The Eagles and Dockers meet for the 46th derby in a clash that could determine the finals hopes of both sides. At the start of the season, the two sides were expected to feature at opposite ends of the ladder, but heading into Round 17, they sit just one win and three spots apart.
West Coast dropped out of the top eight last round, following a home loss to Port Adelaide but come into a forgiving block of matches that should allow them to reclaim a finals position. Four of their next five matches come against teams in the bottom seven, and they must win all four to be a serious finals hope, starting with this weeks derby.
The Eagles topsy-turvy form continued last round, losing their third game in five matches. The game itself was almost representative of the Eagles season, as they initially fell four goals behind, then flipped the game on its head by booting the next seven goals to take a 24 point lead. The Power then clawed their way back into the contest to draw level at the final change, before running over the top of a tiring Eagles outfit.
It now means that West Coast have lost three of their past four games at Subiaco – the clubs worst run at their home ground since the middle of 2014. The Eagles had very few winners in the Port Adelaide clash, and there will be plenty of players looking to make amends this week.
The Dockers arrested a five game losing streak when they survived a late Todd Goldstein shot on goal to defeat the Kangaroos by four points. Nat Fyfe rediscovered his Brownlow medal winning form with 33 disposals against the Kangaroos. Connor Blakely and Lachie Neale both continued their stellar 2017 form with 32 and 27 possessions respectively.
The Recent History
West Coast made it four wins on the trot against Fremantle when they coasted to a 41 point win in the first derby of season 2017. West Coast booted the opening seven goals of the game to race to a 36 point quarter time lead, and held off the Dockers for the rest of the game. Josh Kennedy booted six goals to claim the Ross Glendinning Medal, while Andrew Gaff (34) and Elliot Yeo (32) led the disposals.
Ed Langdon had 32 possessions and Lachie Neale 29, while Cam McCarthy was the Dockers shining light up forward, booting Fremantle’s only three first half goals. Aaron Sandilands monstered the Eagles ruck duo of Nathan Vardy and Jon Giles with 52 hit-outs, but won’t be an issue for West Coast this time around, ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hamstring injury.
The Eagles fourth consecutive win against their cross town rivals was their best winning streak since claiming the opening nine derbies between the two sides.
West Coast have made four changes for the third week in a row with injuries again biting hard. Eric Mackenzie strained a hamstring late in the Port Adelaide loss and Malcolm Karpany strained a quad. Scott Lycett was originally named for West Coast but has pulled out with soreness in the shoulder. Sharrod Wellingham was the fourth change, omitted after a poor effort against the Power.
The Eagles welcomed back Josh Kennedy after several missed starts in recent weeks. Will Schofield returns to the line-up as the replacement for Mackenzie, with Jackson Nelson and Chris Masten also brought back in. West Coast were criticised for being too slow against the Power, and have no doubt had run at the front of mind in choosing the side to play Fremantle.
The Dockers made two changes bringing back experienced players David Mundy and Lee Spurr. Mundy was a late withdrawal before the Kangaroos game, while Spurr also comes back after missing a week. Tommy Sheridan couldn’t be considered due to a hamstring injury, while Brady Grey was dropped. Hayden Crozier and Hayden Ballantine could consider themselves lucky to hold his spot after a poor showing against North Melbourne, but unsurprisingly Ryan Nyhuis keeps his spot following a four goal game on debut.
Sean Darcy will lead the ruck against Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie, with Aaron Sandilands ruled out for the year. The Dockers will also have to rely on Shane Kersten as the main focal point up forward as Cam McCarthy serves the second game of his two-week suspension. At the other end, former Bulldog Joel Hamling will be given a late fitness test after he suffered a corked hip in the narrow win over North Melbourne. Sam Collins has been named as one of the emergencies and seems the obvious replacement to come in for his first game since breaking a leg last season if Hamling can’t come up.
The Talking Points
Can West Coast find their tackling aggression again?
After the bye the Eagles played Geelong in a Thursday night game, and responded with their best tackling effort in several years. West Coast recorded 93 tackles and a new attitude was preached for the second half of the season. However, since the Geelong clash, the Eagles have managed 78, 61 and 51 tackles in the three weeks since. In the final quarter against Port Adelaide, with the game on the line, West Coast laid just four tackles.
The Eagles average just 66 tackles a game, which is well down compared to the sides who are challenging at the top of the ladder. It’s time for West Coast to find their aggression again and there is no better time than a match that could determine their finals hopes
Will Nathan Vardy and co avenge for the last derby?
Aaron Sandilands monstered Nathan Vardy and Jon Giles last time the two sides met, but with Sandilands finished for the year courtesy of a hamstring injury, Vardy and Drew Petrie have an enormous opportunity to stamp their authority on the contest.
The ruck duties at Fremantle have fallen to rookie Sean Darcy who will be playing his first derby in just his fifth game. Darcy has been immense in the early games of his career, but lowered his colours against Todd Goldstein last week, despite edging the North Melbourne ruckman in the hit-outs.
Vardy has been one of the season improvers at West Coast, and with Darcy expected to contest the majority of the stoppages throughout the day, the duo of Vardy and Petrie – playing his first Western Derby – should be able to give West Coast an advantage. The two Eagles should also have too much versatility for Darcy and both players will be looking to expose Darcy across the ground.
Who Gets Michael Walters?
The dynamic forward has been in career best form in recent weeks, with no better performance than the 32-disposal, 6-goal return against St.Kilda. Walters could have won the game off his boot against Geelong, while in Fremantle’s win against North Melbourne last week, Walters was electric early, booting three first-half goals.
The Eagles have lacked a genuine small back pocket since the days of David Wirrpanda, with Sam Butler often assigned the roles in recent years. Butler remains sidelined with a hamstring injury and Sharrod Wellingham has been dropped, meaning that Brad Sheppard could be given first crack at Walters. Sheppard has claimed his victims in recent times, curtailing Robbie Gray last week for three quarters and having the better of Jake Stringer the week before.
The question for West Coast will be what to do when Walters moves into the midfield. The Eagles don’t have a similar enigmatic player through the middle, so reducing his impact – particularly on the break – will become a team priority.
The Key Stat
Not much separates the two sides statistically, with the Eagles and Dockers both well down in the two areas deemed important for premiership sides – contested possession and tackles. The Eagles have shown that they can produce in these areas, as shown in the win against Geelong, but it is too fleeting from game to game, and even during games, from quarter to quarter.
Whoever can get an advantage around the stoppages and apply enough pressure to the opposition ball carriers will go a long way to winning.
It’s A Big Week For….
Chris Masten. Under the spotlight a fortnight ago ahead of the Bulldogs clash, Chris Masten receives a reprieve after being dropped for the Port Adelaide clash. The Eagles lacked pace and run against the Power suggesting that the selection of Masten was to address this deficiency.
East Perth had a bye last round, meaning that the selection of Masten would have been based upon what he can do and not what he has delivered. The former number three draft pick is often maligned by home fans and is fast running out of chances to keep his career alive.
On paper, the Eagles should be too strong, but West Coast have shown in 2017 that they don’t necessarily win the games they are meant to, and Fremantle have themselves shown that they shouldn’t be discounted. If Fremantle’s senior players such as David Mundy and Nat Fyfe can have an influence, then the Dockers may be too strong through the midfield.
The question mark for Fremantle will be up forward. The Dockers have had to rely on youth up forward, but with Cam McCarthy missing a lot will be expected of Shane Kersten. The last time these two teams met the Dockers fell into the Eagles trap, kicking long up the line, into the waiting arms of Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass. Fremantle will want to avoid doing the same, instead trying to break through the Eagles team zones.
West Coast will be happy that Josh Kennedy has returned, meaning their goal scoring triumvirate of Kennedy, Darling and LeCras are all playing in the same game for the first time since Round 9. If West Coast can match the Docker midfield and get enough ball forward, they should have too much firepower.
West Coast by 27.
EAGLE TRIVIA: The Eagles current four game winning streak against Fremantle, is their second best ever, behind the nine they won from 1995 to 1999. (@WCE_History)