The Eagles and Saints meet in the Eagles opening home game of 2017. West Coast have the chance to go 2-0 ahead of a tough trio of games where they face the undefeated Tigers, the Swans off a five-day break and the Hawks. St.Kilda were one of the pre-season favourites to rise into the finals, but only one team in the past 10 years (Sydney 2014) has finished in the top eight after dropping their opening two games.
The Eagles got their season off to a winning start with a 43 point win over North Melbourne at the Docklands. Whilst the game was a scrap early, West Coast were able to get the game on their terms and draw away from the inexperienced Kangaroos through the second half.
Josh Kennedy booted seven goals straight to continue his recent love affair with Round 1, following on from eight against the Lions in the opening round of 2016. Kennedy also equalled his best haul at Docklands, matching the seven he kicked in the opening round of 2012 against the Bulldogs.
Sam Mitchell had an immediate impact collecting 38 disposals on debut – the most ever by a player in their first game as an Eagle. He was well supported in the midfield by Andrew Gaff (36 disposals), Luke Shuey (31) and Matthew Priddis (29). The Eagles were beaten at the hit-outs and the stoppages but ultimately had too much control around the ball, smashing the Kangaroos in uncontested possession.
The Saints opened their season with a loss against Melbourne, after starting in blistering fashion. St.Kilda booted seven of the opening ten goals in the game to lead by 24 points early in the second quarter, before the Demons went on a rampage booting the next ten goals in the game. Melbourne overturned the early deficit to lead by 8 points at half-time and continued on their way to record a comfortable 30 point win.
Jack Steven was the chief ball-winner for the Saints with 27 and former Giant Jack Steele had 23, but the Saints midfield were well beaten by their Demon counterparts. Nick Riewoldt booted four but finished the game in the medical room with what was later diagnosed as a hyper-extension. Initially it looked like the worst outcome for the Saints veteran, but AFL fans would breathe a sigh of relief that Riewoldt didn’t have his career prematurely ended.
The Recent History
The Eagles well and truly took the points in the last meeting, smashing the Saints by 103 points. On a fine afternoon, St.Kilda could manage just three goals as the Eagles won in all areas of the ground. Mark Le Cras finished with six goals and Josh Kennedy finished booted five, all in the opening quarter. The 103 point win in the last meeting came after a 95 point win in the clash between the two sides in the last week of 2015.
Andrew Gaff has enjoyed the last three games against the Saints, averaging 35 disposals across those three games, collecting Brownlow votes in the past two meetings. Matt Priddis has also received the umpires recognition in the past two matches against the Saints, with five votes from two games where he has had a combined 63 possessions, 20 tackles and 18 clearances.
Leigh Montagna was the best for the Saints in the last clash, collecting 33 disposals, while Seb Ross had 31 and Jack Steven 29. Steven has enjoyed games against West Coast with tallies of 29, 25, 37 and 26 in the last four meetings.
The win for West Coast was the seventh in succession against the Saints and also continued a poor record for St.Kilda at Subiaco Oval. The Saints haven’t won against the Eagles in Perth since the start of the decade when the Saints were on their way to the Grand Final and the Eagles were destined for the wooden spoon. Only three Saints named for this weeks clash were there the last time St.Kilda defeated the Eagles – Sam Gilbert, Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven.
Both sides were forced into changes from their Round 1 sides, with injuries hitting important players in each sides’ structure. Drew Petrie battled through his debut game with the club after breaking his hand in the opening minutes, and will miss the next ten weeks after requiring surgery.
Jonothan Giles is the automatic inclusion as the last recognised ruckman left in the squad, along with Nathan Vardy. Giles comes in off his own limited pre-season having broken a thumb and missing the entire JLT series. Giles was withdrawn from East Perth last week following news of Petrie’s injury so will be operating off little match fitness supporting Nathan Vardy.
The Eagles were also forced to leave out Eric Mackenzie who pulled up sore from the win over North Melbourne and Lewis Jetta who is listed who strained a glute at training during the week. Jetta struggled to replicate his form from the JLT series, while the timing is poor for Mackenzie who had done enough to earn his place ahead of Tom Barrass. Barrass fills in for Mackenzie in the backline, while Sheed replaces Jetta.
The Saints have lost two of their stalwarts, with Nick Riewoldt missing from his knee injury sustained against Melbourne, while David Armitage also couldn’t be selected with a groin injury that is likely to keep him out for a fortnight. Nathan Wright was omitted.
The Saints though have brought back three handy players in Paddy McCartin (who was a late withdrawal last week), veteran Leigh Montagna and Blake Acres. McCartin will become vital for the Saints as a direct replacement for Nick Riewoldt, and forms part of a tall forward line that could trouble West Coast, alongside Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce.
The Talking Points
How desperate are the ruck stocks getting for West Coast?
West Coast find themselves down to the final two ruckmen on their senior list following the hand injury suffered by Drew Petrie against the Kangaroos. Nathan Vardy impressed in his first outing and will partner Jonothan Giles for the first time against the Saints. The Eagles have been forced to get creative in the ruck division, with both Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time. Even Vardy himself is not a bona fide ruckman but will be expected to lead the ruck in the coming games.
Vardy has had a history or breaking down and the Eagles will be hopeful that the pre-season he has just completed will get Vardy through the season. Fortunately for West Coast, only the improving Nankervis at Richmond and the dominant Sandilands at Fremantle could pose significant issues for their depleted ruck stocks ahead of Lycett’s potential return.
Will Eric Mackenzie struggle to force his way back in?
Mackenzie misses the Saints clash after pulling up sore from the Kangaroos clash. The timing isn’t ideal for Mackenzie after earning his way into the side with a solid JLT series. Tom Barrass was preferred ahead of Mackenzie for much of 2016 and was called up as Mackenzie’s replacement. Mackenzie though would have done enough to keep his name in front of the selectors minds, and fellow defender Sharrod Wellingham noted that the defensive group could be determined on a horses-for-courses basis.
Mackenzie differs from Barrass in being a traditional lock-down defender, while Barrrass represents the modern interceptor, so the nature of the opposition forward line could have a major impact on who gets picked week to week. It is conceivable to think that all of McGovern, Barrass and Mackenzie could all play in one side, but having these three (plus Will Schofield) available will give the match committee the ability to mix and match the right defensive unit based on the opposition.
Could this year be the making of Elliot Yeo?
Elliot Yeo has teased the Eagle fans with the type of player he could become across his first three seasons at the club, but if his performance against the Kangaroos is any indication, his true potential is about to be realised. Yeo gathered 26 disposals (including 14 contested) and had five clearances, five inside-50s and booted two goals to be one of the most damaging players on the ground.
Initially brought across as a high half-forward/midfielder, Yeo has been used at half-back through the JLT series and at times again in Round 1, with great effect. Eagle fans though would be rightfully wary to not get too excited with Yeo’s first up display. These kind of games have been delivered before but are often few and far between.
The 23 year old, 85-gamer is approaching the peak of his athletic prowess and the ability of Yeo to translate similar performances to the one dished up against the Kangaroos into a consistent output, could have a large bearing on how West Coast go this year.
The Eagles always enjoy playing at home and will be buoyed by the first up win away. The Saints though will be keen to atone for a poor second half performance and despite losing two key players in Nick Riewoldt and David Armitage, could definitely give the Eagles a shake. Even though the past two visits have resulted in two thrashings, the zippy St.Kilda line up could enjoy the expanses of Subiaco Oval and this game could be a lot closer than people predict.
Ultimately, West Coast may just have too much experience and class across the board, and should get the job done up forward.
West Coast by 14.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Josh Kennedy’s effort to boot five goals in a quarter the last time these two teams met, was the fourth instance an Eagle had done so against St.Kilda. The others were Troy Ugle (1990, R15), Brett Heady (1991, R15) and Ben Cousins (1996, R12) @WCE_History