West Coast travel to Adelaide to take on Port Adelaide, with a win to either side set to make a massive statement on their respective premiership aspirations.
The Eagles will be keen to show they can perform away from Subiaco, while the Power are showing signs they have recaptured the form of 2014 when they fell a kick short of the Grand Final. Port Adelaide have four wins, but will want to prove they are genuine contenders with a win over a fellow expectant finals adversary.
Both sides sit at 4-2 in what is an early season eight-point game. A loss drops either side back into the chasing pack for the top eight, while a win could propel them towards top four and provide some breathing space on the rest of the competition.
West Coast bounced back from another poor performance at the MCG, with a 41 point win over cross town rivals Fremantle. The Eagles played their strongest football of the season in the first half booting 10 goals to 3 for a 45 point lead at the main break. Importantly, after tinkering with different players and structures in recent weeks, the Eagles found their mojo with what has worked in the past.
Jeremy McGovern was a stronghold in defence, Elliot Yeo provided his running support off half-back, the Eagles were able to nullify Sandilands’ influence in the ruck playing both Vardy and Giles and Sharrod Wellingham returned to defence after stints in the midfield. Josh Kennedy collected his second consecutive Ross Glendinning medal with a six goal haul that also returned him to the top of the Coleman.
The Power have surprised many in the AFL, with four wins from the first six weeks, although three of the wins have come against sides expected to struggle. A first up win over Sydney, who are yet to win a game, was followed by thrashings of Fremantle, Carlton and Brisbane. Conversely, the two losses suffered by Port have been to the two flag favourites in the Giants and Crows, and in both games the Power were in the contest for a large period.
The improvement of Port Adelaide this season has been driven by the midfield group, with Ollie Wines and Brett Ebert both playing career best football. Draftee Sam Powell-Pepper has stepped straight into AFL football, while Chad Wingard has spent more time through the middle to provide more run and carry. Robbie Gray has spent more time in the forward line and leads the club with 18 goals in six games.
An unheralded defence led by Tom Clurey, Darcy Byrne-Jones, Jaspar Pittard and Tom Jonas has made the Power the stingiest defence after six rounds, conceding on average only 76 points per game.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Power met just the once in 2016, with Josh Kennedy leading West Coast to a narrow eight point win. The Eagles raced to a 25 point lead at half time and were set for a comfortable win, before a late Power charge made for a tight finish. The game though was most notable for the hit on winger Andrew Gaff by defender Tom Jonas.
West Coast have won both meetings between the two sides at Adelaide Oval, claiming victory by 10 points in 2015. The Eagles overturned a 17 point half-time deficit with
West Coast named an unchanged line up for the first time this season, although doubts still remain over the 22 that will run out on Saturday. All three emergencies in Mark Hutchings, Malcolm Karpany, and rookie upgrade Fraser McInnes have travelled to Adelaide on standby for a call up.
Nathan Vardy and Liam Duggan will both be given up until bouncedown to prove their fitness. Vardy hyperextended an elbow in the first quarter of the Derby, although scans have revealed that any damage is more to the muscle than structural and is considered a good chance to take his place. Duggan also appears to have recovered from a corked thigh, but will need to go through one final test to secure his spot.
Andrew Gaff, Brad Sheppard and Sharrod Wellingham have all had knocks in recent weeks but are set to play and Jon Giles will lead the ruck after a sterling effort against Sandilands. Kurt Mutimer has been given a chance to follow on from his debut, while Jeremy McGovern seems set to line up in defence after an outstanding display against Fremantle.
The Power made just the once change bringing back captain Travis Boak in place of Karl Amon. Hamish Hartlett has twice been a late withdrawal this season, but appears to have gotten over his injury issues.
Port Adelaide have enjoyed a settled line up across the first six weeks of the season, with 17 players having played all of the games thus far.
The Talking Points
Can a win over Port silence the doubters?
It will go some of the way of repairing the damage of the performances against Richmond and Hawthorn. Port appear to be finals bound, and a victory over a fellow contender on their home patch will send a strong message that West Coast can perform away from Subiaco.
Every away game from this point on will be heavily scrutinised and the likes of Chris Masten, Josh Kennedy, Brad Sheppard, Mark LeCras, Josh Hill, Shannon Hurn and Elliot Yeo, to name a few will want to show they can produce the same numbers after jumping on a plane, as when they play on the home comforts of Subiaco.
However, until West Coast can defeat a proven side in Melbourne, and more specifically at the MCG, many external commentators will remain unconvinced.
Where will the game be decided?
The Eagles have shown a change in style in 2017, basing their game on uncontested possessions and relying less on contested possession and clearances. Without Naitanui leading the ruck, the Eagles have gone in undersized and have relied on an extra number across half-back to turn the ball over and propel forward thrusts on the counter attack. The Eagles are ranked 10th in the competition for clearances, compared to the Power who are fourth.
Paddy Ryder has been a major factor in the Power’s ability to win the ball at the stoppages, and this has translated into Port Adelaide also being the number one side in the competition for inside-50’s, and the second best at scores from stoppages.
The Eagles have been one of the leakiest defences in the league for conceding scores from opposition inside-50 entries, so the Eagles forward press will play a major role in preventing the Power from booting a winning score. After being comprehensively beaten in the contested ball against Hawthorn, the Eagles recorded 21 more contested possessions in the win over Fremantle, and they will need to replicate this performance to limit the Power’s offensive weapons.
How important will Jon Giles be?
Giles carried the ruck against Fremantle with Vardy restricted by an elbow injury after quarter time. Giles is one of the AFL’s journeymen, but has shown in his few games at West Coast his ability to provide a contest. Giles was arguably best on ground in the final game of 2016 against the Crows with Naitanui sidelined and Lycett restricted, and has been a strong contributor as ruck support to Nathan Vardy this season. His omission against the Hawks appeared to prove critical as Ben McEvoy took a stranglehold on the game.
Paddy Ryder has returned to the Power line up following his supplements suspension and has been influential for one of the best midfields this season. Ryder has essentially played a lone hand in the ruck, with Jackson Trengove providing minor support at the hit-outs. With Vardy expected to be passed fit, Giles is likely to spend much of his time opposed to Trengove, and it will be vital for West Coast to gain an advantage during these stages of the game.
Port Adelaide are riding a wave of momentum following two thumping wins and will be hard to stop in front of 50,000 raucous fans. The Eagles will take confidence from their overall record at Adelaide Oval, having won four of five matches there against both South Australian sides. West Coast have shown over a period of time that they struggle when the game isn’t on their terms, so the Eagles’ ability to accumulate uncontested possession will go a long way to securing a win.
The Power will be a hard contest, but West Coast may just cover Port Adelaide at the bookends.
West Coast by 8.
EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast have a 39% winning ratio against Port Adelaide, the worst against any other club in the AFL. However, the Eagles have won both meetings at Adelaide Oval. (@WCE_History)