Two sides with very different mindsets meet in an important Round 19 clash. The Lions sit at the foot of the ladder and travel west for mission impossible against a West Coast side that has received a savage interrogation since their last quarter debacle against Collingwood.
The Eagles have their finals aspirations on the line and anything less than a thumping victory will be less than acceptable. West Coast loss their spot in the top eight after blowing a game that seemed to be in their keeping, and continued the patchy form they have shown since the bye. West Coast haven’t strung consecutive wins since Rounds 7 & 8, and with games against sides outside the top eight, had a massive opportunity to close in on a top four spot.
Instead, the loss has jeopardised their finals hopes and they will need to respond against the Lions who are intent on developing their juniors. However, that is not to say they will be a pushover.
The Lions come to Perth on the back of an impressive 30 point win over Carlton, which was set up in a dominant first half that saw them lead by 53 points. The Blues fought back in the second half to close within 11 points, but the home side settled and secured their fourth win of the season.
That made it three wins from their past seven games, after also defeating the Dockers and Essendon. Brisbane still sit at the bottom of the ladder, but have joined the Kangaroos on points, and will be desperate to close out their first season under Chris Fagan by avoiding the wooden spoon.
The Recent History
The Eagles have been dominant in recent clashes, winning their past six by an average margin of 50 points. West Coast have also had an average score of 129 in those six games, with the two clubs spending the past couple of seasons at opposite ends of the ladder.
The Lions last win was an upset victory against the Eagles in Round 10 2012, when West Coast were clear on top of the ladder. The last win at Subiaco was two years earlier when a late Jonathan Brown goal delivered a five point win, which ultimately consigned West Coast to their first wooden spoon.
The ledger has been lopsided in recent times though, with the Eagles claiming both games in 2016. The two sides opened the season at Subiaco, with Josh Kennedy booting eight goals and Matthew Priddis racking up 43 disposals. 41 goals were kicked in a high-scoring affair as West Coast saluted by 64 points.
In the return game at the GABBA, it was the Eagles by 49 points, in a much more dour affair. Brisbane hung around in the contest for much of the game, but a seven goal 2nd term proved the difference for West Coast. Josh Kennedy made it 13 for the year against Brisbane by booting five, while Jack Darling was strong support with four. Andrew Gaff led the way for West Coast with 28 disposals, picking up the umpires’ votes, but the Lions had four players who had 30 more disposals – Mitch Robinson (39), Tom Rockliff (38), Pearce Hanley (36) and Dayne Zorko (31). Unfortunately for Brisbane, only one player remains from that quartet to take on the Eagles this time around.
The Eagles match selection was one of the keenest of the year, but in the end it was three players who couldn’t be selected due to injury and one youngster that made way.
Matt Priddis was given a break due to a quad injury, while Lewis Jetta has had a recurrence of the calf problem that plagued him for much of 2016. Nathan Vardy had a slight glute strain and will benefit from a week off after playing all of West Coast’s 17 games thus far. Tom Cole was the one omission from last weeks game, with the second year player appearing to struggle with the pace of the game at times.
Eagles fans got their wish when Luke Partington was named for his AFL debut, while Sam Mitchell returned as a direct replacement for Priddis after being rested for the Magpies match. Eric Mackenzie was recalled from a hamstring strain and looks likely to return to defence, allowing Jeremy McGovern to play a supporting role to Drew Petrie in the ruck. The ruck combination is an interesting decision as Scott Lycett appears to have recovered from a shoulder problem but wasn’t brought back in, while Fraser McInnes is once again an emergency. Malcolm Karpany was the final inclusion, having returned last week for East Perth from a slight quad complaint.
The Lions have taken a cautious approach with their line-up, resting a host of their top line young players. First year players Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry have both been rested, as has academy player Eric Hipwood. Daniel McStay was a late exclusion due to a shoulder problem, while Dayne Zorko, who is most likely leading the Lions best and fairest, will serve a weeks suspension for a strike on Lachie Plowman.
Two players will make their debut for Brisbane, in Sam Skinner and Jacob Allison, while Michael Close, Jarrad Jansen and Nick Robertson all return. Robertson comes in after serving his own one match suspension for contact made on Dustin Martin, and it will be interesting to see if coach Chris Fagan backs his young upstart with another tagging role. Andrew Gaff was well held by Levi Greenwood last week, and could be a target again for a run with role.
The Talking Points
Did Adam Simpson make a statement?
He did, but probably not the one everyone was expecting. It was expected that there would be some high profile casualties after the Collingwood debacle, but ultimately the match committee chose to keep the faith in the majority of the side that played last week.
Three players couldn’t be selected due to injury and the predicted mass cull didn’t eventuate. While some Eagles fans wanted to see changes with WAFL form rewarded, the message from Adam Simpson was that the players they had would be capable of turning the fortunes of the Eagles season around.
It will be interesting to see from the 22 players who take the field against Brisbane, who is willing to repay the faith shown in them.
How will West Coast respond to a week of criticism?
The Eagles have been battered all week by supporters and the media on both coasts of the country and will be desperate to make a statement against a vulnerable opposition.
The focus will be squarely on the leaders who were seen to have failed in the final term fadeout from last week and the first quarter will stamp the statement from West Coast. Don’t be surprised to see a ruthless approach from the outset, with tackles and contested ball to be high priorities in the match.
What will Luke Partington bring?
A hard running midfielder, Partington will hopefully bring an attack to the ball, which was sorely lacking in the dismal final term against Collingwood. While contested possession isn’t his strongest asset, the kid can find the pill, averaging 28 disposals at East Perth this season, and booting 14 goals. Seven of those 14 have come in the last three games, which shows that he knows where the big sticks are. In his first game, expect him to play mostly between half forward and the midfield.
Long term, Partington could be a staple in the Eagles midfield, and the Eagles need more players hitting the scoreboard from the middle of the ground. Partington has been criticised for his disposal efficiency in the past, and one of the factors that kept him out of the side for long was his defensive running, which has shown improvement in recent weeks.
With Priddis’ retirement and the expectation that Mitchell won’t continue next season, the new wave of Eagles midfielders will be given their chance, and Partington will be front and centre of that group.
The Key Stat
Much has been discussed in the week since the Eagles loss about the lack of contested ball in the final term against Collingwood, so expect West Coast to dominate in this area when they take on a youthful Brisbane outfit.
The Lions rank last in contested possession and are one of the few teams that rank lower than the Eagles in this area. Dayne Zorko has been the leading player at the Lions in this area, but misses due to suspension, further weakening Brisbane. Admittedly the Eagles will be without their leading contested ball winner in Matt Priddis, but West Coast have enjoyed a greater spread over the season and will be looking at the likes of Luke Shuey, Sam Mitchell, Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden and Dom Sheed to lead from the front.
It’s A Big Week For….
Mark LeCras. The veteran forward was singled out during the week, with Adam Simpson forced to defend his player in the face of the personal attacks singled towards him. LeCras was poor against the Magpies and is showing signs that the game is going past him. Unable to hit the scoreboard for the sixth time this season, LeCras lacks versatility in the modern game, by being unable to move into the midfield, and he doesn’t do enough without the ball.
Ahead of the Brisbane game last season, there were calls for LeCras to be dropped to the WAFL to find form after a slow start in 2016. 12 months later and not much has changed, and LeCras has a chance to kick a bag against lesser opposition. It might not be enough to silence the doubters though.
The Eagles need to make a statement to the competition that they can still make an impact in the finals, and while Brisbane won’t provide the stiffest of competition, the Eagles must make the most of the game.
Brisbane will be coming across to compete, but the decisions made at the selection table indicates that they have a longer term view in mind. In truth, anything less than a ten goal win against the bottom side at home, should be viewed as a disappointing effort for West Coast. The Eagles percentage isn’t great, and with the tightness of the ladder, every little bit matters.
West Coast by 68.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Excluding the expansion sides, the Eagles average more points for (108) against Brisbane than any other side. They’ve averaged nearly 125 points in their past seven games. (@WCE_History)