West Coast overcame a five day turnaround and a host of minor injuries to score a 26 point victory over Sydney.
Sharrod Wellingham, Sam Mitchell and Andrew Gaff all received knocks during the game, but the Eagles finished the stronger of the two teams to make it three wins from their opening four matches.
Sydney weren’t spared either during the bruising encounter, with Kieran Jack finishing the game on the sidelines, alongside Lance Franklin, once the result had been decided. Franklin played out the game after receiving a heavy front-on hit from Eagles captain Shannon Hurn in the opening minutes, which set the tone for the rest of the night. Franklin spent several minutes on his haunches after the clash, and struggled to cover the length of the ground as the game wore on.
The Swans finals hopes were already in danger after a month of the 2017 season, and they started the game the stronger of the two sides, dominating early forward play.
The Eagles entered Round 4 as the worst contested possession team and the most scored against team from inside-50’s and both factors were put to question in the opening stages of the game. The Swans had the first seven forward entries of the game, but could manage just one behind as the Eagles defence stood tall.
The inclusions of the experienced Sam Butler and Will Schofield provided assurance in the back as the Eagles defence withstood the early siege. Schofield was a late inclusion for West Coast, after Jack Darling was unable to recover from an ankle knock against the Tigers.
Darling’s absence meant a re-shuffle with regular defenders Jeremy McGovern and Sharrod Wellingham both starting across half-forward. They were virtually non-existent though, until the Eagles opened the goal-scoring after a turnover on the Swans half-back line. An errant kick led to a rushed handpass which was partially cut-off by Josh Hill. The resultant loose ball fell to Andrew Gaff who skidded the ball home with the Eagles first entry inside their 50m arc.
A second Swans turnover across half-back led to Josh Kennedy’s first goal of the night, but Sydney were able to get reward before quarter time for their disposal dominance. Harry Cunningham kicked truly after taking a strong mark one-out against Brad Sheppard, before a missed Chris Masten tackle on the wing, led to a free kick and first goal to youngster Jordan Foote, leaving scores level at the first break.
The Swans had 13 inside-50’s to the Eagles 5 and dominated the uncontested possession in the first quarter, but by half-time West Coast had evened both parameters as the game started to be played on the Eagles’ terms. Elliot Yeo was the catalyst providing the rebound for West Coast from the backline as the loose behind the ball.
The Swans’ clearances were becoming ineffective, with the Eagles able to control the ball with uncontested marks and only inaccurate kicking prevented the margin from being larger at the main break. The Eagles booted 3.7 to the Swans 2.1 and the momentum of the game had shifted.
An Eagles clearance from the opening bounce of the second half resulted in a Mark LeCras goal, before Andrew Gaff had his second of the evening minutes later. West Coast had doubled their half-time lead and were on the verge of breaking the Swans.
The ‘Bloods’ though weren’t giving up the contest. Young Swan Will Hayward found Lance Franklin behind the Eagles defence, and then a missed mark of the year attempt from the Eagles Josh Kennedy saw the ball rebound to the other end for Oliver Florent to reduce the margin back to two goals.
The back half of the third quarter was some of the fiercest football of the year as both sides crashed in. In one passage on the Eagles half-forward line, the ball was contested frantically for several minutes as the pressure from both teams intensified. Josh Hill goaled after some magnificent play from Matt Priddis and Josh Kennedy on the boundary line and it was the Eagles by three goals with one quarter to play.
Off their short break, the Eagles would have hoped for a bigger buffer ahead of the final 30 minutes and the signs looked ominous as Sydney closed within a goal. Will Hayward was becoming the Swans’ most dangerous forward to boot this second, before Jake Lloyd unleashed from outside 50.
Luke Shuey had the settler for West Coast minutes later when he converted truly from the boundary line after a contentious head high free kick. It proved the break that West Coast would need, as the Eagles kicked four of the last five goals in the game to record a hard-earned 26 point win. The result relegated the Swans to a 0-4 start, the first time they had had such a start since 1993.
Shuey was instrumental in the second half and Jamie Cripps booted three second half goals, but the Eagles victory was down to the even input from all 22 players for West Coast.
Match Details Thursday 13 April 2017
West Coast 2.2 5.9 9.10 13.13 (91)
Sydney 2.2 4.3 7.4 10.5 (65)
Subiaco Oval Attendance: 38,065
Goals: WC Cripps 3, Kennedy, Gaff, LeCras, McGovern 2, Hill, Shuey.
SYD Hayward, Franklin 2, Papley, Cunningham, Florent, Foote, Lloyd, Reid.
Round 4 Season Total
5 Elliot Yeo 15 Luke Shuey
4 Luke Shuey 12 Elliot Yeo
3 Andrew Gaff 11 Andrew Gaff
2 Shannon Hurn 5 Sam Mitchell
1 Sam Butler 4 Josh Kennedy
ROUND 5 FORECAST
West Coast will have their best chance to break one of their biggest hoodoos when they take on the reeling Hawks at the MCG. The Eagles have managed just one win at the ground versus Hawthorn from six attempts, with the only win occurring in 2006. On form, there wouldn’t expect to be any changes, but Sam Mitchell will go into the game against his former club under a serious cloud.
Mitchell badly injured an ankle after colliding with teammate Jack Redden, and spent the majority of the second quarter in the changerooms. Mitchell played out the game and has the benefit of 10 days to get himself prepared for his return bout. Sharrod Wellingham and Andrew Gaff both copped corks but should be free to play the Hawks.
The biggest query during the week will be whether Jack Darling is an automatic inclusion for the Eagles after being a late withdrawal for the clash with Sydney. Darling has had an underwhelming start to the 2017 season, and Jeremy McGovern was superb in his absence. The Eagles weren’t left short in defence either with Will Schofield coming in and shutting down Sam Reid and have Eric Mackenzie as an option coming in as well.
Lewis Jetta handled his demotion back to East Perth in the best possible manner with 36 disposals to be the Royals’ best. The selectors will have a big call as to whether to give Jetta another chance in the seniors on the MCG, or to give him an extended spell in the WAFL to make sure the dashing wingman returns to the Eagles with supreme confidence.
Mark Hutchings also had plenty of the ball after being dropped to the WAFL, but will face a stiffer challenge to break back into the Eagles line up, with the strong form of Mitchell, Priddis and Redden. Despite the Royals being thrashed by Subiaco to the tune of 91 points, many other Eagle-listed players had strong games.
Luke Partington, Dom Sheed and Kurt Mutimer (who was named as an emergency) all had strong games, but may struggle to force their way into a winning side. The Eagles top pick from last year’s National Draft, Daniel Venables, struggled collecting just seven disposals, while Tom Lamb had a second consecutive quiet game after an impressive start to the season.