Geelong travel the Nullibor to take on West Coast with both sides looking to secure an early spot in the top eight. The winner of this clash will have a 2-1 record after three rounds and that could be an important milestone for both clubs ahead of the coming weeks. The Eagles could get themselves well ahead of the ledger with games against Gold Coast, Carlton and Fremantle to follow, while the Cats have a winnable game against the Saints before tough fixtures versus Port Adelaide, Sydney and GWS.
The Eagles opened their account for 2018 with an impressive win over the Bulldogs. A nine goal run through the second and third terms was the catalyst for a 51 point triumph, although the test will come as to whether the Eagles were really good, or the Bulldogs were really poor. Shannon Hurn continued his fine start to the season with another strong performance off half-back, which netted him the maximum votes in the coaches award. Liam Ryan was dynamic up forward, finishing with 3.3 alongside mark of the year and goal of the year nominations, while the combination of Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett again dominated the hit-outs although West Coast couldn’t translate this into a clearance advantage.
The Cats went down in an epic clash against their arch rivals Hawthorn, in a game that is an early contender for the game of the year. The Hawks twice jumped out to four goal leads, only to be reeled in, but a late Jarryd Roughead point was enough to deliver Hawthorn the win. Their last start saw the first outing of the star studded midfield in Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood and while they all starred, it turned out to not be enough.
The Recent History
The Eagles claimed the points in the only meeting between the sides in 2017, in what was one of their most complete performances of the year. West Coast laid 93 tackles, one of the best recorded efforts in club history, as they shot out to a 36 point half-time lead, before hanging on to win by 13. Lewis Jetta, Dom Sheed and Jack Darling were all multiple goal kickers while Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff both tallied 32 disposals.
Rhys Stanley kicked three goals, and Dangerfield was his customary self in gathering 32 touches and a goal, but the Cats still recorded their fourth loss in their past five visits to Perth to play West Coast. The Cats only win in that time was a 66 point drubbing in 2013. Since breaking a six game losing streak against Geelong in 2011, the Eagles have won four, as have Geelong, with all those wins coming in Perth.
Despite plenty of discussion about likely changes for the two sides, there was only one between the two teams when they were initially announced. Esava Ratugolea was brought back into the Geelong side, after being a late withdrawal against Hawthorn, replacing Mark O’Connor. The Eagles announced an unchanged side.
However there could be gamesmanship between Adam Simpson and Chris Scott after a week of speculation that Mark Hutchings and Scott Selwood would both come into their respective sides this week. Both were named as emergencies, with Hutchings held out of the East Perth line-up – a strong suggestion that he will come into the final 22 on game day. Scott Selwood also seems likely to play in a bid to balance the Cats strong midfield with defensive flavour.
The Cats also opted not to bring back ruckman Zac Smith, despite coming up against the two of the top three hit-out winners so far this season and a week after Ben McEvoy had a day out against Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs. Geelong may take the attitude that they don’t need to win the tap, as long as they can nullify the clearances – an area that West Coast haven’t taken advantage of in the opening two rounds.
Geelong were also unable to consider Mitch Duncan and remain short in defence with Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson both abset, while Josh Kennedy remains sidelined for the Eagles. In a boost though, Kennedy is firming to a return to senior action in Round 4 against Gold Coast, while Nathan Vardy and Brendon Ah Chee should also be available in the coming weeks.
The Talking Points
Do West Coast recall Mark Hutchings?
Hutchings has been one of the surprise omissions from the Eagles side in the opening two weeks, forced out as Adam Simpson gives game time to a group of first and second year players. Hutchings was one of the best for East Perth in their 118 point shellacking to Subiaco, picking up 29 disposals and would add a bigger body in the Eagles midfield.
Hutchings has also proven to be handy across half-forward and his inclusion as a defensive midfielder would free up the likes of Jack Redden and Elliot Yeo. A concern for West Coast in the first fortnight has been their clearances and releasing Redden and Yeo to be more proactive would help West Coast take advantage of the ruck dominance they have enjoyed so far this season.
If Hutchings comes in, who does he go too?
The Cats ‘Holy Trinity’ is going to be the biggest challenge for most oppositions as debate surrounds whether to try and tag and members of the big three or to beat them offensively. Hutchings is set to be a late inclusion with West Coast looking to limit the impact of one of the big three.
If Hutchings does come through, the most appropriate match up would be Joel Selwood. It is generally assumed that tagging Dangerfield is a waste of time, while Gary Ablett has been questioned about how damaging he has been in the first two games. Hutchings ran with Selwood in the last meeting between the two sides, holding the Cats captain to 19 possessions. Physically, Hutchings sizes best with Selwood and while Dangerfield and Ablett are the polish, the real grunt comes from Selwood in the middle.
Is Scott Lycett the most underrated player this season?
While all the focus has been on Naitanui’s return, equally as important has been Scott Lycett’s inclusion in the side. Lycett managed just the one game in 2017 after first returning from a shoulder reconstruction and then missing with a posterior cruciate ligament.
Lycett has carried much of the ruck load as Naitanui’s game time is managed, tallying 32 and 21 hit-outs as well as 18 contested possessions, 8 clearances and 2 goals in games against Sydney and the Western Bulldogs. His bigger size has been important around the contests and he has also provided an important target up forward with Nathan Vardy and Josh Kennedy both sidelined with injury.
Coming into the final year of a four year contract, this season shapes as vital in his injury-affected time with the club and in partnership with Naitanui, Lycett will play a key role in West Coast’s developing midfield.
The player who needs a big game…?
Liam Duggan. Duggan seemed as though he had come of age through the second half of 2017, with a move to the half-back flank bringing about the best form of his short career. Duggan averaged 17 possessions in 14 games following the mid-season bye and with the anticipation that he would spend more time through the midfield in 2018 with the departures of Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell.
However, after spending increased time through the midfield in the opening round loss to Sydney, Duggan returned to the backline against the Bulldogs. Duggan picked up 17 possessions, to match his average, but only went a disposal efficiency of 54%. A big game at home against Geelong would be an excellent time to get his season into gear.
Geelong are rightfully favourites for this game, but following the exciting performances from a number of young Eagles against the Bulldogs coupled with the six day break and Geelong’s poor recent performances in the west, the Eagles are very much a strong chance to pinch the four points.
How much of an advantage they can get through the ruck and midfield will be key, and if they allow all of Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood to exert their influence, the pendulum will swing back in the Cats’ favour. The Eagles do have a defensive group to combat the Geelong forward line – which is currently over-reliant on Tom Hawkins and Daniel Menzel – as well several options up forward which could be too much to handle for an undermanned Geelong defence.
West Coast by 4.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Jack Darling needs just four more goals to overtake Quinten Lynch in top five all-time goal scoring list for West Coast. @WCE_History