The Eagles shook off a plucky North Melbourne to record a 43 point win in the opening round of the 2017 AFL season. Josh Kennedy and Mark Le Cras led the way up forward for the victors, while Sam Mitchell collected 38 disposals in his debut with the club.
The Kangaroos were left to rue a number of missed opportunities, particularly in the opening half. While Josh Kennedy finished with 7.0 for West Coast, at the other end Jarrad Waite returned a wayward 1.7 and Lindsay Thomas also missed two simple set shots at goal.
North Melbourne were also wasteful heading inside 50, consistently turning the ball over either with the Eagles defenders taking 23 intercept marks.
The Eagles started slowly, with the Kangaroos booting the opening two goals inside as many minutes. The makeshift ruck combination of Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie both struggled to contain Todd Goldstein as the North Melbourne midfielders got the early centre advantage.
West Coast started to structure better defensively and got their running game going from half-back. Three goals in seven minutes had West Coast in front, before the momentum in the quarter swung back to the home side.
The Kangaroos camped the ball inside their forward 50, recording 10 consecutive inside-50’s but couldn’t capitalise on their chances. Five behinds in a row drew the Kangaroos within three points before Kayne Turner finally broke the drought and gave North Melbourne back the lead. A snap moments later from new captain Jack Ziebell after some defensive mix-ups saw North Melbourne hold a nine point lead at the first break.
But for accurate kicking and better ball use, the lead could have blown out so much further. The Eagles were riding their luck and battling early injury problems. Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy both spent time on the bench with the medicos, leaving Jack Darling to contest the centre bounce at one stage. Jeremy McGovern was crunched on the quarter time siren and also needed attention, but all three would return to the game.
The Eagles got the early break in the second quarter. Mark Le Cras booted three goals in a purple patch as West Coast built a ten point lead. Lewis Jetta also got on the board as the Eagles started to gain an ascendency at the stoppages. West Coast were still losing the hit-outs badly, but had stemmed the Kangaroos advantage. Adam Simpson was utilising a man off the back of the centre square, which created plenty of drive for West Coast.
The Eagles threatened to break away for much of the term, but couldn’t land the decisive blow. The Kangaroos held touch, and a second goal for Kayne Turner in the final minute reduced the Eagles lead to one straight kick at the main change.
Sam Mitchell had 22 disposals in the opening half and was well supported by Jack Redden and Elliot Yeo who was getting plenty of the ball at half-back. Jack Ziebell and Andrew Swallow had 17 each for North Melbourne and Ben Brown was providing plenty of headaches up forward. The Eagles decision to go with only two tall defenders was finding them caught short on occasions as the Kangaroos rotated Brown, Waite, Todd Goldstein and debutant Braydon Preuss through the front half.
Like the 2nd quarter, the Eagles got the early momentum and were able to make it count. The Eagles booted five of the first six goals to take the lead out to 29 points Todd Goldstein converted for North Melbourne, before Lindsay Thomas missed a set shot that would have reduced the margin to 17 points.
West Coast punished the miss with Kennedy booting his third goal for the quarter, and Elliot Yeo his second as the lead reached a game high 34 points. West Coast had booted seven straight goals for the term highlighting their efficiency on goal.
As they had done just before half-time, the Kangaroos pulled one back in the dying seconds through Nathan Hrovat but it was left to a former North Melbourne legend to decide the contest. The Kangaroos again missed shots, starting the final quarter with three behinds including a sitter to Jarrad Waite from just outside the goal square. Moments later, Drew Petrie earned a free kick and goaled from 50, to a surprisingly warm reception from Kangaroo fans.
It capped a mix day for Petrie. It was later revealed that Petrie had fractured his hand in the second minute of the game, but played out the game despite being hampered.
The spirit of the Kangaroos was broken and the Eagles finished with all of the running. Four of the final six goals saw the final margin reach 43 points and an important first up win on the road for a side that have top four aspirations in mind.
Mitchell finished as the leading ball-getter on the ground, with Andrew Gaff collecting 36 and Luke Shuey having a much more productive second half to end with 31. Elliot Yeo showed he could be taking the next step with 26 possessions and two goals off half-back, and was influential during the third quarter as the Eagles made their move. Jack Redden was also impressive through the middle and Kennedy and Le Cras combined for 11 goals up forward.
Jack Ziebell led his side with 31 possessions and a goal and Trent Dumont and Luke McDonald were impressive, but too many of the Kangaroo youngsters seemed overawed by the pace of the top level football.
The Eagles were slow to get going but finished with all of the running and take good momentum into their first home game of the season against the Saints.
Match Details Sunday March 27 2017
West Coast 3.3 9.8 16.8 21.10 (136)
North Melbourne 4.6 8.8 11.10 13.15 (93)
Docklands Attendance: 21,997
Goals: WC Kennedy 7, LeCras 4, Cripps 3, Yeo, Darling 2, Hill, Jetta, Petrie.
NTH Goldstein 3, Brown, Turner 2, Waite, Atley, Hrovat, Preuss, Tarrant, Ziebell
EAGLE EYE VOTES
5 Sam Mitchell
4 Josh Kennedy
3 Elliot Yeo
2 Andrew Gaff
1 Luke Shuey
East Perth fell to West Perth by 21 points, with the Falcons pulling away in the final term after the contest was a tight affair for three quarters. With Drew Petrie confirmed as needing surgery to repair a fractured hand, the last available ruckman on the Eagles list, Jonothan Giles was withdrawn prior the match. Giles will be an automatic inclusion to partner Nathan Vardy against the Saints.
In promising signs for the Eagles, many of their fringe players performed well despite the loss. Tom Lamb was the standout with 23 disposals, 8 marks and five goals. The third-year Eagle has yet to add to his debut game from Round 1 2015, but could force his way through with consistent early season performances. Conversely, Jack Darling continued his struggle from the JLT series with just seven disposals and two goals against the Kangaroos.
The top four ball-getters for East Perth were all Eagle-listed players in promising signs for West Coast’s depth. Luke Partington led the way with 35, with Kurt Mutimer (30), Malcolm Karpany (27) and rookie Francis Watson (26) all influential. Watson followed up a first round standout performance with another solid display in defence and is in the Eagles selectors minds for a senior upgrade.
Liam Duggan had an improved second half to end with 24 possessions and Dom Sheed and Sam Butler both had successful games as they work their way back from calf strains. Sheed may have done enough to earn a recall for the Saints, potentially at the expense of Mark Hutchings who appears to have been edged out of the midfield by the likes of Mitchell and Redden.
Tom Barrass was solid down back, but may have to bide his time in the WAFL for a little longer depending on the make up of the Saints forward line. With Nick Riewoldt injuring a knee and unlikely to make the trip west, and Paddy McCartin a late withdrawal in St.Kilda’s loss to Melbourne, the Saints may opt for a smaller forward line on the longer Subiaco Oval.