The Eagles claims for a top four spot hang by a thread, with a third consecutive loss heading into their mid-season bye.
A week ago, the Eagles had never lost to either of the expansion clubs, but six days after having their 100% record against the Giants broken, the Eagles dropped their first game against the Suns.
In a game that never reached great heights, Peter Wright steered through the winning goal with just over a minute and a half remaining, to give the Suns their fourth win of the season, and keep alive their faint hopes of a maiden finals appearance.
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West Coast had one final chance to steal victory from a kick-in with 46 seconds remaining, but inexplicably went slow and sideways and eventually ran out of time when Tom Lynch marked across half-back.
Adam Simpson had no hesitation in questioning the senior core group as the Eagles lost a narrow game after leading in the final term for the second week in a row.
“There were moments in that last few minutes where we lost our composure, and some experienced players didn’t handle it too well.”
“We haven’t been able to close it out last week or this week. We need to find a way.”
Gold Coast had enjoyed the majority of possession in the first term, with the leading 8 individual disposal winners on the ground. The Suns had 43 more uncontested possessions, but a large proportion were accumulated in defence, as the Suns chipped the ball around.
Without Josh Kennedy, the Eagles were forced to find goals through unlikely sources, with Jack Darling, Mark LeCras and Josh Hill all failing to impact the game.
Elliot Yeo, who was having a breakout year across half-back, started up forward and kicked the Eagles opener, with Luke Shuey and defenders Will Schofield and Jeremy McGovern also kicking truly. Of West Coast’s five first half goals, only Jamie Cripps was a goal-kicker from the traditional forwards.
Much discussion had taken place during the week about where McGovern would line up, but he started in defence, alongside Eric Mackenzie. Mackenzie and Schofield took the two Gold Coast pillars in Wright and Lynch, leaving McGovern to patrol the Suns forward line.
However, after quarter time, the Suns avoided the Eagle trap of kicking long down the line to the waiting arms of McGovern and the Eagles swingman was moved forward in the final term to provide the marking target West Coats had lacked through the first three terms.
By this point, the Suns had finally started to convert their statistical advantage into meaningful scoring chances, establishing a 14 point lead with a four goal third term. The Suns had been wasteful in the second term but made it count in the penultimate quarter.
Gold Coast had had a whopping 96 uncontested marks in the first three quarters, and were allowed to spot up teammates to set up forward thrusts. While the Suns had only a minor advantage in the inside-50 count, they had taken 10 marks inside-50 (to the Eagles one), as they continued to hit up short targets on the lead.
The Eagles though stormed back into the contest with the first four goals of the final term, on the back of a dominant centre square display. An achilles heel for much of the year, West Coast turned it around with Drew Petrie thrown into the ruck.
Sam Mitchell was also thrown into the middle with Dom Sheed and Matt Priddis and the Eagles were suddenly unstoppable at the centre clearances, which in effect denied the Suns the weight of possession they had enjoyed for three quarters.
Petrie was also having an influence around the ground with a number of strong marks and drew the Eagles within a kick after Lewis Jetta kicked the opening goal of the term. Josh Hill then stepped up with a brace, and West Coast had a ten point deep into time-on.
The Suns had been lambasted for their fade-out the week before against Melbourne and all the signs appeared to show the Suns falling short again. However, West Coast couldn’t deliver the knock out blow.
Josh Hill and Dom Sheed both had set shots that didn’t make the distance, while Petrie missed a marking opportunity in the goal square. West Coast peppered the forward arc, but a sweeping move saw Brandon Matera reduce the margin after the Suns did their best to squander one of their few forays forward.
As the clock ticked down, Alex Sexton missed a chance to put the Suns ahead before Wright stepped up to sink the Eagles.
After sitting 6-2 three weeks ago and eyeing a top four spot, the Eagles are now 6-5 with a season on the brink of freefall.
West Coast have a bye to regroup, before two games against Geelong and Melbourne in their home comforts. Likely to be sitting outside of the top eight when they resume in Round 13, the Eagles finals hopes could rest on what they deliver after the break.
Match Details Sunday 3 June 2017
Gold Coast 2.5 5.10 9.10 11.14 (80)
West Coast 3.3 5.5 7.8 11.11 (77)
Carrara Attendance: 11,402
Goals: GCS Lynch 3, Wright 2, Lemmens, Harbrow, Sexton, Matera, Hall, Lyons.
WCE Yeo 3, Hill 2, McGovern, Schofield, Petrie, Jetta, Shuey, Cripps.
EAGLE EYE VOTES
Round 11 Season Total
5 Dom Sheed 25 Elliot Yeo
4 Elliot Yeo 25 Luke Shuey
3 Drew Petrie 17 Sam Mitchell
2 Sam Mitchell 16 Andrew Gaff
1 Luke Shuey 12 Jeremy McGovern
ROUND 13 FORECAST
The Eagles made a statement at the selection table before the Suns match, dropping Chris Masten, and the axe could fall on more senior players following the clubs first ever loss to Gold Coast.
In the absence of spearhead Josh Kennedy, the Eagles forward line failed to fire with Mark LeCras, Jack Darling and Jamie Cripps combining for just one goal. LeCras is goalless in his past three outings with the club, while Darling had basically no impact on the game at all. Josh Hill also didn’t have his best game, but most likely saved his spot with two goals in the final term as West Coast surged back into the match.
Whilst LeCras and Darling appear to need a run at WAFL level, their prospective replacements had mixed performances in the Royals comfortable win in the WA Day derby against West Perth.
Tom Lamb – who has had a solid season thus far – could manage only 14 disposals and three behinds, and turned the ball over at key moments early in the game. Kurt Mutimer and Malcolm Karpany who have both made senior appearances in recent weeks could manage just one game between them, with Mutimer collecting many of his 19 disposals towards the end of the game when the heat of the match had died down.
Willie Rioli played his first game for the East Perth league side and dazzled in the opening half with a clever first quarter goal and a mark of the year contender in the second quarter. However, in disappointing news for many Eagles fans who are desperate for him to make his AFL debut, Rioli failed to return to the field after half-time with West Coast citing muscle tightness in his right hamstring.
In a positive note for West Coast Scott Lycett returned for the Royals, predominantly up forward. Lycett presented as a strong marking target and also did some good things at ground level, but looked tired through the second half in his first full game for the year.
Unfortunately for West Coast the Royals have the bye next week, meaning that Lycett won’t get a second chance before the Eagles clash with Geelong to build match fitness. West Coast have struggled inside the centre square all season and will be tempted to rush Lycett back against the Cats who boast an impressive contested ball quartet of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Scott Selwood and Sam Menegola.
Two players who didn’t do any harm were Luke Partington and Jack Redden. Partington was down on his average of 30 disposals for the season, collecting only 22 but complemented his performance with three goals. Redden was arguably best on ground for East Perth with 29 disposals, two goals and seven tackles, although the Eagles continue to debate his best role at AFL level.
Fraser McInnes did his recall chances no harm with 20 disposals, 10 hit-outs and a goal, but could face severe competition for a forward-ruck role with Lycett likely to be preferred, and Vardy and Petrie both doing enough to hold their positions at West Coast. Chris Masten was industrious with 28 disposals and five clearances, but turned the ball over on a number of occasions by foot, and may need to press his claims in the WAFL for another week.
Tom Barrass was solid down back, Tom Cole and Josh Rotham were both good without being spectacular and Daniel Venables had flashes of brilliance with two goals from 14 disposals. With 13 Eagles representing East Perth in the WA Day clash there are plenty of options for West Coast to consider from the lower level. Sharrod Wellingham also likely to be available from injury following next weeks’ bye with the likes of Matthew Priddis, Sam Butler, Will Schofield and Liam Duggan all to be under the microscope ahead of the clash with the Cats.