Gold Coast and West Coast meet with both sides hoping to bounce back from recent poor performances. All eyes will be on how West Coast perform on the road, with the five efforts away from home providing mixed results. A first up win against North Melbourne and dramatic narrow win over Port Adelaide has been interspersed with three ordinary efforts in Melbourne.
The Suns play their first game at Carrara since Round 7, having played their past two games in Shanghai and Alice Springs. The Suns sit 3-6 after nine games and would want to start posting some wins if they hope to make finals. While they have a game up their sleeve on the rest of the competition, they are already three wins shy of the top eight and a loss to West Coast could mean they are watching the action again in September.
West Coast have dropped their past two games, and would have been disappointed with the result against the Giants. Whilst they showed greater intent than the insipid effort of the week before when they crashed to the Bombers, there would have been great confidence they could get the job done against GWS. Instead, the Giants outlasted West Coast on their own deck, which was made more impressive by the list of players they had missing.
Andrew Gaff was his accumulative self with 35 disposals, while Sam Mitchell was instrumental early before finishing with 31. Elliot Yeo continued his stellar year across half-back, while Jeremy McGovern was impenetrable in the back-line. Most excitingly for Eagles fans was the performance of Lewis Jetta, who had 28 disposals and two goals, and showed plenty of freedom and dare moving around Subiaco Oval.
The Suns have had some up and down performances in 2017, and showed as much in their game last week versus Melbourne. The Suns led by 30 points early in the third quarter, but then stopped as Melbourne ran all over them. The Demons made it a 65 point turnaround as they piled on nine final quarter goals to win by 35 points. A fortnight earlier, the Suns put in a pathetic effort against the Power, going down by 72 points in their showcase game in Shanghai.
Brandon Matera was the leading goal scorer for the Suns last week, kicking 3.4 and has been the perfect foil for Tom Lynch since he forced his way into the senior side in Round 3. Aaron Hall had 29 disposals though the midfield and has showed signs of his 2016 form after a slow start to the year. Gary Ablett missed the game against Melbourne but has been statistically one of the best Suns, despite external criticism about his performances.
The Recent History
The Gold Coast remain the last team that West Coast haven’t lost too, with a draw in 2015 the closest the Suns have been able to manage. The previous meeting between the two sides was a one-sided affair, with the Eagles winning comfortably by 77 points. Josh Kennedy booted five goals and Luke Shuey gathered 26 disposals as the Eagles best. Overall, the Eagles have an average winning margin of 55 points from their seven wins.
The Eagles and Suns have met just twice at Carrara. The last meeting was a draw, despite the disparaging positions on the ladder. The Suns were languishing towards the bottom, while the Eagles were sitting in the top two but a Tom Lynch goal on the siren salvaged two points for the Suns. The only other meeting was the final round of 2014, where the Eagles won a high-scoring clash by 52 points.
The Eagles have lost just once at Carrara in club history, but the defeat was against neither Queensland club. The Kangaroos got over West Coast by six points when they met in 2008, with the Eagles winning four times and drawing once against the Brisbane Bears, and then winning once and drawing once against the Suns.
The Eagles made three changes, with Chris Masten the big talking point. Masten was dropped for the first time since 2011, with Malcolm Karpany also omitted. Karpany was a late inclusion for Luke Shuey in the Giants game, with Shuey and another late withdrawal from last week in Mark LeCras both returning for the Suns.
Josh Kennedy was the third change for West Coast, but was always going to miss, after a better than first thought calf injury. When Kennedy limped off in the final term against the Giants, there were fears his season was done with an achilles injury, but is likely to only miss three games with a calf.
Eric Mackenzie is the third inclusion, returning for his first game since Round 1. Mackenzie has bided his time in the WAFL since, and returns ahead of youngster Tom Barrass who was omitted last round. Mackenzie may partner Will Schofield in defence, allowing Jeremy McGovern to go forward, but Mackenzie has spent time in the ruck and up forward at East Perth, and could be a left field option for Adam Simpson to draw from.
The Suns were able to bring back two of their most experienced players, with former captain Gary Ablett and former Eagle Matt Rosa returning. Ablett missed the loss to Melbourne with a shoulder injury, while Rosa plays for the first time since Round 2 due to concussion issues. Brayden Fiorini and Brad Scheer both make way. Draftee Will Brodie remains in the side for his 2nd game, after debuting last week against Melbourne.
Rory Thompson and Ben Ainsworth were both considered chances to return from injury but couldn’t convince the Suns coaching staff they were ready. Without Thompson, co-captain Steven May will again lead the defence, with youngster Jack Leslie as tall support.
The Talking Points
Who are the options to replace Josh Kennedy?
While the Eagles will be disappointed to lose their leading goalkicker, West Coast are positioned better than most to find replacements. Jack Darling becomes the main avenue to goal, but others will be given the chance to fill the breach. Drew Petrie was brought across in the off-season as ruck support, but will start at full-forward, where he spent a majority of his career with the Kangaroos. Nathan Vardy is another who can spend time up forward, although Vardy will be expected to lead the ruck until Scott Lycett returns after the bye.
The Eagles also have the option of swinging Jeremy McGovern forward, although Adam Simpson has been resistant to this move in recent times, with McGovern a lot more effective down back. However, the inclusion of Eric Mackenzie suggests that McGovern will be moved forward, with Mackenzie to partner Will Schofield in defence. Mackenzie has spent time through the ruck and up forward at East Perth in recent weeks, and while he presents as a left-field forward option, Mackenzie is considered a natural defender, and is likely to slot back against danger forward Tom Lynch.
The Suns though will be happy to see that Kennedy isn’t playing. Kennedy has booted 35 goals in seven games against the Suns and presents as one less headache for Rodney Eade and his men.
Can Lewis Jetta back up?
Eagles fans will be hoping so. Jetta played easily his best game since joining the club in the loss to the Giants. Jetta collected 28 disposals, booted two goals and importantly gained 643 metres which was the primary reason West Coast were so keen to bring him to the club. Jetta’s run and carry was a highlight against GWS with his evasiveness around the ball and his penetration with his kicking setting up a number of scoring chains.
Adam Simpson acknowledged that Jetta was one of the Eagles’ best, but he won’t be a permanent fixture in the Eagles line-up until he can show he can be a consistent contributor. Jetta will play consecutive games for the first time in 2017 and the most matches Jetta could string together in his first season with West Coast was just six from Rounds 2 -6. The Eagles have been questioned over their lack of pace through the midfield, and Jetta now has the standard set to consolidate his place in the side.
Do The Eagles Tag Gary Ablett?
Gary Ablett has come under fire at various times during the season with some questioning his work ethic and attitude, while speculation continues as to whether the two-time Brownlow medal winner will return to Geelong come the end of the season.
Despite the external criticisms, Ablett remains one of the Suns best players, highlighted by a 45-disposal effort against the Kangaroos in Round 6. Ablett has averaged 31 disposals, 12 contested possessions, six inside-50’s and five tackles per game, and booted six goals to be one of the damaging players at the Suns.
Under Adam Simpson, the Eagles haven’t run close tags, instead relying on the zone defence to intercept the opposition and rebound for scores. However, there appeared a change in mindset against the Giants with Mark Hutchings given the task against GWS midfielder Dylan Shiel in the second half.
Shiel dominated the opening two quarters, picking up 18 disposals and two goals, to keep the Giants in the hunt after West Coast established an early lead. Hutchings kept Shiel to just 8 disposals in the second half, completely nullifying his impact. Hutchings has been asked to do loose checking tagging roles in the past, but completely sacrificed his game against Shiel, and may be asked to do a similar role against Ablett.
The Eagles have to navigate the longest trip in football to get to the Gold Coast, but will be desperate to record a win in their final game before the mid-season bye. The loss to the Giants was a bruising encounter, although Luke Shuey and Mark LeCras will hopefully be fresher after the week off.
The Suns have shown strong form at home, with wins over Hawthorn and Geelong and will feel confident that they can orchestrate an upset win over West Coast. The Eagles though will want to get back on the winners list after two losses and should be able to find enough avenues to goal without Josh Kennedy. The Eagles will be confident they can restrict the Suns ability to hit the scoreboard, although talisman Tom Lynch presents a major danger.
West Coast by 32.
EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast have lost just once at Carrara, but never against a Queensland side. The one loss came against North Melbourne in 2008, by just six points. Remarkably the Eagles have had more draws (2) than losses. (@WCE_History)