The Eagles travel to Port Adelaide to take on the Power in a knockout final. West Coast secured their spot in the final minutes of the last game of the season, and last ever at Subiaco Oval, when they defeated fellow South Australian side, the Adelaide Crows, by 29 points. Following the Demons shock loss to Collingwood the day before, the Eagles needed to win by greater than 22 points, and their finals aspirations looked dusted when the Crows held a 17 point lead late in time-on.
However, goals to Lewis Jetta and Jack Darling sealed the win West Coast needed and keeping alive their slim premiership hopes. The Eagles meet the Power and will feel positive about their opposition.
Sam Mitchell and Matthew Priddis were instrumental around the stoppages, despite the accumulation of possessions from the Crouch brothers. Priddis has had a strong finish to the season, after being one of the Eagles’ best against GWS the week before. Luke Shuey was dynamic with a number of dashing runs through the corridor, while Jeremy McGovern ensured his All-Australian selection with a resilient performance down back.
West Coast have boasted a strong recent record against the Power and at Adelaide Oval, and both sides find themselves on the generous side of the finals draw. The winner will face an out-of-sorts GWS, and if they get through that, a trip to the MCG to take on either Richmond or Geelong.
The Power for their part confirmed a home elimination final when they thumped an insipid Gold Coast by 115 points. Port Adelaide finished the home-and-away season with the second stingiest defence in the league when they held the Suns to just five scoring shots and the lowest score in the Suns’ short history.
Sam Gray produced his best goal-kicking performance to finish with six goals from 24 disposals, while Charlie Dixon finshed with four to take his tally to 46 for the season at better than two goals a game. Dixon has kicked at least one goal in every game this season, bar the thrashing by Essendon, and on six occasions this year has booted four goals or more in a game. Ollie Wines recaptured some of his early season form with 32 disposals, while Darcy Byrne-Jones also had 25 rebounding out of defence.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Power split their two contests through the regular season, but interestingly the two games were won by the away side. The Eagles made it a perfect three from three against the Power on their home deck when they held on for a desperate ten point win in Round 7, before Port Adelaide flipped the script and upset the Eagles at Subiaco with a runaway 32 point win in Round 16. The two sides were level at the final change after three quarters of see-sawing football, before the Power raced away in the final term with eight goals to three.
That result ended the Eagles three game winning streak between the two sides, with West Coast recording wins in the two teams only meeting in 2016 and 2015 – both at Adelaide Oval. The 32 point margin recorded by the Power was the largest margin between the two sides since 2012. The previous five meetings were all decided by 14 points or less with the Power also the first team to break through the 100 point barrier between the two since West Coast in 2011.
The two sides have met just once before in a final. Nearly 10 years to the day, the Power and Eagles met in a qualifying final at Football Park as the 2nd and 3rd placed teams in 2007. The Eagles a number of injuries to key players to lead for much of the night in a low-scoring encounter but were ultimately overrun as the Power recorded a thrilling three point win.
West Coast have taken the same 22 into their elimination final who got the job against Adelaide in Round 23 – the first time in season 2017 that West Coast have managed an unchanged line-up. All three emergencies travelled with East Perth out of contention in the WAFL, but only Sharrod Wellingham looms as a possible late inclusion. His finals experience could be seen as important with youngster Luke Partington most likely in the gun.
While Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett have been the obvious misses through 2017, the Eagles are essentially at full strength and will be encouraged by the form of some players criticised for their inconsistency. Elliot Yeo has had a breakout year, after showing signs, to earn All-Australian for the first time, while Liam Duggan has consolidated his position at half-back. Jack Redden has also had far greater impact on the wing and Jamie Cripps has also enjoyed the second half of the season and been a more regular contributor to the scoreboard.
The Power made just the one change to their line-up with Jarman Impey replacing youngster Aidyn Johnson, although Port Adelaide were unable to call upon three key players. Jack Hombsch and Tom Jonas will be missing through injury and suspension, respectively, leaving their youthful defence potentially exposed against an Eagles forward line who will have Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and one of Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy as options. The Power also chose not to recall Jackson Trengove which could leave ruckman Paddy Ryder with plenty to do.
Trengove suffered a head knock playing for Port Adelaide’s SANFL side in his return from injury, and while Trengove declared himself right to go, the Power opted to stick with youngster Todd Marshall. Trengove was given the task of minding Jeremy McGovern as a defensive forward in their Round 7 meeting and has performed similar roles against some of the best intercept defenders in the game.
The Talking Points
How Important Is Stopping Paddy Ryder?
The Port Adelaide ruckman was rewarded with All-Australian selection for 2017 after missing the entire 2016 season through suspension, and has dominated the Eagles in both meetings this year. Ryder amassed 81 hit-outs in his two games against West Coast this season – firstly against Nathan Vardy and Jon Giles, and then against the current combination of Vardy and Petrie. Ryder has also tallied 37 disposals, eight inside-50’s, seven clearances and booted three goals across the two games and will again be a key plank in the Power set-up.
One of the big strengths this season for Port Adelaide has been their work around the stoppage – an area that has been a major weakness for West Coast. If the Eagles can nullify Ryder’s taps to advantage in the centre and around the ground, it will go a long way to containing the forward entries that Port Adelaide can generate.
Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie will also need to nullify his influence around the ground. Petrie, in particular, has struggled against the versatile Ryder in recent clashes, but has the ability to hurt the Power ruckman the other way by hitting the scoreboard.
Will the Eagles Experience be a Factor?
For much of the season, West Coast have run with the most experienced side on the park, in both age and games played, and they will be looking at that experience again, with the Power boasting a lot of inexperience in their side.
Along with veterans Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie who have both had storied finals experience with Hawthorn and North Melbourne, and Lewis Jetta who won a flag with Sydney, of the remaining 19 players, only Luke Partington and Liam Duggan have never played in a final. 13 of the selected 22 were a part of the 2015 Grand Final line-up, as were the three listed emergencies.
In contrast, Power coach Ken Hinkley has been happy to back the players he has in form, and will go into the elimination final with a vast array of youth. Riley Bonner, Dougal Howard and Todd Marshall all have under 10 games of experience, Sam Powell-Pepper and Dan Houston are both in their first senior year of football while Tom Clurey and Darcy Byrne-Jones will have key roles in defence without Jack Hombsch, Tom Jonas and Jackson Trengove.
11 players from Port Adelaide will be playing their first final which presents as a different atmosphere and a different intensity. West Coast will be confident with the players that have been there before and will keep a calm head in the heat of the battle. How much of an influence the difference in experience will have won’t be evident until the final siren but it could prove a telling factor if the game is still up for grabs in the final term.
Does Josh Kennedy Need a Big Haul for West Coast to Win?
Kennedy has been in fine form since returning from an Achilles/calf injury, missing out on a third straight Coleman after Lance Franklin’s 10 goal effort against the Blues in Round 23. Kennedy has booted 31 goals in seven games, although he could only manage an inaccurate 1.4 in the final game against the Crows.
Without Jack Hombsch and Tom Jonas, the defensive duties will fall to Tom Clurey and Kennedy will be supremely confident that he can continue his recent good run. However, the Eagles were able to post 100 points against the league leaders without a major contribution from Kennedy last start, with several other Eagles hitting the scoreboard.
Mark LeCras has overcome a slow start to kick 13 goals from his last six starts while Jack Darling has 39 goals from 21 games to be the perfect foil for Kennedy. Jamie Cripps has also found reward towards the back of the season with two bags of three in the past three weeks.
Importantly for West Coast, they have also had goal scorers from the midfield – an area they have long struggled. Six of the Eagles midfield hit the scoreboard against Adelaide, while in recent weeks Jack Redden, Mark Hutchings and Matthew Priddis have all been multiple goal scorers in games. Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy have been regular goal kickers in their role between the ruck and midfield, and the Eagles will be hoping to have a greater spread of contributors behind spearhead Josh Kennedy.
The Key Stat
As well as the stoppages, the Power have been the number one side for inside-50 sides in the competition. West Coast enter the finals as the worst of the finals sides for inside-50’s and sit 13th overall in the competition, but have found ways to win games on the back of their ability to maximize the opportunities when they get them. This was evident in the Round 7 win against the Power, with the ten point win coming on the back of two bursts at the start of the first and third term when they slammed on nine of their 15 goals in quick time.
The Power ultimately finished with a 68-39 advantage in the inside-50’s, as Jeremy McGovern, Elliot Yeo and Tom Barrass put in a mighty effort to repel the Power entries. The Power again smashed the Eagles in their follow-up meeting at Subiaco, winning the inside-50 battle 60-42, but alarmingly the count was 37-14 after half-time, as the Power overturned a four goal deficit to race away to a 32 point win.
The Eagles have been on the wrong end of the inside-50 count for the majority of their games in 2017, but they can’t afford to give up such a huge differential in an elimination final.
It’s A Big Week For….
Lewis Jetta. Three quarters into his second game from a slight calf problem, Lewis Jetta was struggling to have any impact as West Coast fought for the last spot in the 2017 finals. However, an electric final term lifted the Eagles into eighth spot and delighted Eagles fans who continue to see glimpses of what he can do.
Eight disposals, four inside-50’s, four tackles including a brilliant run down of Crow Charlie Cameron on the wing, and a magical goal proved the inspiration for West Coast to record a famous win and the Eagles will be hoping he can produce a four-quarter effort this week of similar ilk.
The Power are blessed with outside run, in the form of Chad Wingard, Jared Polec, Brad Ebert and this weeks inclusion Jarman Impey and the Eagles will need to find a way to hurt the Power the other way. Lewis Jetta found form late in 2016, but ultimately missed the elimination final against the Bulldogs with West Coast exposed for their lack of pace. The feeling is that Jetta is building to that special game and the Eagles would love him to deliver with the season on the line.
Despite qualifying in 8th spot and travelling to the cauldron of Adelaide Oval, the Eagles will be quietly confident they can keep their season going. Adelaide Oval itself holds no fears for West Coast, and while the Power have statistically had the edge on West Coast in both their meetings this season, the Eagles will back their experience to get the job done.
A lot may rest on the shoulders of Josh Kennedy, who could get off the leash opposed to Tom Clurey. Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps and Mark LeCras have also shown improved form in the latter half of the season and will all need to have scoreboard impact for West Coast to post a winning score. However, they won’t be able to get into the game if the midfield can’t win their share of the ball.
Matthew Priddis has been revitalised since announcing his retirement and he and Sam Mitchell look to have finally figured out the right balance at the stoppages. Charlie Dixon looms as the Eagles’ biggest threat, but on the confines of Adelaide Oval, which is in similar shape to Subiaco, West Coast will back their zone defence to cut off the Power thrusts forward.
West Coast by 14 points.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Jack Darling becomes the 40th player in Eagle history to play 150 games and the first to celebrate the life-member milestone in a final since Peter Sumich in 1997. (@WCE_History)