The first Western Derby will take place at the new Perth Stadium with both sides in better shape than many had predicted at the beginning of the season. The Eagles sit in second place on the back of a four game winning streak, while the Dockers are also enjoying a positive start to the year, with three wins (all at home) from five games, although they sit in 11th due to an inferior percentage.
Fremantle proved too strong for the faltering Bulldogs last week, while West Coast outlasted Carlton to record an important win at the MCG, despite coach Adam Simpson declaring it was a grind of a game. Andrew Gaff continues to rack up possessions and Elliot Yeo has displayed some of his club champion form of 2017 in the past two outings.
Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe has been in Brownlow winning form, with some suggesting that he is surpassing his 2015 season. Alex Pearce has enjoyed a successful return to the top tier after recovering from a broken leg and will have the challenge of Josh Kennedy, who himself has recently returned to senior ranks. Lachie Neale has been a good foil for Fyfe, while there is also encouraging signs through the young Docker brigade, with the likes of Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra, Mitchell Crowden and Taylin Duman showing their wares in their first season of AFL.
For West Coast, a fifth win on the trot would be an important one ahead of a tough middle patch of the season. Following the Dockers, the Eagles host Port Adelaide, before travelling to GWS, hosting the reigning premiers and then another away trip against the improved Hawks. Fremantle also have a tricky period coming up as they sit just outside the top eight, with games against Richmond, St Kilda and Sydney to come.
The Recent History
West Coast are currently on their best winning streak against Fremantle since they won the opening nine clashes, having claimed the last five meetings between the two sides. West Coast have rarely been challenged during that winning streak, going back to the second derby of 2015, with an average margin of six goals. This winning streak ended the Dockers own winning streak of six games, highlighting the different fortunes the two WA sides have had in recent years.
Shannon Hurn took out the Ross Glendinning medal as best afield in the last outing with 34 disposals across half-back, with Andrew Gaff (35) and Liam Duggan (31) also getting plenty of the ball. Josh Kennedy chimed in with three majors in a low scoring encounter, with Mark LeCras and Jack Darling each booting two. For Fremantle, Lachie Neale, Connor Blakely and Nat Fyfe all tallied over 30 disposals, while Michael Walters was the only multiple goal scorer on a day where they managed just five goals.
West Coast made two changes with pace an obvious factor in their team selection. Lewis Jetta comes back into the line up after being a late withdrawal ahead of the Carlton game, while Jack Petruccelle becomes the fifth debutant for West Coast this season. Petruccelle was the quickest player selected in the draft, and comes in after a four goal performance in the WAFL last week. Mark Hutchings and Jackson Nelson both make way, although there are suggestions that there could be some late changes for the Eagles.
Rumours have abounded that both Luke Shuey and Dom Sheed could come out of the side, while Nic Naitanui and Jake Waterman are both believed to be battling soreness. Brad Sheppard is another who has struggled in recent weeks after copping corkies in consecutive matches against Geelong and Gold Coast. Interestingly, along with Hutchings and Nelson, Fraser McInnes and Will Schofield were both named as emergencies, which would provide the necessary cover for the players listed above as doubtful.
Fremantle made just the one change, bringing in the experienced Michael Johnson to replace the injured Matt Taberner. Taberner will be a crucial loss for the Dockers after an impressive start to the season, as he finally delivered on the promise that has been there for many seasons. Johnson’s inclusion does little though to indicate how he may be used. Taberner had been providing support for number one ruckman Aaron Sandilands, so whether Johnson will be used in attack and second ruck as a direct replacement, or whether a shuffling of the players sees Johnson move to defence and Alex Pearce take Taberner’s place is still to be seen.
The Talking Points
Does the Ruck Decide the Contest?
It may not be the ultimate factor, but Ross Lyon put the ruck battle squarely in the picture during the lead up to the derby. Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett will continue to lead the ruck for West Coast, while Aaron Sandilands will have to shoulder the majority of the load for Fremantle, with either Alex Pearce or Michael Johnson (or even both) for support.
The Eagles duo have been dominant across the opening five rounds in the hit-outs but this hasn’t transpired into a clear advantage in the clearances which is where Fremantle can gain an ascendancy. West Coast have won the clearance count just once this season – against Geelong and by only one. Even the 80 point demolition of Gold Coast, the Eagles fell behind in this stat, meaning the likes of Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, David Mundy and Connor Blakely can be right in the game, even if Sandliands doesn’t win the tap.
Will Josh Kennedy Be Confirmed as West Coast’s Greatest Full-Forward?
The Eagles spearhead needs just one goal to overtake Peter Sumich as the clubs greatest goalkicker, and the debate amongst Eagles fans over who was better has been in high earnest in recent weeks. Kennedy will be assured of his place in Eagles’ history when he boots his first major of the weekend, but many of the faithful may still lean towards Sumich, who averaged nearly a goal a game better than Kennedy over his 150 game career.
Comparing the two is probably an unfair task on both players, considering the different eras they played and the different roles that were expected. While Sumich could dominate games and kick the bags that rivalled many of the other great full-forwards of the early 1990’s, Kennedy has shown a longevity in the game that has required him to play further up the ground at times. Either way, both players will be forever legends of the club.
How Necessary Was the Discussion Around the Ross Glendinning Medal
While the two sides will probably be unaffected by the debate surrounding the medal, the discussion has certainly taken the focus away from what should have been a big build up to the first Western Derby at Perth Stadium. The Dockers have certainly fared worse in the PR stakes with their decision – as the home side – not to award a best afield medal, along with a winning trophy, initially due to a lack of sponsorship.
After West Coast then stated they would award their own best afield with a separate medal, the Dockers suggested the actual reason was due to a lack of representation as they believed Glendinning was purely a West Coast representative, despite spending two seasons with the club in a match day role.
Following mediation through the WAFC (which in itself seems a ludicrous step) it was decided that the medal would be presented, with a new medal – most likely the Glendinning-Allan medal, in honour of the inaugural Dockers captain – to come in from the second derby later this year. While the final outcome seems a reasonable one, the process has been a mess and too much of a distraction for the fans and general public. No doubt that it will have had no impact on the two player groups.
The player who needs a big game…?
Liam Duggan. Not the first time this year that he has been mentioned, but he has been unable to build on the strong second half of 2017 that was expected. Duggan notched game 50 last round but could find himself losing his place if he is unable to recapture his best form. It was the second derby last season where Duggan finally looked home at AFL level as he racked up a career best 31 disposals across half-back.
This year, Duggan has only averaged 14 disposals with his use of the ball coming under question. Duggan has moved back to defence after unsuccessful stints in the midfield in the opening games, but has found himself exposed at times in one-on-one situations. The Eagles would love a repeat performance of his last Derby effort, to hopefully kick-start his season.
This definitely presents as a flip of the coin game, with the Dockers likely to be more of a challenge than many expect. Ross Lyon has his team playing a tight structure, and the final make-up of the sides – particularly West Coast – could have a major influence.
If the Eagles were to lose any combination of Shuey, Sheed, Yeo or Naitanui, then the Dockers could expose a limited Eagles midfield, which has been the achilles heel of the club in recent seasons. The Eagles still look the stronger up forward and in defence, and without Taberner, the Dockers could really struggle to come up with a winning total. The Dockers will also be continuing their youth policy with as many as eight players in the side with less than 30 games. West Coast should have too many weapons for the Dockers, but Fremantle may hang in for a long period of the game.
West Coast by 16.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Jack Petruccelle becomes the 12th Eagle to debut in a Western Derby. The other 11 are: Andrew Donnelly, Brendan Fewster, Chad Morrison, Andrew Embley, Kane Munro, Paul Johnson, Jaymie Graham, Scott Selwood, Adam Cockie, Adam Carter and Kurt Mutimer. @WCE_History