West Coast and GWS meet with plenty on the line for both sides. The Eagles sit inside the top eight but can’t afford slip ups in the final fortnight if they want to hold onto it, while the Giants have Geelong and Richmond breathing down their neck for a top two spot and a home final in the double chance. The Giants also have an outside chance of claiming their maiden McLelland Trophy, although the Crows will take some reeling in.
The Eagles got the job done against Carlton last week, although they were made to work after a poor third quarter allowed the Blues back into the contest. Up by 32 points at half time, Carlton hit the lead late in the third term on the back of six straight goals, before the Eagles were able to steady in the final term. Josh Kennedy continued his recent goal scoring splurge with six goals, while Jamie Cripps chimed in with three in the opening term. Luke Shuey was instrumental in the final term with several centre clearances as West Coast dominated the forward half possession with 20 inside 50’s.
The Giants put in one of their best performances of the season when they disposed of the reigning premiers by 48 points. Josh Kelly is expected to poll well at the Brownlow and was again one of the most influential midfielders on the ground, but was well supported by Dylan Shiel and Stephen Coniglio. Jon Patton was the key forward for the Giants booting four.
GWS have struggled to hit their straps for much of the year, but are starting to build momentum at the right time of the season with three wins from their last three games. West Coast have gone win-loss for the last ten games, having not won consecutive games since defeating Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs in Rounds 7 & 8.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Giants met earlier in the season, with GWS breaking their duck against West Coast with their first win in six attempts. The two sides went toe for toe for three quarters, before Toby Greene stepped up in the final term to drive GWS to victory. Andrew Gaff was the leading ball winner on the ground with 35, while Sam Mitchell and Dom Sheed had 31 apiece. The key moment for West Coast though was early in the final term with spearhead Josh Kennedy limping off with a calf injury that would rule him out for the next five games. Callan Ward and Josh Kelly were the prominent ball winners for the visitors.
Prior to that the Eagles had won all five matches between the two by an average 76 points. The Giants got close in the final meeting of 2016 looking home when they led by five points inside the final minute. However, Nic Naitanui snapped a match winning goal from the ruck deep in the Eagles forward pocket to steal victory as the final siren rang.
The two sides have met just twice at the Sydney Showgrounds, with their first ever meeting taking place at Blacktown in 2012. Naturally, West Coast have won both with the one point win from last season following up on a 100 point win in 2013.
The Eagles made just two changes for their clash with GWS, omitting both Sharrod Wellingham and Jackson Nelson. Wellingham was a late inclusion for Mark LeCras last week, while Nelson loses his spot after a poor fortnight. Josh Hill replaces Wellingham while Tom Barrass returns from a groin strain to take place in defence.
The Giants will have Jeremy Cameron, Rory Lobb and Jon Patton as options up forward, so the Eagles will be happy to have Barrass back in the side as support to Eric Mackenzie and Jeremy McGovern. LeCras hasn’t recovered from a hamstring strain and will miss a second game while Chris Masten will continue to ply his trade at East Perth. Tom Lamb travelled with the side, exciting fans who thought the youngster could break through for a second game.
The Giants made four changes to put together potentially their best side of the year. Having battled a lengthy injury list for the entire season, only Steve Johnson and Tim Taranto are probably missing from their best 22. Steve Johnson is being managed as he deals with a knee problem with the other three players all making way. Dawson Simpson, Harry Himmelberg and Matthew Kennedy are all dropped from the side that defeated the Bulldogs, as four key players return.
Shane Mumford comes back in after serving a one week suspension, while Jeremy Cameron and Devon Smith return from injury. Adam Tomlinson also returns to shore up the defence who will have their hands full with the Eagles own tall timber in Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Drew Petrie. Toby Greene escaped suspension after his raised foot to Luke Dahlhaus, while Brett Deledio and Stephen Coniglio have been welcome inclusions after a majority of the year on the sidelines.
The Talking Points
Can history repeat itself?
With three games remaining in 2016 the Eagles’ finals hopes looked in trouble as they prepared for a three week stretch that pitted them against the Giants away from home, the Hawks at home and then a final fixture against the Crows in Adelaide. Given not much chance, the Eagles pulled off a miraculous one point win over the Giants before easily accounting for the Hawks. West Coast then strangled the Crows at Adelaide Oval to enter the finals in 6th position and as one of the form teams.
The Eagles would fall two weeks later in the opening final to eventual premiers, the Bulldogs, but as they close out the 2017 regular season they find themselves against familiar opponents. The Giants and Crows occupy the top two spots on the ladder, but if the Eagles can produce their best football, they are every chance of beating both teams.
The Eagles match up fairly well against the Giants, although the biggest concern in this game will be combatting Shane Mumford. The Bulldogs thrashed the Giants in the inside-50 count last week, despite losing by eight goals, and if West Coast can build up similar numbers, they have the forward line that could kick a winning score. The final game against Adelaide could be more of a mental battle depending on what is up for grabs. If the Eagles need to win to secure finals and the Crows have top spot sewn up, then the Eagles could have naturally more hunger for the contest.
So Can West Coast Stop Mumford?
Against the Blues, Matthew Kreuzer was dominant against Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie who have consistently battled out of their weight division. The Carlton midfield were able to get on top through the first three quarters as Kreuzer handed them silver service, before the Eagles midfield got control in the last term. Luke Shuey was the catalyst with a number of clearances from the middle and West Coast will need to do something similar again.
Mumford had 50 hit-outs the last time the two sides met leading to a 54-31 dominance of the clearances. The Eagles though were without Shuey and Redden who have been two of the Eagles’ best around the stoppages in recent weeks and will be called upon to nullify the Giants’ first possession.
Could Naitanui return in 2017?
The simple answer is no, but if the pressure intensifies on Adam Simpson after this week, there is no doubt that the Eagles coach would love to throw him a lifeline.
The Eagles ruckman has increased his training load and excitement is building around the club about his return, but to bring him back this season would seem like a desperate move. The Eagles have clearly lacked a presence in the ruck and at the stoppages, but to bring Naitanui back early would be risking the long-term for an uncertain short-term.
The Key Stat
The glaring difference between the two sides comes from the middle and looks again to be an important factor. Whoever can control the clearances will enjoy forward half possession and based on the season thus far, it points to a dominant GWS performance.
The Giants have converted 89% of their first possessions at centre bounces into meaningful clearances to be the second best side in the competition. At the other end of the spectrum sit West Coast who have won just 43% of first possession from centre bounces this season. The Eagles have been strong in defence, but if they give away a large differential from stoppage take-aways, the Giants will have too many options to not take the opportunities afforded to them.
It’s A Big Week For….
Josh Hill. Like Chris Masten and Sharrod Wellingham before him, Hill finds himself at a potential crossroads in his AFL career. Masten and Wellingham have both had opportunities in the senior side in recent weeks and neither have grasped it, heading back to the WAFL. Hill hasn’t played for West Coast since the three point loss to Melbourne in Round 14, but earns his spot back through consistent efforts at East Perth.
The Eagles have been criticized for their lack of tackling pressure in games, particularly in the forward half, and there will be expectations that Hill can bring this aspect to the Eagles play. Hill has booted a moderate 16 goals from 11 games and the Eagles would love another avenue to goal as they have been too reliant on Josh Kennedy in recent weeks.
With Mark LeCras still to potentially come back and youngsters Kurt Mutimer and Malcolm Karpany still pushing for recalls in the AFL, Hill needs to make an impact with this opportunity or he could be part of the off-season scrapheap.
The Eagles have more of a chance than most seem to think, although they will still have a tough task ahead of them. On paper, the Eagles have the defence that can hold the Giants and a forward line that could trouble the Giants, but as always the performance in the middle will decide the result.
A key area of weakness has been the Eagles’ ability to score from their midfielders, while the Giants have enjoyed a much more balanced spread of goal kickers through the year. The Eagles though have been too inconsistent in 2017 from game to game and from quarter to quarter.
They were completely outplayed by Carlton in the third term last week, and while they recovered to win, they can’t afford to drift in and out of games against the best oppositions. It will be a tough ask to claim the points away from home.
GWS by 26 points.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Jamie Cripps will play game 100 for the Eagles. (@WCE_History)