AFL 19 days ago

Round 2 Preview: Western Bulldogs v West Coast

  • Round 2 Preview: Western Bulldogs v West Coast

The Eagles and Bulldogs will both be looking to record their first win of the season after contrasting performances in Round 1. A young Eagles side were gallant in their effort against Sydney, before going down by 29 points, while the focus of the AFL world was on Whitten Oval after a disastrous 82 point shellacking to the hands of the Giants.

The Form

After a scratchy JLT series, West Coast put in their most competitive performance against the Swans. Ultimately they fell to a more seasoned side, but they had chances, particularly through the second half, where they could have stolen the win. Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey picked up where they left off in 2017 to lead the way with 26 and 25 disposals, respectively, while veteran Mark LeCras showed that he wasn’t going to drift silently into retirement with three goals from 16 disposals, and a second-best return of nine tackles.

The Bulldogs produced their worst result under Luke Beveridge as they were thrashed by the Giants. The game resembled nothing more than a training drill after quarter time as GWS piled on 16 goals to four. Jordan Roughead was the Bulldogs only multiple goal kicker with two,  and only Luke Dahlhaus, Lachie Hunter and Billy Gowers able to hold their head high at the end of the game. Tim English showed plenty in just his third game, but Jackson Trengove was disappointing in his Bulldog debut and would be hopeful of a better effort second time around.

The Recent History

The Eagles and Bulldogs met twice in 2017, with the Eagles saluting on both occasions. The two matches followed similar patterns with West Coast establishing early leads before holding off late Bulldog fightbacks. In Round 8, the Eagles skipped to a 25 point lead shortly before three-quarter time before the Bulldogs finished with all of the momentum. Despite only being able to kick one goal in the second half, the Eagles held on for an eight point win in a low scoring clash.

Seven weeks later the two sides met again, with the Eagles again jumping to a handy lead of 28 points at the final change. However, the Bulldogs roared back into the contest with the opening three goals of the term before a late Nathan Vardy snap at a ball up was enough to seal a seven point win for West Coast.

Since 2013 the two sides have split the eight meetings although the Bulldogs have had the edge at Docklands, winning three of the four clashes at the venue.

The Line-Ups

The Eagles made just the one change to the side that lost to Sydney, bringing in small forward Willie Rioli for his debut, in place of defender Will Schofield. Rioli becomes another addition to an inexperienced forward line that will again feature Jake Waterman, Liam Ryan and Daniel Venables. The Eagles looked top heavy in defence with Schofield, Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern, and with the Bulldogs not boasting an overly tall forward line, Schofield makes way with no obvious match up. However he has joined the team as the travelling emergency with Mark Hutchings, Fraser McInnes and Braydon Ainsworth all playing at East Perth.

The Bulldogs made four changes, although a mix-up prevented them from bringing in Jack Redpath. Serving the second week of a suspension incurred at the end of 2017, Redpath took part in a state league practice match during Round 1. However, the AFL adjudicated that this was a violation of the suspension he was serving and thus ordered him to re-serve the second week. Instead, Ed Richards – the grandson of Collingwood legend Lou – was included for his debut alongside Lukas Webb, Caleb Daniel and Lin Jong. Surprisingly, Mitch Wallis wasn’t included, despite inside midfielder Tom Liberatore rupturing an ACL that will see him miss the remainder of the year. Former Docker Hayden Crozier also couldn’t be considered due to injury, while Shane Biggs and Fletcher Roberts were omitted.

The Talking Points

Can West Coast repeat their tackling pressure from Round 1?

One of the major criticisms over the past couple of years at West Coast has been their lack of tackling pressure, with the deficiency in speed through the middle seeing players prefer to carrel rather than commit to a tackle. However, against the Swans they had 64 tackles, nine of which were inside 50 and produced greater pressure around the ball. As West Coast charged back into the contest in the third quarter, their intensity at the contests was noticeable and had the Swans struggling.

The Eagles best win of 2017 was against the Cats when they produced one of their highest tackle counts, finishing with 97 as they claimed a 13 point win. It signaled a change in attitude with thoughts that they could step up the pressure through the second half of the season, but instead they followed up with lacklustre performances. After an impressive effort last week, its important that West Coast can back up.  

 

What Can the two R’s deliver?

Eagles fans will get their wish when they see Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan combine for the first time in the regular season. The Eagles have lacked a genuine crumbing forward since the days of Phillip Matera, and with Rioli and Ryan combining, excitement levels are high about what this combination can produce.

Ryan was steady in his debut for West Coast, booting one goal and setting up another from seven disposals, but always looked threatening. Rioli won’t be the livewire like Ryan, but can make the most of his opportunities and looked like the Eagles best forward in his only appearance so far this season against Port Adelaide in the opening JLT game, when he booted three goals.

What expectation is there on Nic Naitanui?

Naitanui reminded the AFL community what they had been missing with an impressive first game back after 18 months out with a knee injury. Despite playing only 60% game time and playing a minor role in the ruck, Naitanui was the catalyst for the Eagles surge in the third quarter against Sydney.

Naitanui had 33 hit-outs, with 10 to advantage, and had 12 disposals and a goal in a strong first-up performance. The big ruckman also added an increased physicality around the contests, something that West Coast lacked throughout 2017. Despite having a good first game back, expectation should still be minimal on Naitanui being able to produce that kind of performance every week. Generally for players returning after long lay-offs, the first game runs off adrenaline, with a drop-off in subsequent weeks. It wouldn’t surprise to see Naitanui be more subdued in the coming weeks as the intensity of the games start to impact on the body.

The player who needs a big game…?

Daniel Venables. Hard to put a young player in the gun so early in his career, but so much has been expected of Venables since he joined the club. After a first year with the club ruined by injury, Venables was seen as being a key plank of the new midfield generation at the club. However, Venables failed to shine during the JLT series and did little to excite supporters in his AFL debut with just seven disposals.

Adding to the pressure of Venables succeeding has been the success of West Australian youngster Sam Powell-Pepper at Port Adelaide. The midfield tyro was overlooked by the Eagles, with West Coast going for the pacy Victorian instead. Powell-Pepper was a revelation at Port and appears to be the type of player West Coast are crying for, particularly with the recent retirements of Matthew Priddis and Sam Mitchell. This promises to be a fast game and the expanses of Docklands should suit Venables outside run.

 

The Result?

The Bulldogs will be keen to make amends following their horror effort in Round 1, but still seem to have some holes in their line-up with West Coast primed to take advantage. The Bulldogs struggled to contain Jeremy Cameron who was matched against debutant Aaron Naughton and the Eagles could have too many forward options again, even without leading goal kicker Josh Kennedy.

It’s also hard to see the Bulldogs kicking a winning score without Jack Redpath, Tom Boyd and Tory Dickson and if the Eagles can enjoy a favourable forward 50 count as they did against Sydney, it should be enough.

West Coast by 18.

 

EAGLE TRIVIA: West Coast’s last three trips to Docklands have resulted in single figure results – a seven point win against the Bulldogs, followed by eight point losses to St Kilda and Collingwood @WCE_History

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