West Coast and GWS meet in the second week of the finals, with the Tigers awaiting the winner in the preliminary final. The two teams have had contrasting weeks with the external commentators lauding the Eagles last gasp win, and savagely criticising the Giants meek effort against Adelaide.
West Coast recorded back to back wins for the first time since Round 8 when they recorded arguably the greatest victory in the clubs history. The Eagles were rank outsiders against the Power and after skipping out to a five goal lead early in the second term, they looked shot as Port Adelaide rode a wave of home fan momentum to take a nine point lead during the final term.
However the experienced Eagles came again with the two teams finishing level at the final siren. Extra time ensued and after once again falling behind by 13 points, West Coast lifted themselves off the canvas and stole victory courtesy of Luke Shuey’s kick after the siren. Experienced inside midfielders Matthew Priddis and Sam Mitchell were vital in the win, while Jeremy McGovern was impenetrable down back and Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling both bagged three in the win.
The Giants have been under the microscope, with the pre-season premiership favourites now possibly facing a straight sets exit. Battling a lengthy injury list all season, the Giants have failed to generate any continuity. The Giants finished the home-and-away season in fourth, but had a number of unconvincing wins along the way.
GWS were poor across the board against Adelaide, blown out of the game by half-time when they could just manage 1.5. Stephen Coniglio battled hard with 27 possessions and two goals, while Callan Ward had 32 and seven tackles but too many players were poor. Josh Kelly lacked his usual output despite having 33 disposals, Heath Shaw was outplayed by Eddie Betts, Brett Deledio had no impact across half-forward, and the combination of Cameron, Patton and Lobb were ineffective.
The Giants last win actually came against the Eagles in Round 22, having dropped the last game of the season to Geelong by 44 points. That win was a month ago and the Giants will be out of chances this weekend if they can’t rediscover their form in the semi-final.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Giants met twice in 2017 and both matches were fiercely contested affairs. GWS recorded their first ever win over West Coast in Round 10, when they outlasted the Eagles to win by eight points. Toby Greene was the star for the Giants with two mammoth goals in the final term, after the match had gone goal for goal for much of the second half. Andrew Gaff led all ball winners with 35, while Callan Ward and Josh Kelly were the ball magnets at GWS. The match would have further ramifications for the Eagles, when Josh Kennedy went down at the start of the final term with an achilles injury that would ultimately rule him out for six weeks.
The second meeting in the second last round of the season was another tight contest, and followed a similar path with the Giants running out better in the final term. GWS got the early jump to lead by 21 points early in the second term, before the Eagles took a strangehold over the next quarter and a half. West Coast kicked five of the next six goals to take back the lead, but the Giants would finish with four goals to one in the last to win by 21 points. Josh Kelly was the standout of the afternoon, collecting a club record 43 possessions, while Elliot Yeo was superb in defence for West Coast.
The Eagles won the first five clashes between the two sides, before the Giants claimed the last two, while the Eagles have also won two of the previous three games at the Showgrounds.
The Eagles have maintained a pretty settled side in recent weeks and made just the one change to the team that scored the extra time win over Port Adelaide. Sharrod Wellingham returns to the senior side, replacing Luke Partington, to provide some additional experience to the squad. Adam Simpson has been wary of using fresh players to handle the increased work load and travel in the past fortnight, and it wouldn’t surprise if there were more changes before the start of the bounce.
The Eagles have taken a squad of 26 to Sydney and won’t take any chances, with Partington, Chris Masten and Will Schofield on standby. Malcolm Karpany also travelled, although wasn’t named in the extended squad. One name who didn’t make an appearance on the plane was ruckman Nic Naitanui. Naitanui had been the discussion for much of the week, but with Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie both outstanding in the ruck against Port Adelaide, the Eagles continue to take a cautious path with Naitanui.
The Giants made two changes to the team that was well beaten by Adelaide, with the losses of Jeremy Cameron and Shane Mumford forecast at the start of the week. Cameron tore a hamstring during the game against the Crows, sitting out the entire second half, while Mumford was later revealed to have a broken foot, and also has had his season ended prematurely.
Many were predicting Dawson Simpson to come in for Mumford, but the Giants have opted to go smaller, following criticism that their tall players aren’t effective enough when the ball hits the ground. Veteran Steve Johnson earned a recall after being dropped for the Qualifying Final, while first year player Tim Taranto was brought in for his first game since Round 14, having been sidelined with a lower leg injury.
Rory Lobb will lead the ruck and will be expected to put in a performance of a lifetime, particularly considering the tandem job that Vardy and Petrie were able to perform on All-Australian ruckman Paddy Ryder. With Jeremy Cameron also gone, that will leave Jon Patton to lead the forward line and he could pose similar problems as Charlie Dixon did for West Coast last week.
Like West Coast, the Giants were unable to call on some first-choice players, with Devon Smith still battling a knee problem and Ryan Griffin seriously underdone with two high ankle sprains keeping him out of the senior side since Round 3.
The Talking Points
Will The Eagles Target Kelly or Shiel?
In the most recent meeting between the two sides, the Eagles were faced with the option of tagging either Josh Kelly or Dylan Shiel, with Mark Hutchings ultimately performing a run-with role on Shiel. Kelly though racked up 43 disposals to be best on ground, and Adam Simpson acknowledged after that game that they couldn’t mind both players. Which leaves Simpson with a decision to make.
In recent weeks the Eagles have opted not to go with the tight tag, but will have Mark Hutchings at their disposal if either Shiel or Kelly get off the leash. Considering the performance last time around though, Kelly could be targeted first and the Eagles could also use a left field option in Sharrod Wellingham. The Eagles prefer to use Hutchings against the in-and-under players and the run of Wellingham could be more beneficial. Wellingham has performed the role in the past, getting the better of Gary Ablett in a game against the Gold Coast.
Should West Coast Have Brought In Naitanui?
For all of the hoopla around the inclusion of the Eagles number one ruckman, West Coast have made the right decision not to bring in their x-factor. No doubt the decision to leave Naitanui at home was made easier with a broken foot sidelining Shane Mumford for the rest of the year, while the form of Vardy and Petrie would have meant a harsh decision to leave either one of them out.
The Eagles though will continue to be tempted the longer they stay in the premiership hunt. Their next opponents will be the Tigers and an athletic Naitanui could give the Eagles a superior advantage over Toby Nankervis. If the Eagles are to take a chance on Naitanui, they’ll need to time the decision to perfection, because he will be operating off little match fitness, and the finals aren’t the time to take fatigued players in.
Should Drew Petrie Un-Retire?
“The Dish” as he has been affectionately know throughout his 331 game career, Petrie has become an immediate favourite with Eagles fans. Petrie came across after the end of his North Melbourne career as insurance for the club as they dealt with the loss of Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett for the season.
Drafted as a rookie, Petrie had a rocky start when he broke his hand in his debut, but since returning against the Giants in Round 10, Petrie has shown the type of heart and leadership that endears players to fans. Petrie has been a solid contributor in most games and has shown a commitment in the contest that younger teammates have at times shown an unwillingness too.
Petrie kept the Eagles in the game against the Demons when he kicked his best haul at the club of four goals and has supported Nathan Vardy in the ruck with fierce determination, culminating in a standout performance against Paddy Ryder in the elimination final.
Petrie announced he would hang up the boots once the Eagles’ season ended, but there are plenty who feel he would still be of value to the side in 2018 even with the return of Naitanui and Lycett.
The Key Stat
The Eagles have struggled for much of the season to get first-possession ascendancy at the centre clearances and around the ground and as such, have relied on their high efficiency inside-50 to kick winning scores.
Against the Giants, they play a side who have been one of the worst at conceding inside-50’s and conceding scores from opposition inside-50’s, meaning the likes of Kennedy, Darling, Petrie and LeCras are all a chance of scoring opportunities, provided West Coast can get enough entries. The Eagles were impressive against the Power at the stoppages, winning the clearance count by 10 – their third best differential of the season.
Matthew Priddis and Sam Mitchell were instrumental against the Power, while Lewis Jetta had three clearances from the first three centre bounces of extra time, and could be deployed off the back of the square against the Giants. West Coast have averaged a goal from one in every four forward 50 entries this season but in the previous two encounters with GWS, they managed just 43 and 48 in Rounds 10 and 22, respectively.
If they can improve their numbers to around 60 for the match, the Eagles will muster enough shots on goal to kick a winning score.
It’s A Big Week For….
Sharrod Wellingham. The obvious choice but he works his way into the side at the expense of a youngster and needs to deliver not just for his side’s hopes this season, but also for his career.
Wellingham has deserved to be included for selection on the back of fine performances in East Perth’s last two games and as well as bringing in more experience – not that the Eagles are short in this department – but also plenty of run and fresh legs. The season has been a taxing one for all teams at this point, and West Coast had to play a further ten minutes last week to get them to this point.
Wellingham will also bring an element of flexibility that Luke Partington doesn’t have, should the Eagles face problems during the game. Played primarily as a rebounding defender in recent seasons, Wellingham could start further up the ground to provide dash and class, with the Eagles able to throw him into defence if required.
The preliminary final is the obvious carrot at the end of this game and both teams will have good reason to believe they can keep their finals dream going. The Eagles will have a tough challenge with consecutive away games while the Giants will be keen to avenge their poor effort against the Crows.
Like Adelaide Oval, the Sydney Showgrounds are of similar dimensions to Subiaco, and considering their record at the ground against the Giants, West Coast can afford to enter the game with confidence. Wins over the two South Australian teams from the last two outings has built up the Eagles momentum and couldn’t have encountered GWS at a better time.
West Coast will need to bring the same intensity around the stoppages and contested ball, as the Port Adelaide game, and while there will be questions about backing it up, the Giants have been too out of sorts and too unsettled for too much of the year to suddenly get it right at the business end. Talent alone will favour the Giants, but the Eagles are embracing the long haul.
West Coast by 3 points.
EAGLE TRIVIA: The Eagles are playing consecutive games away from Subiaco in consecutive weeks for the first time since the Preliminary and Grand Finals of 2006. (@WCE_History)