The Eagles travel to Melbourne to take on a Hawks side who are looking to bounce back after two consecutive losses bundled them out of the top eight. West Coast are revelling being at the top of the table, after knocking off Richmond, but it won’t mean much if they stumble on this road trip. Some still doubt whether the Eagles can win in Melbourne (despite claiming two victories already against the Bulldogs and the Blues), but will no doubt be eroded if they can score a win over Hawthorn.
The Recent History
The Hawks have been a bogy side for West Coast in recent years, particularly on the road. Hawthorn have won four of the past six, with the last three wins to Hawthorn comfortable results. The Hawks broke Eagle hearts in the 2015 Grand Final when they romped to a 46 point win and then duplicated the effort when the two sides met again early in 2016. The Hawks then caused more misery on West Coast last year in their only meeting when they easily claimed a 50 point win at the MCG.
The Hawks entered that game winless, on the back of consecutive 87 point defeats, but turned it around against West Coast controlling the game from the start. The Eagles stayed in the game as best they could from limited opportunities but never looked likely as the Hawks finally put them away with an eight goal final term. Luke Bruest, Jack Gunston, Jarryd Roughead and Tim O’Brien all finished with three majors, displaying the spread of forwards at Hawthorn’s disposal, while Tom Mitchell led the way through the middle with 37 possessions.
Jack Darling was the lone hand up forward with four goals and Luke Shuey was the Eagles’ best player with 33 touches and two goals, but there were too many passengers. In between that deflating defeat and the two 46 point losses, the Eagles were able to claim a win on home soil in a gritty 25 point win that kept their 2016 finals hopes alive. Josh Kennedy got the better of James Frawley, who to be honest has had his measure since the 2015 Qualifying Final, with five goals and Jack Darling chimed in with three as West Coast got a handle on the game in the first half. Andrew Gaff was everywhere with 38 disposals.
Home form hasn’t been an issue for West Coast winning the past two in WA, but away from home it’s a different story. The Eagles haven’t beaten Hawthorn away from home since 2006 – 10 consecutive losses on the road.
The Eagles remain unchanged, taking in the same line up that disposed of Richmond last week. The spotlight for much of the week was on Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey with both pressing their claims for inclusion this week. Shuey failed in his bid to return from a hamstring that has kept him out the past fortnight, but Yeo was included after showing no ill effects from the knee injury he suffered last week.
There may still be concerns over Yeo, with youngster Brayden Ainsworth travelling with the squad as the emergency. If Yeo doesn’t come up on the morning of the game, Ainsworth will get his second career game, although all expectations are that Yeo should take his place. While Yeo is a wait-and-see, Jeremy McGovern is a definite inclusion after his partner gave birth to their first child during the week. On tenterhooks for much of the week about whether he would be free to play, McGovern will fly out to join his teammates the day before the game.
The Hawks made two changes, bringing in an important midfielder and an experienced defender for two youngsters. Jaegar O’Meara returned after one week out, and James Frawley was recalled as Hawthorn deal with the tall forward line of Kennedy, Darling and Waterman. Kaidan Brand and James Warpol were the two to make way.
Hawthorn resisted the urge of bringing back ruckman Jon Ceglar back for his first game in the senior team, since he ruptured an ACL against the Eagles in Round 22, 2016. Despite the imposing ruck duo of Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett, the Hawks have stuck with their preferred structure of one ruckman – Ben McEvoy – with support from Jarryd Roughead and Tim O’Brien.
The Talking Points
Should This Game Have Been At The MCG?
It seems to have been a major oversight by the AFL that this game wasn’t fixtured at the ‘home of football’, particularly as there were no other games scheduled for the same afternoon. With West Coast looking the goods to make finals, and with some dreaming of an appearance on the last Saturday in September, experience on the ground becomes ever crucial.
West Coast have two games at the MCG this year; they defeated Carlton in Round 5 and will play Collingwood later this year. Considering that the club only travels 10 times per year, and there are other states around the country to visit, there are only so many times West Coast will travel to Melbourne, meaning that allocating games at the MCG can be limited. Last year the Eagles managed seven trips to Victoria, this year there are only four, with two games split between Docklands and the MCG.
But considering they are playing the Hawks, whose home ground in Melbourne is the MCG, the decision to play the game at Docklands is a bit of a head-scratcher. Even President Jeff Kennett lambasted the AFL scheduling, wondering why the game was set to be played at Docklands. The AFL will point to contractual requirements and have also based their decision on the prediction that West Coast wouldn’t be a serious contender for finals, and wouldn’t draw a crowd, but these probably shouldn’t have been factors, especially now that the AFL own Docklands.
West Coast will be disappointed they have missed out on a game at the ‘G, but ultimately it will be about returning home with the four points.
Will West Coast Challenge The Latest Trends?
Following the Bulldogs and Tigers recent premierships, which were both done on the back of manic pressure, many clubs have adopted the trend of going smaller, with essentially one to two key forwards and one ruckman.
However, the Eagles have gone away from the majority of the competition, holding strong with their structure of having three tall forwards and also playing two recognized ruckmen. Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett have formed a dominant partnership, with both players returning after a year on the sidelines.
They obliterated the Tigers last week with decisive wins from the middle. While Richmond edged the Eagles in total clearances won, West Coast had six goals directly from centre bounces, which was critical in the final result.
Hawthorn toyed with the idea for much of the week about bringing in a second genuine ruckman and still could make a late change ahead of the game. Whether they do or don’t, the Eagles are forcing opposition sides to move away from their chosen set-ups, or risk getting exposed inside the centre square if they don’t.
Do The Eagles Tag Tom Mitchell?
Tom Mitchell has been a ball magnet, from collecting a record 54 possessions in the opening round right through to picking up another 46 against the Lions last week. Sides have made the mistake of letting him run loose, and tagging Mitchell has been proven to be a success against Hawthorn. Ben Jacobs ran a tight run with role in the Kangaroos win and Harry Cunningham also proved to be successful in the Swans’ recent narrow victory.
The Eagles tried running Mark Hutchings with Dustin Martin last week, but Martin proved too strong for Hutchings, gathering 16 disposals in the opening half. Martin was particularly influential in the second term as Richmond controlled the game, bringing about a switch in the second half. Elliot Yeo moved onto the Brownlow medallist in less of a run-with role and more of an offensive match-up. The move worked with Yeo curtailing Martin’s impact, as well as being a starring player for West Coast through the second half.
While the direct tag didn’t work on Martin, Tom Mitchell presents as a much more suitable opponent for Hutchings and it would seem pretty likely that Hutchings will be standing next to Mitchell from the opening bounce. Mitchell doesn’t have the blistering pace that Martin possesses and plays a much more inside role that will suite Hutchings.
Adam Simpson stated in the lead up that he was much more concerned about Isaac Smith than Mitchell but considering the major factor that Mitchell has been in the Hawks’ wins, West Coast won’t give him a chance to get off the leash.
The player who needs a big game…?
Jack Darling. He might be the golden boy of the competition and playing the best football of his life, but there are still some that question Darling’s ability to stand up in big games away from home. The key forward was the most influential player on the ground last week against the premiership favourites, producing a ‘Carey-like’ performance that saw him collect 20 disposals, 15 marks, 8 marks inside 50 and kick six goals.
But with much of the AFL focus on Darling, he can no longer be underestimated or considered second-fiddle to Josh Kennedy. With the multiple Coleman medallist still looking underdone after an interrupted pre-season, Darling will be called upon to lead the Eagles forward line again and will face stiff opposition in Ben Stratton. A strong performance up forward will finally see the back of the naysayers.
Both teams come into the clash with plenty on the line, as West Coast look to maintain their one game advantage on the rest of the competition, while Hawthorn will be desperate to climb back into the top eight. It presents as a tricky challenge for West Coast, with the competition still trying to work out whether Hawthorn are a genuine finals contender, or still building back to where they were at the start of the decade.
Hawthorn have been upset by the move to Docklands, and the ground itself doesn’t present the challenge for West Coast it once did. The new Perth Stadium closely resembles the parameters of Docklands and the Eagles have shown an ability to assimilate to away venues as a result.
The Eagles won’t have a better chance to break their hoodoo against the Hawks and their forward line firepower should deliver a winning score. At the other end, the Eagles should have all the right match-ups,
West Coast by 26.
EAGLE TRIVIA: The Eagles have lost their last 10 away games to Hawthorn, the second worst run in club history (11 games v Collingwood). West Coast never defeated Hawthorn at Docklands. @WCE_History