Richmond and West Coast clash as two of the undefeated sides after the first couple of weeks of season 2017. The winner of this game will go 3-0 and the ramifications for both sides will be immense. For West Coast a third straight win will put them in good stead for a top four finish while the pressure will be lifted off Richmond coach Damien Hardwick if the Tigers can make it three straight to start the season.
The Eagles only get two games on the MCG in 2017, with the second outing in a fortnight’s time against the Hawks. West Coast will be keen to produce their best football on the ground where they hope to be on the final Saturday of September.
West Coast shook off a resolute St.Kilda to record a 19 point win in their first home game of the season. West Coast struggled to get the game in their forward half for much of the game, before experience and class saw them overrun the Saints in the final term.
Reigning club champion Luke Shuey produced a best on ground performance, while Andrew Gaff racked up 36 disposals for the second consecutive week. Josh Kennedy remains on top of the Coleman leaderboard despite being well held by Nathan Brown for much of the night. Kennedy burst into life with three goals in the final term to finish with four, while Josh Hill chipped in with three.
Richmond secured a second straight win over Collingwood, making it two from two for only the second time this century. While there are definite signs of promise for Richmond, neither Carlton or Collingwood were expected to push hard for the finals, and West Coast will give a truer indication of how much the Tigers have improved in 2017.
Dustin Martin has been the star player at Richmond, with a clear best-on-ground performance in Round 1, and then following up with important touches last week. The Tigers will be relieved that Martin won’t miss any time with a fractured cheekbone, and forms a dynamic one-two with captain Trent Cotchin who was instrumental in the victory over the Magpies.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Tigers clashed just once in 2016, with the Eagles winning comfortably by 68 points at Subiaco. The Eagles had 14 scoring shots in the opening quarter, and continued the domination throughout the night. Andrew Gaff was best on ground with 33 disposals, while Elliot Yeo played his best game of the year collecting 25 disposals and booting 2.4. Luke Shuey was also in the Eagles best kicking two goals from 22 possessions and seven clearances. Jack Darling was the major goalscorer for West Coast with four.
The Eagles also won the last meeting between the two sides at the MCG in 2015. It was a defining performance as West Coast reached the Grand Final, but is one of only two wins from the past six visits at the ground. Andrew Gaff was again best on ground with 31 disposals and three clearances while Josh Kennedy led the goalkickers with three. Dustin Martin was the best that night for Richmond with 31 possessions and three goals, but was well held in the loss to West Coast last season.
West Coast emerged from the Saints game unscathed, and as such have made just the one change. Lewis Jetta returns to the side after initially being withdrawn from the Saints game, only to then play limited minutes at East Perth. Jetta comes in for Sheed, who looked rusty at the top level and will enjoy a few more weeks at the Royals to improve his match sharpness.
Jack Darling holds his spot in the line-up, despite continuing to struggle to impact the game. Darling could face pressure from youngster Tom Lamb who has enjoyed a fruitful start at WAFL level, booting five goals against West Perth a fortnight ago, before being one of the best in the loss to Swan Districts last week. Darling though has a good record against the Tigers, averaging nearly three goals a game against Richmond – his 2nd best average in the competition, behind only Melbourne.
Richmond were forced into two changes with both Ben Griffiths (concussion) and Shane Edwards (hip) injured in the win over Collingwood. Richmond toyed with handing debuts to talls Mabior Chol or Ivan Soldo, but opted to bring in young players Todd Elton and Kamdyn McIntosh. Elton looks set to support Toby Nankervis in the ruck, although the former Swan is likely to do the majority of the rucking after a stellar start to the season.
Dustin Martin was the big question mark for the week, with doubts raised over whether he would take the field after suffering a hairline fracture in the cheekbone. Martin is a lock to play and could do so with a helmet to provided added protection.
The Talking Points
How do West Coast stop Dustin Martin?
Martin has been in scintillating form over the first two weeks, and has played a large part in Richmond starting their season with two wins. Martin has averaged 29 disposals, three goals, four clearances, five inside-50s and 14 contested possessions in the victories over Carlton and Collingwood and presents a unique match-up for most opposition sides in the AFL.
West Coast will maintain the faith in their zoning defence, but they can’t afford to have periods in the game where they allow it to be sliced up, as they did for patches against North Melbourne and St.Kilda. The Tigers have shown that they can move the ball fast into their forward line, and if Martin is one out, he will be incredibly damaging. The Tigers have had great success isolating Martin in the forward 50, and he will be hard to stop in any one-on-one situation.
If the Eagles do choose to go with a more direct match-up, one player who could be given the task is Jackson Nelson. Whilst Nelson wouldn’t be able to match Martin in the strength department, Nelson would certainly have the speed and the match committee has shown faith in the past with giving him run-with roles.
How much bearing does Rance vs Kennedy have?
If Dustin Martin is the barometer for Richmond, then Josh Kennedy must have a similar effect for West Coast. Kennedy has proven to be a major factor in the Eagles two wins in 2017. The reigning Coleman Medallist kicked 7.0 in a defining performance against North Melbourne, before bursting to life in the last quarter to help West Coast get over the line against St.Kilda. Kennedy was well held in the first three quarters by Nathan Brown, but a three goal purple patch in the final term was the impetus to give West Coast a hard fought win.
Kennedy is likely to spend time on two-time All Australian Alex Rance, considered one of the best tall defenders in the competition. Rance has had a slow start to 2017 but will no doubt relish the battle against one of the key forwards in the competition. Richmond will know that to beat West Coast, stopping Kennedy for four quarters will go a long way.
Should Sam Mitchell have made the trip?
There have been questions over whether Mitchell should play against the Tigers, with the Eagles short turnaround to next Thursdays clash with the Swans. The 34 year old will be new to the travel burden, but being only three weeks into the season, there is no reason why Mitchell shouldn’t play.
No Eagle has played on the MCG more than Mitchell and his experience of the ground can’t go undervalued, particularly as many of his new teammates have poor records at the home of football. Expect Mitchell to be rested against the Swans, before his homecoming in Round 5 to take on the Hawks.
Richmond are a bit of an unknown quantity two weeks into the season, and the Eagles record at the MCG isn’t great. The Tigers have greater midfield depth with the recent additions of Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy, while Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin have had strong starts to season 2017. The midfield battle could determine the outcome; if West Coast have enough of the ball forward of centre, they should have enough forward options to kick a winning score. The Tigers will give West Coast a shake though.
West Coast by 22.
EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast and Richmond have met three times in Round 3, with West Coast winning them all (1993 WC by 44pts, 1994 WC by 96pts, 2006 WC by 46pts).