West Coast travel to the SCG for only the third time in 12 years in a vital top-four clash. The Eagles strengthened their position at the top of the table, without setting foot on the field, courtesy of losses to Richmond and Melbourne. The Eagles remain one game clear of the chasing pack, but now have a game in hand on every side in the top eight, bar the Power in eighth spot.
The Eagles haven’t lost since the opening round (against the Swans), but the play one of the in-form sides in the competition in Sydney, who enter Round 13 on their own five game winning streak. Sydney obliterated the Saints last weekend, booting the opening nine goals of the game, before recording a 71 point victory. However, while they come into the game without a loss since Round 7, the highest placed opposition the Swans have played in that time are the Hawks, who are currently 11th.
A win to the Swans would see Sydney join the Eagles on 40 points, and if they can record a large enough victory, and the Tigers go down to the Cats, could even find themselves on top of the ladder by the end of the weekend. The Eagles on the other hand would be essentially three games clear and almost have a top two spot sewn up if they can claim the points.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Swans met in the opening round of the 2018 season, in what was a historic opening of the new Perth Stadium. However, the Swans – namely through Lance Franklin – spoiled the party, inflicting a 29 point loss to the home side. Franklin proved the difference booting eight goals, with Sydney resisting a third-term Eagles fightback. Trailing by 26 points at the main break, the Eagles stormed back into the game on the back of Nic Naitanui inspired third term, reducing the margin to just five points with a term to play. The Swans settled in the final term, with Luke Parker’s miraculous over the head goal sealing a 29 point win for the Swans.
Since 2015, both sides have won two encounters each, with the Eagles recording a 26 point win in Round 4 last year. Jamie Cripps booted three goals and Luke Shuey picked up the three brownlow votes with 30 disposals as West Coast booted 11 goals to 8 after quarter time. The Swans won the last encounter at the SCG, in 2016, when they held the visitors goalless in the final term and record a 39 point win. The Eagles grabbed the lead early in the third quarter with three quick goals after half-time, but the Swans booted the final six in the match to ensure a comfortable win.
Overall, the Eagles have a poor record at the SCG, with just three wins from 17 games.
Structure appears the key for West Coast, with the naming of Jarrod Brander as their seventh debutant for the season. Brander, the Eagles first selection at last year’s draft, is a like-for-like replacement for Jack Darling, who will miss at least a month of football with a hairline fracture in his ankle. Brander is joined by a number of headline players returning.
Luke Shuey, Liam Ryan and Chris Masten all return from injury to provide plenty of run and speed for the Eagles. Shuey makes his first appearance since the early stages of the match against Port Adelaide in Round 7, after being a late withdrawal in the last start against the Saints. Chris Masten also comes in after a slight hamstring strain, having missed just the one game against St Kilda, getting the benefit of the weeks rest through the bye. Ryan comes in for his first game since Round 3, when he suffered a high ankle sprain when soccering a goal through against Geelong. The Eagles opted not to run him through the WAFL, instead looking to create a dynamic partnership between Ryan and fellow goalsneak Willie Rioli.
With those ins, four players have made way, two of which were forced. Along with Darling, Tom Barrass hasn’t made the trip across to Sydney due to a back injury sustained before the bye. Barrass’ exit means a different look to the Eagles defence, particularly with Will Schofield not included as he awaits the birth of his first child. Mark Hutchings and Brendon Ah Chee are the other two to make way, both omitted as competition for the midfield starts to heat up. Dom Sheed held his spot, after initially being dropped two weeks ago, only to then receive a reprieve when Luke Shuey pulled out.
Oscar Allen and Mark Hutchings were the two to travel with the side, with some reports today that Allen could be the eighth Eagles debutant this season. Whether that means there is an injury cloud, or whether it is just tactical remains to be seen, but the Eagles might include Allen to provide an option up forward, in place of Darling, allowing Brander to move into defence if the match-ups require.
The Swans made two changes, with one positional and one forced. Jarrad McVeigh has had a recurrence of a calf problem, meaning he couldn’t be selected, while Daniel Robinson was dropped. In their place comes Kieran Jack, who was rested for the Swans last game against the Saints, and defender Aliir Aliir.
The inclusion of Allir – who has been on the outer at the Swans over the past two seasons – has come about in response to the height the Eagles will possess in their forward line. Josh Kennedy, Jake Waterman and Jarrod Brander will all start in the forward half, as well as the resting ruckmen in Scott Lycett and Nic Naitanui.
The Eagles will have their own height dilemma down back as they go into the game without Tom Barrass and Will Schofield. The Swans only have Franklin as their tall option, with Sam Reid still battling injury, but with only McGovern in defence, the Eagles will rely on their smaller brigade to play above themselves to contain the Swans forward half.
The Talking Points
How Do The Eagles Cover Jack Darling?
The mantra of ‘one soldier out, another one in’ will be spoken of around the club, but the Eagles will have a hard time replacing the player that is most likely leading the B&F. Jack Darling has had a break out year, booting 28 goals from his first 11 games (although he has gone goalless in his past two). With Josh Kennedy working his way into the season following an interrupted pre-season, Darling has stepped up to the plate with his contested marking this season a standout.
With Darling likely to miss at least the next month of football, there will plenty expected of the younger brigade. Nathan Vardy would have been the ideal replacement, but he remains sidelined with an adductor problem, so more will be expected of Jake Waterman and Scott Lycett. Waterman has played a pivotal role in 2018, becoming the link man up the wings, which has allowed Kennedy and Darling to remain closer to goal.
Importantly though, with the SCG being a much smaller ground, the need to have that tall marking target up the wings may not be as vital. The Eagles have been able to spread the goal-kicking load this year through the likes of Waterman, Mark LeCras, Willie Rioli and Jamie Cripps and if the Eagles can get an advantage at the clearances and maintain possession of the ball inside forward 50, they should manufacture enough shots on goal. The six goal performance from Kennedy in the last start against the Saints would also have been pleasing and he will again be required to pick up where Darling left off.
So Who Gets Buddy This Time?
Buddy was the difference last time around and the Eagles match committee would have thought long and hard about how to combat the Sydney talisman this time around. In Round 1, Tom Barrass was given most of the responsibility, but struggled to match the versatility of Franklin around the ground. Barrass conceded five goals in a little under two quarters, with Jeremy McGovern and Will Schofield both spending time on Franklin through the second half.
This time around neither Barrass of Schofield are available, meaning that much of the responsibility will fall on McGovern. The Eagles are often reticent to sending their number one intercept marker on the opposition’s main forward, but McGovern appears the only logical option. Most likely it will be a shared role, with McGovern to mind Franklin when he plays deep in the Swans forward 50. If Franklin does roam further up the ground, expect McGovern to camp himself behind the ball to pick off the Swans forward entry, with either Brad Sheppard or Jackson Nelson taking over.
The Eagles will be hoping they can contain Franklin throughout the game, because there aren’t too many other options if Plan A doesn’t work.
Will The Bye Play A Role?
In a peculiar twist of the AFL fixturing, the Eagles and Swans will enter the clash on markedly different preparations. The Eagles have enjoyed a 13 day break since their last match against the Saints, while the Swans come in off just six days, having also just played the Saints.
Theoretically, the Eagles will be favoured with the longer break but history has shown that teams that come off the shorter break, and are more recently match-hardened, tend to claim the points. If West Coast are switched on from the start and can prevent the Swans from getting a fast start, then they might have the legs to finish the game stronger.
In saying that, the Swans were able to cruise for much of their game against the Saints, meaning that they might be just as refreshed, and that whoever puts in the full four-quarter performance will get the win.
The player who needs a big game…?
Josh Kennedy. There has been plenty of focus on the Eagles forward structure with Darling now sidelined, and while the youthful blend of players has been a success, Kennedy now becomes the main marking target up forward. Around him will be a debutant and several first year players, with only sharp-shooter Mark LeCras the other experienced member of the front group.
Kennedy has had a slow start to the season, but found some of his best form last week, booting six goals against the Saints. Kennedy generally likes to get out on the lead, but with the smaller dimensions of the SCG, he could regularly find himself in a wrestle with either Heath Grundy or Allir Aliir, or both.
That might work for Kennedy as he looks to build up his fitness base, but if he does remain closer to goal, four to five goals will be a minimum requirement if the Eagles are to get up.
The Eagles have been the surprise packet of the season, winning 10 of their first 11 games, but the Swans have almost slipped under the radar as they come into Round 13 with a 9-3 record. Lance Franklin has been solid since his eight goal effort in Round 1, but there have been plenty of other contributors as the Swans warm into the season.
Captain Josh Kennedy has rediscovered his best form after a slow start, while Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney both in fine form through the midfield. Much of their impact has been helped by the form of former Eagle Callum Sinclair, who is having a career best season while carrying the load of the Swans ruck duties. With Kurt Tippett retiring ahead of the season and Sam Naismith requiring a knee reconstruction, Sinclair has been tasked with leading the ruck and is doing so with aplomb. Sinclair would also be benefitting from the coaching of Dean Cox, who is now an assistant coach with Sydney, and will be squaring up against former teammates Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett.
Historically, the Eagles have struggled against the Swans around the contest, and plenty will rest on the returning Shuey, as well as Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden and Dom Sheed. The likes of Grundy and Nick Smith have gotten the better of LeCras and Darling in the past, but with a quicker mix of players, the Eagles will get enough shots on goal, if they can get the ball inside forward 50.
Sydney will also be looking to restore some pride in front of their fans, having already dropped three games on their home deck this season and the Eagles’ record at the ground doesn’t invoke much confidence.
The Swans may just have a bit too much momentum at this point of the season.
Sydney by 17.
EAGLE TRIVIA: The Eagles have not won at the Syndey Cricket Ground this century, with their last win coming in Round 9 1999, when they claimed a 13 point win. @WCE_History