West Coast and the Bulldogs meet for the second time in 2017 with neither side yet to solidify their finals contention. Both teams are on seven wins for the season with the Eagles sitting just inside the top eight (in seventh) and the Bulldogs knocking on the door outside of it in ninth.
A loss to either team could put their finals hopes in a desperate position and could almost rule out a top four finish. West Coast are in a tough stretch playing a number of teams around them with Port Adelaide to follow. The Eagles also need to find a way to win interstate, having dropped two games now at home in their past three. The Bulldogs are staring down the inglorious possibility of missing finals the year after taking the flag and after West Coast face a daunting trip to take on the Crows in Adelaide.
The Eagles undid their fine performance of the win over Geelong by giving up a second home game in their narrow loss to Melbourne. While the Eagles were far from disgraced, the narrow loss could have a huge bearing on the final ladder position come Round 23. It was the 2nd three-point loss in three games, and once again West Coast lacked an even performance from all 22 players.
Jack Darling failed to spark, Josh Hill was inconsistent, Tom Barrass had good moments and bad moments but was ultimately outplayed and Shannon Hurn couldn’t get into the game at all. On the flipside, it was the same players that continue to drag the rest of the club with them. Luke Shuey was in and under, Sam Mitchell controlled the clearances, Drew Petrie was the only lively forward for the majority of the game and Brad Sheppard did his job down back.
The Bulldogs put together arguably their worst fortnight under Luke Beveridge’s tenure with consecutive losses to Sydney and Melbourne. Importantly, they bounced back against North Melbourne and they were led by Marcus Bontempelli who returned to his early season form after a mid-year dip.
Liam Picken booted three goals up forward but has yet to hit his 2016 finals form, while Jake Stringer managed five shots on goal to boot 1.4. Mitch Wallis has been a fine addition returning from a broken leg, with his inclusion particularly important considering Tom Liberatore’s struggles. Jason Johannissen was better against North Melbourne, but it has been a quiet month for the Norm Smith medallist after being on the end of physical attention the past few weeks.
The Recent History
The Eagles and Bulldogs met just six weeks ago, with West Coast holding on through the second half to record an 8 point win. West Coast managed just one goal in the second half, but emerged triumphant with a desperate defensive effort. The win ended a two game losing streak (through 2016) and would have provided minor satisfaction for being dumped out of the 2016 finals series.
The Bulldogs won the Elimination Final in 2016 and earlier that season got over the line by 8 points after West Coast briefly hit the lead in the final term. The Eagles haven’t beaten the Bulldogs at Docklands since the opening round of 2012, with three narrow losses by 8 points, 10 points and 22 points since.
The Eagles made four changes, with injuries taking their toll. Shannon Hurn (concussion) and Josh Hill (illness) are both expected to miss a week, while Will Schofield couldn’t recover from a hip complaint, after having his initial one week suspension overturned during the week. Matthew Priddis was rested with the veteran struggling from a back complaint for a number of weeks.
The Eagles still couldn’t call on Josh Kennedy or Mark LeCras, while Scott Lycett will be given more time in the WAFL to build more match fitness. All three could come into contention for next weeks home game against Port Adelaide.
West Coast have instead brought in four runners to combat the fleet-footed Bulldogs. Sharrod Wellingham and Sam Butler return as reinforcements in the backline, while Chris Masten and Jack Redden have both been rewarded for consistent performances at East Perth. Jeremy McGovern was named at full-forward, while the Eagles named one of the clubs least experienced half-back lines with Liam Duggan, Tom Barrass and Tom Cole sharing just 62 AFL games between them.
Frustratingly for many Eagle fans, rookie Luke Partington could only make the squad as a travelling emergency and may have to wait a little longer for his AFL debut.
While West Coast had to leave their captain at home, the Bulldogs were able to bring theirs back with Bob Murphy replacing Tom Liberatore. Murphy hasn’t played since damaging a hamstring in Round 10 against the Bulldogs and was the only change. Liberatore had only just made it back into the senior line-up but failed to recover from a cork suffered against North Melbourne.
Matthew Boyd didn’t do enough to earn a senior recall and is joined by a number of premiership players on the outer. Clay Smith and Fletcher Roberts, along with Boyd are emergencies while Josh Dunkley’s season was interrupted by a shoulder problem. Travis Cloke remains out of the side while he continues to deal with mental health issues.
The Talking Points
The Eagles have often been lauded for their variety up forward, but against the Bulldogs West Coast will be missing double reigning Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy, veteran sharp-shooter mark LeCras and the enigmatic Josh Hill. All up the three Eagles have combined for over 1000 goals, and West Coast will need to find some different avenues to kick a winning score against the Bulldogs.
Jack Darling will lead the forward line with Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy switching between the forward half and the ruck. Petrie produced his best return in his short career with West Coast, booting four goals in the loss to Melbourne, while another tall option in Jeremy McGovern kicked three.
The biggest concern for West Coast has been the scoreboard output of the midfield. The leading goal scorers from the midfield are Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey, Lewis Jetta and Dom Sheed who have all kicked 6, although Yeo booted three against Gold Coast playing purely as a forward. Clubs pride themselves on goalkicking spread but the Eagles have shown too much reliance on forwards to boot a winning score. West Coast midfielders need to make a contribution and this weeks game against the Bulldogs would be an important start.
Will The Eagles Target Jason Johannissen?
Sydney and Melbourne have both made a point of targeting the Bulldogs running half-back flanker with Johannissen unable to handle the aggressive tactics. The Swans banded together to hunt Johannissen throughout the game, while Melbourne turned their attention towards him before the game with Tomas Bugg’s taunting Johannissen on social media.
Whether coincidental or not, the Bulldogs worst two performances this season were against the Swans and Demons, with Bulldogs players more interested in retaliating, particularly in the Melbourne game. West Coast don’t have enforcers per se, but it will be interesting to see whether they show some aggression before the game to put the young Bulldogs off.
What Does Luke Partington have to do to get a debut?
The question has already been asked, but Eagles fans are desperate for Luke Partington to be given a game at the top level. Partington has regular been in the best players for East Perth, and a 28 possession, 4 goal performance in the Royals’ loss to Swan Districts seemed to be the performance that would deliver an AFL debut.
Alas, Partington could only make it as far as the travelling emergency, with regular midfielders Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham and Jack Redden all preferred as the inclusions. The Eagles first selection at the 2015 National Draft had his first season ruined by injury, but has bounced back to average over 28 disposals this season at East Perth. The Eagles showed a resistance to blood young players at the start of the season, with Kurt Mutimer the only debutant this season. In recent weeks though Tom Cole has broken through for consecutive games and Malcolm Karpany has also found his way into the side.
The Key Stat
Stoppages have been an issue for both teams in season 2017 with the Bulldogs the worst side in the competition for first-ball gets at the centre clearances, while the Eagles are the third worst side for clearances in general. Both teams have had injury hit rucking units, although the Bulldogs looked far better with Tom Campbell in the side against the Kangaroos. The Eagles opted to hold Lycett out for one more week, leaving Nathan Vardy to lead the ruck.
It’s A Big Week For….
Chris Masten. Chris Masten returns to the senior line-up after two games with East Perth, and has the perfect opportunity to reward the faith of the coaching staff on the fast track of Etihad. The Bulldogs are a running team, and Masten is considered the best runner in the Eagles squad; the issue has been that Masten has only run one way. Masten laid five tackles playing for the Royals last week and needs to show the same commitment defensively at AFL level. Often derided by Eagle fans, Masten could be on his last chance if he can’t perform.
A genuine 50-50 clash, the scales may be slightly tipped the Bulldogs way purely on the back of West Coast’s poor form in Melbourne. The Bulldogs have yet to hit their top form though, and West Coast will have their chances through the game.
A key for the Eagles will be a strong start away from home, but West Coast’s form away from home continues to be a concern. Neither side has yet to put together a full four-quarter performance, but the Eagles may be missing too many senior players and they’ll struggle to contain the Bulldogs if they get their contested game going.
Bulldogs by 12.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Jack Darling needs just one goal to be the seventh Eagle to notch 250 goals with the club. (@WCE_History)