West Coast and Sydney meet in an historic opening round clash in the first ever AFL game played at the new Perth Stadium. Both sides will be looking to start the year off on a winning note, with the Swans in particular, expected to be one of the title challengers this season. The Eagles will be hopeful of a home win in front of nearly 60,000 fan and to put to rest the growing doubts that have surfaced over the pre-season.
JLT form is always a hard guide, although the Eagles last start has put concern amongst fans and commentators alike. The Eagles were poor against the Dockers, putting it down to a mindset. That loss followed a similar poor performance in a practice game against Fremantle. The Eagles were able to register an opening JLT win against Port Adelaide in a scrappy encounter.
The Swans managed two wins in the pre-season with impressive wins over GWS and Brisbane. The Swans will have 2017 fresh in their minds when they started the season with six losses, having them play catch up for the remainder of the year.
The Recent History
West Coast and Sydney met just the once in 2017, with the Eagles running out comfortable winners. West Coast met Sydney at the prime time of Round 4, with the Swans arriving in Perth after dropping their opening three games on their way to a winless six game streak to start the year. After an even start, the Eagles booted eight goals to six after half-time to record a 26 point win. However, the margin could have been greater, with inaccuracy in front of goal keeping the Swans in the game.
However, that win was just the Eagles second in the 11 previous attempts with the Swans well and truly holding an edge over their rival. Both of the Eagles’ wins were at Subiaco, although the Swans would have no qualms about coming here, with five of their nine wins in the recent stretch in Perth. Josh Kennedy has averaged 30 disposals in the past five meetings between the sides, and appears to be the main man in the middle the Eagles need to stop. The Eagles Kennedy has booted 15 goals in those games, and will be missed up front for the home side.
Both teams have had injury problems leading up to round 1, causing a number of surprise selections. The Eagles have been unable to call on full-forward Josh Kennedy, recruit Brandon Ah Chee, ruckman Nathan Vardy, while young defender Tom Cole – who appeared likely for a Round 1 selection – has been given leave following the death of his father. The growing injury list coupled with a number of retirements and delistings since the semi-final defeat to GWS last year has seen a batch of fresh faces included.
The Eagles will play three debutants in Jake Waterman, Liam Ryan and Daniel Venables and have recalled Scott Lycett and Nic Naitanui. Surprisingly, the Eagles also selected veterans Chris Masten – who barely appeared in the pre-season – and Will Schofield with Adam Simpson hesitant to go overboard with a regeneration.
The Swans have had their own injury concerns, with their ruck stocks taking the biggest hit. Following the retirement of Kurt Tippett in the lead up to the season, the Swans also lost Sam Naismith who requires a knee reconstruction. Aliir Aliir was earmarked for a potential move into the ruck, but went down with an ankle injury in the opening JLT match against Brisbane, as did Callum Sinclair. Sinclair, however, has recovered to lead the Swans and will most likekly receive support from Dean Towers. Sydney were expected to take in t
Dan Hannebery couldn’t be considered as he continues his comeback from a calf problem, but in better news, captain Jarrad McVeigh has recovered to be selected – his first appearance in a round 1 game since 2015. Draftee Ryley Stoddart was talked as a late bolter to the senior side, but ultimately missed out on the squad. However, the Swans have their own blend of youth, with Oliver Florent, Robbie Fox and Tom Papley all selected. Sam Reid will partner Franklin up forward but Will Hayward misses out despite booting three goals the last time the two sides met.
The Talking Points
Where Do West Coast Have An Advantage?
The Swans have been notorious in recent seasons for being one of the best stoppage and contested ball sides in the competition and beating them needs to start at the coalface. The Eagles have welcomed back Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett, who played one game between them in 2017, while the Swans have only ex-teammate Callum Sinclair in the ruck as they opted not to select West Australian youngster Darcy Cameron.
Despite the limited of game time from their starting two rucks in the last 18 months, the Eagles have to get a decisive advantage in the ruck to have any chance of claiming a first up win. As well as winning the tap, the physical presence of Naitanui and Lycett will be important. The Eagles lack in inside midfielders, with Elliot Yeo best suited but more likely to spend time across half-back or even up forward. Naitanui and Lycett need to thrown their bodies around to stop the Sydney midfielders to gain first possession.
Who Gets The Job on Buddy?
Lance Franklin has the capability to tear a game apart, and while he has never dominated against the Eagles, there will be concerns that they have no pure match up for the Sydney superstar. McGovern and Barrass both have the size to match with Franklin, but won’t have any interest in heading up the ground if the Sydney forward decides to roam. The two defenders much prefer the ball to reach them in the defensive 50 arc where they can pick off the opposition forward entries and send the ball West Coast’s way.
The inclusion of Will Schofield could have been based around having a running defender that can trail Franklin, with Schofield certainly able to match Franklin’s athleticism. Brad Sheppard and Jackson Nelson are two others who could run with Buddy if he is utilized further up the ground. As far as Adam Simpson will be concerned, stopping Franklin will be a team focus and the defensive pressure through the midfield to deny Franklin the ball and scoring opportunities will play just as important a key.
Where Do West Coast Find The Goals?
The Eagles must deal without Josh Kennedy for the opening few weeks of the season after ankle surgery late last year, and more recently, a tidy up of a knee problem. Kennedy is the incumbent greatest goal kicker at the club, sitting just seven behind Peter Sumich, and his absence showed last season when he was sidelined with an achilles problem. West Coast struggled to fill the void, and finding a greater spread of goal scorers will be vital in the first few games of 2018.
Jack Darling will become the major focal point and has shown in the past that he can step up with bags in Kennedy’s absence. However, much of the scoreboard contribution may fall to a number of youngsters. First-gamer Jake Waterman has been named at centre half forward, with fellow debutants Liam Ryan and Daniel Venables in the front half. Adam Simpson has also stated that in playing two rucks, the expectation is that whoever is in the side must present as a forward option, putting the acid on Naitanui and Lycett.
The biggest issue for West Coast though is getting goals through the midfield. In comparison to the best midfield groups in the competition, the Eagles get too few goals out of the likes of Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed, Chris Masten and Jack Redden.
The player who wants a strong first game is…?
Chris Masten. Masten found his career at the crossroads in 2017, spending the majority of the back end of the season at East Perth. With the Eagles looking to regenerate through the midfield, Masten’s days appear numbered and the signs weren’t positive when he didn’t make an appearance in either of the JLT matches.
However, Masten has found himself on the wing as Adam Simpson looks to find a balance within the side of youngsters and veterans. Masten has consistently proven himself as one of the best runners at the club, but in recent times his low number of contested possessions and high turnover rate has made him below standard at AFL level. With recruit Ah Chee to come in, and a number of youngsters in Ainsworth and Partington both pressing for selection, Masten may only have limited opportunities to prove himself at the top level.
The Eagles will have external motivation to start the season with a rousing win at the new stadium in front of a capacity crowd. However, injuries have affected an already thin squad and a lot will be asked of a number of their youngsters, including three debutants. The Swans on the other hand will be hell bent on avoiding a repeat of their 2017 start, where they lost their opening six matches. The Swans should out-muscle the Eagles midfield and record a comfortable win on the road.
Sydney by 28.
EAGLE TRIVIA: The Eagles will have three AFL debutants in Liam Ryan, Jake Waterman and Daniel Venables, the most in one game since Round 1, 1996 (Andrew Donnelly, Chad Morrison & Brendan Fewster). @WCE_History