The Eagles and Swans open the Easter weekend of football on Thursday night in Perth, with both sides looking to bounce back from disappointing losses. West Coast must negotiate a five day break to take on the Swans before games against Hawthorn and Fremantle, that could determine whether they could reach top four.
Sydney remain winless three weeks into the season and arrive in Perth looking to avoid a 0-4 start for the first time since 1993. The Swans have the Giants following West Coast, so the Swans are already running out of time to keep their finals hopes alive.
The Eagles dropped their first game in 2017 against a revitalised Richmond. The Eagles would have pencilled in a win against Richmond, and straighter kicking in the first half might have given West Coast a lead big enough before the wet weather kicked in. The Tigers held on in the 2nd quarter and ran over the Eagles in the final two terms.
Luke Shuey was the Eagles best in the midfield, while Andrew Gaff collected 30 plus disposals for a third consecutive week. Josh Kennedy and Mark LeCras were the only multiple goal scorers for the Eagles, with Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps and Josh Hill combining for just two goals between them. The Eagles would have hoped for more goals
Sydney are 0-3 but it could be the best performed 0-3 record in recent years. A first up shock loss to Port Adelaide in the wet, was followed by close losses to the Bulldogs and Collingwood, after Sydney held the lead during the final quarter in both games. Lance Franklin started the year in fine form, but was well held in his 250th game against the Magpies, failing to register a goal for just the sixth time in Swans colours.
Josh Kennedy has been the standout for the Swans in the opening three weeks, relishing the additional responsibility of the captaincy. Unfortunately for Kennedy, many of his senior teammates have been unable to match his standards, with coach John Longmire calling on his experienced group to lift.
The Recent History
The Swans have well and truly had the wood over West Coast in recent times, with 9 wins from the past 10 games. The Eagles only victory in that time was Round 17, 2015 when they triumphed by 53 points. That was the last time the two sides met at Subiaco, but the Swans have no fears about travelling west. Prior to the 2015 meeting, Sydney had defeated the Eagles in Perth on the previous five occasions.
West Coast and Sydney met just the once in 2016, with the Swans grinding out a 39 point win. The Eagles were held goalless in the final quarter as the Swans cramped West Coast on the smaller SCG. Ted Richards had a day out across half-back, while the core group of Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, Kieren Jack and Tom Mitchell all led the way with the ball. Lance Franklin booted a wasteful 2.5 opposed to Eric Mackenzie. For West Coast, Andrew Gaff was the most prolific with 32 touches and Matt Priddis relished the contest with 28 disposals, seven clearances and six tackles.
The Eagles made two changes to the side that lost, dropping midfielders Mark Hutchings and Lewis Jetta. Hutchings appears to be a casualty of a midfield group that already contains Matt Priddis, Sam Mitchell and Jack Redden. Liam Duggan makes his first appearance for 2017 after injuring a hamstring on the eve of the JLT series. Duggan has been good without being exceptional at WAFL level, but will inject some youth and pace.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Sam Butler also makes his first appearance of 2017 after a string of games with the Royals following a calf injury. Butler has been called in, potentially to match up against one of the Swans small forwards, and his inclusion may also allow Sharrod Wellingham or Elliot Yeo to move further up the ground. Jack Darling has been named despite struggling with an ankle injury all week. Kurt Mutimer was named as an emergency for the second time in three weeks, and if Darling can't get up, Mutimer would be a good chance to make his debut.
The injuries keep mounting for Sydney, although respite does appear to be coming in the next few weeks. Sam Naismith joins Kurt Tippett on the sidelines, and with youngster Darcy Cameron still working his way to full fitness in the NEAFL, the ruck duties will be solely left to former Eagle Callum Sinclair. Jordan Dawson is the other omission, dropped following his debut game, with Tom Papley and Harry Cunningham both coming in.
The Swans are still missing a host of top-line players, with the likes of Isaac Heeney, Dane Rampe, Jarrod McVeigh and Gary Rohan all unavailable. Lewis Melican was upgraded to the senior list, replacing Alex Johnson and has been named as an emergency. There will be keen eyes to see whether the rookie is a late inclusion.
The Talking Points
Are the Eagles too slow?
The Eagles have been criticised during the week after being exposed at ground level by a zippy Richmond side, particularly in the forward half. Pace through the midfield remains a weakness for West Coast, an area they tried to resolve by bringing in Lewis Jetta for Dom Sheed against the Tigers.
Jetta’s impact against Richmond was minimal resulting in him being dropped, and Mark Hutchings has also lost his place. Hutchings appears to be a casualty from a midfield that already contained Priddis and Mitchell, with Dom Sheed also unable to break back into the side.
There have also been concerns raised over the selection of two ruckmen. Giles and Vardy lack the mobility of the Eagles first choice duo of Naitanui and Lycett, and failed to have an impact against the pacy Tigers at the MCG. With recent changes to the ruck rules, many clubs are taking alternative measures, leading some commentators to question the future of the ruckman.
The Eagles were shown up against the Tigers, and failed to contain the Saints for large portions of the game. While the Swans won’t be in the same category as those two teams, the Eagles will continue to face questions over their lack of pace.
Can West Coast handle a five-day break?
The Eagles have the added task coming into this Thursday night’s game with having to recover from a trip to Melbourne in only five days. The game against Richmond became a taxing affair after half-time as the rain sets in, and there will be interest in how the Eagles recuperate for the Swans.
Midfielder Luke Shuey stated during the week that the recovery was more mental than physical, and that the Eagles would get themselves ready for the Swans clash. A factor that may help West Coast is the timing of the short turnaround so early in the season. West Coast have played three home and away games following three JLT series matches. In that time, the Eagles have only travelled three times, although most senior players were spared the first trip to regional NSW.
The Swans back up following a match on Friday night, so have only had the benefit of an additional 12 hours recovery, so both teams should come into the game on similar preparations.
Is contested possession a problem for West Coast?
The Eagles are the worst contested possession team after three weeks of the season, and will face a further test against one of the best in the competition. Two years ago, the Eagles were the number one in contested possession as they reached the Grand Final.
The Eagles though are playing a different game, primarily due to the absence of Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett. West Coast are building their game from the back half, and adopting the trend of the game with a full-player zone. Whilst the Eagles are down on contested possessions, the Eagles are third for total disposals and second for uncontested possessions.
The Eagles are also the second highest marking team in the competition, which indicates that West Coast are holding the ball for longer periods of the game, and with the ball spending less time in dispute, there are less contests to compete for the ball.
The Swans will no doubt come out desperate to record their first win of the season, but will have to continue to put their faith in their young players. Sydney have a strong recent record against West Coast, with their big-bodied midfielders tending to be too much for West Coast. The game though is moving away from contested possession which will suit West Coast – who are the worst contested possession side in the competition after three weeks – at home.
The Eagles will be stung by the loss against Richmond and should have too many options at either end of the ground for Sydney. If West Coast want to be considered serious contenders for the flag, this isn’t a game they can afford to drop. Sydney though will give them a good a shake.
West Coast by 8.
EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast will play their first game off a five day break since Rounds 11 & 12 1993. (@WCE_History)