Sunday May 21
West Coast and Essendon meet at the Docklands with the Eagles looking to consolidate themselves in the top four and the Bombers pushing for a top eight berth. The Eagles have enjoyed a nine-day break since their win over the Bulldogs, while the Bombers have also enjoyed greater rest since a punishing period through Rounds 5-7 when they played three games inside 12 days.
West Coast made it three wins in a row when they overcame the Bulldogs by 8 points at Subiaco. This followed an away win against another fellow finals contender in Port Adelaide, and the improved Fremantle. The big question mark over West Coast in 2017 has been their form away from home, but despite two ordinary efforts at the MCG, the Eagles won their only other match in Melbourne by 43 points against North Melbourne. The Eagles have won three of their past four games under the roof and will feel confident heading into the clash with Essendon.
Elliot Yeo surged to the top of the Coaches Association Award, on the back of another influential performance against the Bulldogs. After a quiet start where he lowered his colours matched up against Marcus Bontempelli, Yeo was a match-winner across half-back in the final term as the Bulldogs finished with the running. Yeo had 13 last-quarter possessions, including several intercept touches that repelled the Bulldogs forward entries. Andrew Gaff and Sam Mitchell both tallied above 30 disposals and were the architects for the Eagles in the first half as they built their lead.
Essendon bounced back from a disappointing loss to Fremantle to defeat Geelong by 17 points. The Bombers led by 40 points at three quarter time, before withstanding a Cat fightback, in what has been a trend for the Bombers in 2017. Essendon have won just two of eight second halves in 2017 as players who missed 2016 through suspension continue to build match fitness.
Joe Daniher took out his second medal of the year, awarded for a best on ground performance against Geelong to follow up his ANZAC Day Medal. Daniher booted five goals against the Cats two weeks after being criticised for his effort against the Demons when he finished with 1.6. Daniher has shown an ability to move around the ground with stints in the ruck as well, and will be a tricky match up for the Eagles. In the midfield, Zach Merrett is in All-Australian form, while new captain Dyson Heppell has led from the front since his return to the field.
The Recent History
West Coast and Essendon met just the once in 2016, with the Eagles recording an easy 78 point win, on a night when they celebrated their 2006 premiership. The Bombers jumped out of the blocks and held the lead at the fist change, but the Eagles made sure their reunited premiership team wouldn’t be disappointed kicking 17 goals to 3 after quarter time. The Bombers were minus a number of key players through the supplement saga suspensions.
That win made it two in a row for West Coast, with the Eagles also winning their only meeting in 2015 by 50 points. Both those games were at Subiaco, with the two sides splitting the previous two encounters before that at Docklands. The Bombers won a close one in 2014, coming from 33 points down to win by 3 points, in a match that ultimately ended West Coast’s finals hopes. In 2013, the Eagles easily accounted for Essendon by 53 points with the Bombers on the verge of being barred from the finals.
Overall the two sides have met 13 times at Docklands, with the Eagles only coming out victorious on three occasions.
The Eagles made just the one change to the side that defeated the Bulldogs, with Josh Hill making way for the returning Jamie Cripps. After suffering a high ankle sprain in the dying moments of the loss to Hawthorn, Cripps was expected to miss up to two months, but has recovered speedily to only miss three games. Hill struggled against the Bulldogs, failing to hit the scoreboard, and returns to the WAFL after a lean start to the season. Hill has averaged just 12 disposals and 1.5 goals in the first eight games, but most importantly, has also only averaged 2.5 tackles this season. As a result, Kurt Mutimer gets the nod to partner Cripps along the half-forward line.
Drew Petrie and Jackson Nelson were also both originally included in the squad of 25, returning from a broken hand and a broken wrist, respectively. Both players will continue their return through the WAFL, as competition for spots heats up as the injury list decreases. Fraser McInnes showed plenty in the ruck and up forward against the Bulldogs to keep Petrie out, while Nelson will feel unlucky to have missed out after a strong showing in the opening month of the season.
Essendon named an unchanged line-up, showing faith in the 22 that got the job done against Essendon. The Bombers had too much pace for the Cats, and will feel confident on the indoor track of Docklands that they can outrun the Eagles as well. James Stewart had an immediate impact in his first game for the club after switching from the Giants, with three goals from 10 possessions and three marks.
The Bombers stuck with just two key defenders in Michael Hurley and Michael Hartley and may have to send either Cale Hooker or David Myers back into defence to cover an Eagles forward line that is likely to have Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and a resting ruckman during the game. At the other end, Tom Barrass will get first run with Joe Daniher, allowing Jeremy McGovern to play the intercept role.
The Talking Points
Are the Inside-50’s count a concern for West Coast?
The Eagles have done their finals hopes no harm with important wins in the past two weeks, but in both games against Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs, the Eagles finished on the wrong side of the inside-50 count. In fact, the Eagles have only won the inside-50 count in four games this season and in two of those – in wins over St.Kilda and Fremantle – they won the count by 1.
While the Eagles would be keen to have a greater advantage in this area over their opponents, the efficiency of the Eagles forward line has been enough to get the Eagles over the line, despite the negative discrepancy. An important aspect of the opposition is that the Bombers, like West Coast, have had their own struggles with getting the ball inside forward 50.
Essendon have not won the inside-50 count once this year, despite winning four games. Twice – in a loss to Carlton, and a win against Collingwood – the Bombers lost the count by over 20, but like West Coast, the Bombers have shown great forward efficiency. Essendon have had great reward on the counter-attack, with the likes of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Josh Green and Orazio Fantasia all able to utilise the space to kick running goals.
How important is a fast start for West Coast?
The Eagles have grimly held onto victory in the past fortnight, with the wins set up in vital breaks during the game. Against the Bulldogs, West Coast held a four goal lead from quarter time through much of the next two quarters, before holding off the visitors in the final term. The previous week against the Power, the Eagles dominated the first 10 minutes of the second half to form a 33 point lead, before Port Adelaide controlled the remainder of the game.
Essendon have struggled to run out games this year, with the combination of previously suspended Bombers fatiguing in their return to the field, combined with a brutal run of games surrounding the ANZAC Day fixture with Collingwood. There are still signs of weariness within the Bomber camp and if the Eagles can get away early, they will be hard to catch.
Does Josh Kennedy have the yips?
Kennedy was uncharacteristically inaccurate against the Bulldogs, finishing the match with 3.6. Prior to last week’s match, Kennedy was kicking at 67%, averaging three goals per game. Over his career at West Coast, Kennedy has 466 goals at 64%, so last week certainly points to a one-off performance. Coach Adam Simpson will definitely be hoping so, with Kennedy having three opportunities in the final quarter to finish off the Bulldogs, but his misses kept the game in the balance until the final siren.
The match promises to be a fast-paced game, with both sides looking to play counter attack football. The two teams are evenly matched in a number of indicators across the opening eight games of the season, which points to a close finish. If the Eagles can prevent Joe Daniher from hitting the scoreboard, the Bombers may struggle to have enough contributors up forward.
West Coast by 22.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Mark LeCras needs just six goals to become only the third Eagle to boot 400 goals, behind Peter Sumich (514) and Josh Kennedy (466). (@WCE_History)