West Coast and Geelong meet with both sides returning to action after a bye in Round 12. The Cats have an opportunity to move back into the top two following the Giants shock one point loss to Carlton last week. The Eagles slipped out of the top eight during the bye round, as Essendon and Melbourne both recorded impressive wins to jump past them. The Eagles remain in the logjam for the bottom half of the top eight, but losses to Port Adelaide, Fremantle and the Bulldogs last round worked in their favour. In a further sign of how even the competition is this season, a win to West Coast will draw them within a game of the Cats in the top four.
The Eagles enter the game against Geelong having not won for a month. Their Round 12 bye was preceded with three losses, and while the eight point loss to the Giants could be considered as honourable, defeats to Essendon and Gold Coast were shambolic. West Coast have yet to be convincing in any of their wins this season, but a top four scalp (albeit at home) could right a ship that has gone off course.
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Geelong made it three wins from three home games in a row, when they accounted for the Crows before the bye. The win over Adelaide followed victories over the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide, and leave the Cats just one win from the top two. Only a month earlier, Geelong’s season appeared to be teetering after three poor losses in a row, but the return to full fitness of Patrick Dangerfield seems to have gotten the Cats purring again.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Cats have met just once in each of the last four years, with the Cats winning three. The Eagles travelled to Kardinia Park last season and were no match as Geelong rolled to a comfortable 44 point win. Steven Motlop proved too elusive in the Cats forward half with four goals from 25 disposals and Joel Selwood had 35 possessions. Andrew Gaff was the Eagles best with 36, with Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy both booting three goals.
The Eagles only victory in recent times came in the last meeting between the two teams at Subiaco Oval. West Coast kept the Cats in the contest through poor kicking, but a final term blitz saw them win by 56 points. Josh Kennedy had a day out with six goals, Andrew Gaff was once again the leading possession winner on the ground with 33, but Nic Naitanui had the highlight of the day, taking the mark of the year. Tom Hawkins booted three in a losing effort and Steve Johnson had 27 touches.
Adam Simpson continues to come under fire over the selection of underperforming Eagles and once again has shown faith in Mark LeCras and Jack Darling. The two forwards will want to contribute on the scoreboard, with both players goalless in the first game without Josh Kennedy for nearly three seasons. LeCras hasn’t booted a goal in three games and will be desperate to regain some goalkicking form.
Josh Hill and Sam Butler were the casualties from the loss to the Suns, replaced by Tom Cole and Tom Barrass. Hill could consider himself unlucky for being dropped, with two goals in the final term against Gold Coast as West Coast made a late charge for victory. It is the second time in four games that Hill has copped the axe, while Butler misses his first game since Round 3.
Cole comes in to provide some dash out of defence, and could also spend some time on the wing. Barrass returns after a couple of weeks at East Perth, which means that surprisingly all four of the Eagles tall defenders play in the same team. The Eagles first selection at last year’s National Draft, Daniel Venables, was also in the mix but a case of turf toe has ruled the youngster out for a couple of weeks.
Sharrod Wellingham was also available after recovering from an ankle injury but could only make the emergency list and will play for East Perth on the weekend, as will Chris Masten who didn’t do enough a fortnight ago to force his way in. The Eagles also resisted the urge to bring back Scott Lycett who managed 70 minutes in his comeback from a shoulder reconstruction two weeks ago. Lycett is expected to return for the next game against Melbourne with another run under his belt, as will Josh Kennedy who ran out of time for the Cats clash in his recovery from a calf injury.
The Cats opted not to challenge the one match ban handed down to Tom Hawkins, meaning they – like West Coast – will be without their leading goalkicker. Rhys Stanley was preferred ahead of rookie Wylie Buzza who is closing in on an AFL debut after some impressive form in the VFL.
Hawkins has booted 30 goals from 11 games and without him Harry Taylor and Rhys Stanley will need to produce more in front of goal than they’ve managed so far this season. Taylor has 9 goals from 11 games, while Stanley couldn’t boot a major in the four games he played at the start of the season.
Jed Bews was the other inclusion for Geelong with the Cats resting Mark Blicavs. Blicavs has struggled to capture his best form since the restriction of the third man up was introduced but Bews should provide plenty of run on the longer Subiaco Oval.
The Talking Points
Have The Eagles Gone Too Tall?
The inclusion of Tom Barrass means that West Coast will field four tall defenders in Barrass, Jeremy McGovern, Eric Mackenzie and Will Schofield. With Scott Lycett, Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy also in the side, it means a third of the team will be 195cm or over. How the Eagles match up in defence will be intriguing, particularly as the Cats will be without hulking full forward Tom Hawkins.
The Cats often have a mobile forward line, with the likes of Daniel Menzel, Steven Motlop, Darcy Lang and Nakia Cockatoo roaming the forward half next to Hawkins and Harry Taylor. Without Hawkins, the Cats will have Rhys Stanley to partner Taylor as tall forward options which could suggest that Jeremy McGovern could spend time further up the ground.
The Eagles have been made to look slow in recent losses to Essendon and Gold Coast, and while Tom Cole will add some dash, the likes of Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham and the yet-to-debut Luke Partington will all be representing East Perth this weekend.
What do West Coast do about Danger-Wood?
The two key players in the Geelong midfield present a major challenge for West Coast. Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood barely play a bad game and their influence generally carries the Cats across the line. Both are considered Brownlow chances at seasons’ end, and while Geelong have improved their midfield depth through the likes of Scott Selwood, Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola, minimising the impact of one or both of Dangerfield and Joel Selwood will go a long way to getting West Coast a vital victory.
Mark Hutchings could find himself assigned to a run with role again, after being given the task of minding Gary Ablett in the loss to Gold Coast. Hutchings is more likely to go with Selwood who wins a lot of the Cats contested ball, leaving potentially Luke Shuey or Elliot Yeo to go head to head with Patrick Dangerfield.
What Does Luke Partington have to do to get a debut?
The Eagles first selection at the 2015 National Draft is yet to make his debut, but he has done everything possible this season playing at East Perth. Partington had a first season ruined by injury, but in 9 games with the Royals this season, is averaging over 28 disposals. Partington has regularly racked up 30 disposals, with his last game in the win over West Perth his quietest. Partington managed only 22 touches, but scored three goals and with the Eagles midfeld under fire for lack of depth, it seemed only a matter of time before Partington broke through to the big time.
However, only Kurt Mutimer has managed a debut for West Coast in 2017 and Tom Cole was called up for his first game this season (and third overall) against the Cats. Daniel Venables was rumoured to be close to a debut this week before turf toe ruled him out for a fortnight despite not necessarily having a massive impact at reserves level. Despite his solid batch of form this year, Partington appears to be down the pecking order and may still have to force his way past Jack Redden and Chris Masten before he can secure an AFL debut.
The Key Stat
Both sides are pretty even, but the inside contest provides two significant differentials between the two teams. The Cats are ranked 8th in the competition for contested ball and 5th for tackles, while the Eagles are 17th in both factors, with the absence of Nic Naitanui a real cause. Without their star ruckman, West Coast have been forced to be more reactive at the stoppage and instead have relied on being able to turn the ball over by intercept possession, rather than winning it themselves first-hand.
Geelong boast two of the strongest contested ball-winners in the competition in Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, and in recent weeks have added former West Coast vice-captain Scott Selwood into the mix. West Coast will need to get a better share of the inside ball to prevent the key Geelong midfielders from being a decisive influence.
It’s A Big Week For….
Mark LeCras. The veteran forward is out of contract at seasons end and has been inconsistent for much of the past season and a half. LeCras hasn't scored a goal in his past three game; the only other time in his 186 game career that LeCras went goalless on three successive occasions was his first few games as an Eagle. Le Cras is the third highest goal-kicker in West Coast history, but could find himself out of the team in the final weeks of the season if his form doesn't improve.
West Coast have had plenty of time to consider the past month of football, so expect them to come out firing against a Cats side who themselves have plenty to play for. West Coast start the second half of the season outside the top eight, and if they are to make finals for a third straight year, a win at home against the Cats is a must.
The biggest issue for West Coast will be whether they can win enough ball around the stoppages against one of the best contested ball winning teams in the competition. Both sides are missing their full forwards which evens up the forward halves, although the Eagles will be relying on a better contribution from Darling, Petrie and LeCras. Conversely, the Cats have enjoyed a greater spread, with the Geelong midfielders managing to hit the scoreboard regularly. West Coast will need to limit their scoring chances, but the Cats may have too many different options.
Geelong by 22.
EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast have won five of six games played on a Thursday. The only loss was in 2013 against Essendon at Subiaco. (@WCE_History)