West Coast have a golden opportunity to silence the doubters when they take on the floundering Hawks at the MCG. Hawthorn sit bottom of the ladder after successive 86 point losses and a winless first month and will be desperate to show a stronger resolve than the past fortnight.
In a fixturing quirk, the Eagles have enjoyed a ten day break since opening the Easter round, and will have four extra days on the Hawks who hosted the Cats on Easter Monday. The Eagles, and particularly Adam Simpson, are wary of their poor record on the road, with many commentators saying the Eagles can’t win the flag if they can’t perform in Melbourne. This meeting also provides the Eagles the last chance to play on the MCG in the regular season.
West Coast bounced back from their first loss of the season with an important win against the Swans at home. Challenged during the final quarter, the Eagles finished with the stronger running to boot four of the final five goals and win by 26 points. Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo both continued their fine start to the seasons to be jointly awarded the HMAS award for best on ground.
Shuey and Yeo would both be leading the club champion award after the first month of football while Andrew Gaff has also been a driving force through the Eagles midfield. Josh Kennedy was leading the Coleman medal until last week, while Mark LeCras has enjoyed spending more time as a permanent forward, booting 10 goals in the first four games to be an adequate ally for Kennedy.
Hawthorn sit on the bottom of the ladder with a woeful percentage of just 55.98 and while consecutive thrashings has hurt, the biggest issue for Hawthorn has been their second half fadeouts. The Bombers and Crows both overran Hawthorn at the MCG after the Hawks held leads, before the Suns and Cats obliterated them in recent weeks. The Cats booted 11 straight goals in final quarter a week after the Suns booted 10 goals in a lopsided third quarter.
Many of the key Hawks have struggled, with the likes of Shaun Burgoyne, Cyril Rioli, Luke Bruest, Josh Gibson and Jack Gunstan all being questioned. Gunstan was goalless for the year until last week, while Jarryd Roughead is still finding his feet after returning from a year out recovering from illness. Alastair Clarkson continues to show faith in players who have been part of their premiership success, but the chances will start to run out if they can’t rediscover consistency in their game.
Recruit Tom Mitchell has been the standout for Hawthorn, while Luke Hodge has also led from the front after missing the opening game. Ryan Burton has shown encouraging signs but not many other young players who have gotten opportunities have been able to hold their place.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Hawks have split the recent meetings between the sides, with West Coast taking the honours the last time around at Subiaco. The Eagles got the early break and held strong to run out 26 point winners. The previous two meetings went the way of Hawthorn by 46 points including the 2015 Grand Final. Josh Gibson had the ball on a string in the Grand Final match-up amassing 45 disposals. The Eagles won the earlier final by 32 points with that win ending a streak of five consecutive wins for the Hawks.
While the Eagles have had the edge at home in recent times, their record against Hawthorn at the MCG is nothing short but pitiful. The Eagles have taken the points against the Hawks just once in six attempts in the clubs history, with the only win coming in 2006. It is also the last time the Eagles have beaten the Hawks away from home.
The showcase match-up won’t eventuate, with former Hawk Sam Mitchell ruled out of a return meeting against his old club. Mitchell injured an ankle during the win over Sydney after colliding with teammate Jack Redden. Despite being able to finish the game, Mitchell struggled to recover in time for the Hawks clash, although he should be right for the Dockers the following week.
His omission opens the door for Jack Darling who returns after recovering from his own ankle injury suffered against the Tigers. The Eagles have taken Malcolm Karpany and Dom Sheed to Melbourne as the travelling emergencies, leaving the possibility that there could be a further change to the side. Sheed would have been the
Despite consecutive thrashings, the Hawks have made just the one change, omitting Ricky Henderson for youngster Daniel Howe. Several Hawks have been under fire but Alastair Clarkson has stayed with his core group showing confidence that they can turn it around. Howe is the only change, with O’Meara still unavailable with a knee complaint. Grant Birchall is another key Hawk who remains sidelined with a broken cheekbone.
The Talking Points
How important is a good performance at the MCG?
Very. West Coast had their premiership credentials questioned following the loss to Richmond a fortnight ago, although straighter kicking in the first half could have put that game in the bag. Many individual players at West Coast have consistently struggled at the MCG, and a number will still be haunted by their poor performances in the 2015 Grand Final.
Chris Masten, Elliot Yeo, Matt Priddis and Sharrod Wellingham all average below their standards at the ground in matches going back to the 2015 decider, although all players recorded better numbers in the loss to Richmond a fortnight ago. The forwards have also underperformed badly in recent matches at the MCG.
Jamie Cripps and Josh Kennedy have both managed seven in five games dating back to the 2015 Grand Final, Mark LeCras has kicked six, being held goalless in three of the games, while Josh Hill has booted just four goals in that time. Interestingly, Jack Darling has been the best forward at the ground for West Coast with nine goals, and this could have been higher if not for a wasteful 0.5 in one of those games.
A win will go a long way to building confidence that West Coast can perform at the ground if and when they are required to do so come September, but a number of players can bury some personal demons with strong displays against the Hawks.
Where will Jeremy McGovern play?
There was much speculation during the week whether Jack Darling would return straight to the senior side after McGovern’s strong performance up forward against the Swans. The first question has been answered with Darling an automatic inclusion, replacing the injured Sam Mitchell.
However, Will Schofield and Tom Barrass, who held down the key defensive posts against Sydney, have also been retained suggesting that McGovern could remain forward. The Hawks don’t possess an overly tall forward line, further diminished by the loss of Ty Vickery. Jarryd Roughead is their biggest presence, while Jack Gunstan tends to play further up the ground as a lead up player.
West Coast should be able to get by without a third tall defender suggesting McGovern remains as a forward alongside Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling. McGovern certainly showed he was more than capable up forward against the Swans, collecting 19 disposals, 8 marks and booting two goals, with the Eagles defence not negatively affected by the switch.
The flexibility of McGovern could also allow the coaching staff to trial Darling through the middle in an attempt to get Darling going after a slow start to 2017.
Will not having Sam Mitchell hurt West Coast?
The Eagles have certainly shown a greater maturity during games with Mitchell’s presence, and having him out against his old side would have been a great advantage. However, West Coast will want to show that they can perform without him, and Mitchell’s greatest asset for West Coast will be the intimate knowledge that he can share about his former teammates.
One interesting aspect of Mitchell’s absence may be the performance of Matt Priddis. Priddis has been a solid contributor for West Coast so far this season, without reaching the statistical heights of his last few seasons. Priddis has been effectively sharing the load with Mitchell so far, but without Mitchell, Priddis will be expected to again lead the Eagles in the contested areas of the stoppages.
The Eagles can win over credibility in getting the points against Hawthorn and considering where the two sides are at, anything less than a solid win will be a massive disappointment. The Hawks will be keen to atone for the past fortnight of football, but West Coast should get the job done on the back of the mid-tier players who are showing encouraging signs of improvement.
West Coast by 28.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Josh Hill plays his 100th club game for West Coast, becoming the 64th player in club history to reach that mark. (@WCE_History)