Two sides looking to break into the top four meet at Subiaco after impressive wins over fellow premiership hopefuls. The Demons travel to Perth on the back of consecutive six day breaks, while West Coast enjoy the home comforts of Subiaco for a second consecutive game, and also an extra three days rest on their opponents, having played on the Thursday night to kick off Round 13.
Both teams enter the clash on 28 points, and could find themselves in the top four with a win. GWS and Geelong should both win, but the Power – currently sitting in fourth – have a tricky clash with Collingwood at the MCG, and a slip up could see the winner climb up to the double chance.
West Coast broke a three game losing streak to knock off the Cats by 13 points. Luke Shuey was instrumental in the midfield for West Coast, while Elliot Yeo reclaimed his lead in the Coaches Association Award.
Melbourne have been one of the form teams of the competition, winning five of their past seven games, despite being without ruckman Max Gawn and full forward Jesse Hogan. The Demons thrashed the reigning premiers by 57 points in their last start to jump up to fifth on the ladder, as a number of young players start to stamp their claim in the competition.
The Demons rise has been on the back of Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney, Christian Petracca, Oscar McDonald and Dom Tyson, while the additions of senior players of Jordan Lewis and Michael Hibberd have provided important guidance. Melbourne have won their past three, and a win against West Coast would make it four consecutive wins for the first time since 2006 - the last time they made finals.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Melbourne have one of the more one-sided recent head to heads, with West Coast winning the past nine encounters stretching back to 2010. The Eagles won the first eight of those games by an average of 68 points, but the Demons put in their best performance the last time the two sides clashed.
Despite being severe underdogs, the Demons held the Eagles at bay for much of the afternoon but inaccurate kicking on goal kept the home side in the contest. After trailing at each of the first three changes, West Coast scraped over the line in the final term to claim a six point win. Josh Kennedy was the Eagles only multiple goal kicker with three, while Jeff Garlett booted three for Melbourne.
Matt Priddis was best afield with 24 disposals, 15 tackles and 7 clearances in a game that had close to 100 stoppages. Andrew Gaff had 26 possessions to lead the way for West Coast, while Nathan Jones was the leading ball-winner on the field with 34 for the Demons.
A Melbourne victory would end two massive droughts. The Demons have not beaten the Eagles since 2010, and haven’t won against them in Perth since 2002. Their overall record at Subiaco is only slightly better with their last victory in Perth occurring in 2004 against the Dockers.
The Eagles were forced into two changes, with Jackson Nelson and Mark LeCras both omitted with injury. Nelson injured his hamstring during the win over Geelong, while LeCras has been suffering from a hip problem and West Coast have opted to take things cautiously with their veteran forward.
Their exclusions have allowed two forwards to return to the line up. Malcolm Karpany comes in for his third AFL game, having been a late inclusion in the loss to the Giants, while Josh Hill gets a reprieve after being dropped for the Cats. Neither player was in the Royals best last week, but Adam Simpson has suggested they are looking for a different forward dynamic, particularly with Josh Kennedy still missing. The Eagles also resisted bringing back Scott Lycett to give him more match fitness in the WAFL and will place their faith once again in Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie.
Tom Cole impressed in just his third AFL game to hold his place ahead of Sharrod Wellingham, who was named as an emergency, while the mystery continues as to where Jeremy McGovern will start.
The Eagles would have spent plenty of time debating the inclusion of Lycett, particularly with Melbourne bringing back their number one ruckmen in Max Gawn. Gawn hasn’t played since damaging a hamstring tendon in Round 3, but has made major improvements in recent weeks with the Demons rushing him straight back. The Demons also included Billy Stretch, but have lost two key players for the clash in Perth.
Jack Watts and Nathan Jones both suffered injuries during the win over the Bulldogs, spending large portions of the second half on the bench. Jones injured a quad ruling him out for up to six weeks, while Watts has spent much of the week on edge, but a final fitness test ruled him out. Cam Pederson impressed enough in Gawn’s absence to hold his place, despite the return of the Demons key player, and could spend more time as a forward with both Watts and Jesse Hogan not playing.
The Talking Points
Can West Coast maintain the rage?
Following stinging criticism before the bye, the Eagles came out charging against the Cats. West Coast hit Geelong with a contested display not seen since the 2015 run to the Grand Final. The Eagles laid 50 tackles in the opening half as they battered the Cats around the stoppages. The Eagles also had 19 tackles inside 50 for the match and they will need to bring a similar attitude against a Melbourne side who boast strong inside players like Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney, Christian Petracca and Dom Tyson.
How big an inclusion for Melbourne is Max Gawn?
Max Gawn is considered one of the premier ruckman in the competition, and could provide a decisive advantage around the stoppages. The Eagles have struggled at the contest for much of the season, losing the clearances count in the majority of their games. The Demons were dealt a blow losing their co-captain in Nathan Jones, but this will be offset by Gawn who can provide a silver service tap display for the Demons midfield group.
After several months on the sidelines Gawn will no doubt be rusty, but will be given a soft return against the smaller Vardy and Petrie. Simon Goodwin flagged Gawn’s return immediately after the win over the Bulldogs last weekend, and there would have been much discussion in the Eagles camp about bringing back Scott Lycett. Ultimately the decision was made to give Lycett more time in the WAFL to build match fitness and maintain faith in Nathan Vardy, who was one of the Eagles best against Geelong.
Could Jack Darling be about to rediscover his mojo?
Jack Darling bounced back from a poor showing against Gold Coast, with an impressively aggressive performance against the Cats. With Josh Kennedy out injured, Darling was presented an opportunity to be the leading key forward, a role he relished back in 2012 when he booted a career best 53 goals.
However, Darling wasn’t a factor against the Suns, remaining goalless and having no influence on the contest. It was later revealed that his partner had gone into early labour with the pair’s first child and a last-effort ditch to rush Darling home the night before the game proved fruitless with Darling only making it back to Brisbane before news had filtered through that his daughter had arrived.
Darling shot out of the blocks against the Cats with five kicks, five marks and a goal in the first term, showing an appetite for the contest that has been missing for much of the season. Darling attacked the ball strongly and his confidence was clearly growing as the game went on. Now Darling has an opportunity to back that up against a side that has been his bunny over the years.
Darling has booted 24 goals in 8 games against the Demons, at an average of 3 goals per game – the best against any opposition. Darling also averages over 15 disposals against Melbourne (the best against any other side), 7 marks (better than any other opposition) and has polled half of Brownlow votes against Melbourne. In a season that hasn’t quite reached top level, Darling has a perfect opportunity to build some momentum into the 2nd half of the season.
The Key Stat
Melbourne are the 2nd best tackling side in the competition, an area that hasn’t been a strong point for West Coast in 2017. However the Eagles laid 93 tackles against the Cats, their highest count since 2014.
It’s A Big Week For….
Josh Hill. The half-forward has been dropped for two the Eagles past four games, and could find himself on the outer permanently, with youngsters in Malcolm Karpany and Kurt Mutimer tasting AFL action this season. Hill was scoreless against the Giants and the Bulldogs and was poor in three quarters against the Gold Coast, before providing the spark in the Eagles final term comeback, that ultimately fell short.
Hill has never been a big accumulator of the ball, but his ability to impact the scoreboard and provide forward pressure is vital if he wants to hold his place in the Eagles’ best 22.
West Coast would have gotten plenty of confidence from the win over Geelong displaying a style of football that Eagles fans have been calling out for. The Eagles matched it in the contested ball and out-tackled the Cats in one of their most
Both sides will be without their full-forwards, but losing Watts and Nathan Jones could have massive impacts on the Demons. Cam Pederson may need to have a stronger presence up forward, while the absence of Jones, for the first time since Round 14 2012, will place plenty of responsibility on the young guns that have driven Melbourne forward this season.
Ultimately though, the Eagles may have too many options up forward, with the Demons missing three of their top six goalkickers in 2017.
West Coast by 17.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Malcolm Karpany plays his third game of AFL footy, but this is the first instance he was named in the starting 22. In both of his first two games, he was a late inclusion. (@WCE_History)