre clearance. Lynch booted two more goals to take his tally to six for the game, with Cox kicking the final goal of the night as West Coast galloped to victory.
Sam Butler collected 21 disposals through the second half to finish with a career high 30 ahead of Embley who had 29 on his return. Daniel Kerr also had 29 resuming from injury, while Ashley Hansen was a strong option up forward. Hansen had 17 disposals and 11 marks and his long leading gave West Coast a viable option out of defence, allowing Lynch to play deeper.
The Eagles finished the game with over 100 more disposals and a whopping 37 more inside-50’s. Scott West was at his usual standard to lead the Bulldogs with 29 disposals. Farren Ray, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Cross were the next best with 18, as too much was left to too few.
The only downside for West Coast was a hamstring injury to David Wirrpanda, preventing him from taking the field after half-time.
In the other semi-final, the Dockers made it a double for WA, outlasting the Demons in the final quarter, winning by 28 points. The elimination of Melbourne and the Bulldogs meant the last hopes for Victoria were gone leaving Fremantle to play the Swans in Sydney, with West Coast heading to Adelaide.
Despite the potential loss of Wirrpanda, the Eagles had plenty of reason to feel confident, with the successful return of so many of their important players. The Eagles had also beaten Adelaide in five of their previous six encounters, twice at Football Park, including an 82 point win in Round 17.
For Worsfold, the win was an impressive bounce back from the previous weeks one point defeat. “I feel very proud of our players, the way they played, and very proud of the coaches they way they prepared the players to play – and they did the job.”
Match Details Saturday 16 September 2006
West Coast 4.3 8.7 9.12 16.17 (113)
W.Bulldogs 3.4 4.6 4.9 5.9 (39)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 43,219
Best: WC Kerr, Lynch, Judd, Hunter, Butler, Hansen, Cousins, A Selwood, Waters
WB West, B Johnson, Ray, Morris, Cross
Goals: WC Lynch 6, Hunter 4, Hansen, Judd, Embley, Cousins, Waters, Cox.
WB Johnson 3, Grant, Robbins.