The Eagle has landed… again.
It was a night that started with a celebration last year’s Premiership success and ended with an ominous message from the big brother of WA footy: the West Coast Eagles will be a menacing threat again in 2019.
The Mongrel looks at the zeroes and heroes in the Eagles 52 point thrashing of GWS.
The Eagles youth
With the likes of Williie Rioli and Andrew Gaff unavailable, the Eagles have been required to rely on the injection of their younger and inexperienced players in the first couple of weeks of the season. While blue and gold fans would have had reason to feel nervous about the Eagles kids after their poor showing against the Lions last week, they’ll be breathing easier after their team delivered in spades on Saturday night.
Oscar Allen showed the football world why he has been touted as a future star. The big number 12 seemed to grow into his role as a high half-forward, clunking a series of fantastic pack marks, even in the presence of a bolstered GWS defence. His aerial pursuits were one highlight, his goal kicking another. Allen booted 3 majors and could have had a couple more if not for some more accuracy.
Then there was Jack Petruccelle, a man who could have pursued a career in sprinting if not for being plucked by the Eagles. The live wire forward has some serious pace to burn, but he also has the skill to match, which makes him such a dangerous player. Crumbing the ball in congestion on the wing, Petrucelle broke away from GWS utility Nick Haynes and left him in his wake, kicking a delightful goal from 40m boundary side.
Eagle’s fans, get excited! Out with Lecras, in with Allen and Petrucelle.
Last year’s Norm Smith Medalist was back to his best against the Giants, amassing 28 disposals to go with 5 tackles and 2 goals. Shuey’s best work was done in the rough and tumble, where the veteran simply proved too big-bodied for the GWS midfield brigade. If the Eagles are going to go back-to-back this year, their midfield group is going to have to fire again.
With Luke Shuey leading transition ball movement from half-back, opposition teams will feel the burn of the Eagles rapid fire football. Early days yet, but ‘Boots’ Shuey has dusted off the cobwebs and his set for a big 2019 season.
Since his inception as the number 1 draft pick of 2012, I have always been a big fan of Lachie Witfield. His performance last night highlights exactly why. In a GWS outfit that seemed reluctant to take risks and move the ball through the corridor, Witfield took the game on and was all class by foot, setting up a handful of attacking opportunities for the Giants.
After already accumulating 16 possessions by quarter time, Whitfield was somewhat quieter in the next three quarters, ending with 33 touches. But take nothing away from the 24 year old; he is simply a package of class, and one of the most damaging rebound defenders in the AFL on his current form. On what turned out to be a dark night for GWS, Lachie Witfield can more than hold his head high.
The Eagles tagger often doesn’t get the praise he deserves for putting the clamps on the best midfielders in the AFL. Hutchings was given the job of quelling in the influence of Giants superstar Stephen Cognilio, and stop him he did.
Cognilio tore the Bombers apart last week with 31 disposals and 3 goals, but in this one he was as effective as the AFL’s goal review system in a lackluster performance. Hutchings held Cognilio to just 20 touches and one tackle, with the Giant struggling to get any space to run and wield influence on the contest.
Eagles fans will be hoping Mark Hutchings can carry on his merry way by keeping the Collingwood midfield in check next week. There is one Mr. Steele Sidebottom who has a return date with him, and a point to prove.
It was a dirty night for the GWS skipper, which ended in a poke to the eye and a stint in the hands of the medical team. Phil Davis has been a terrific servant for AFL’s youngest club, but he struggled to get into the game against an Eagles outfit strengthened by the return of spearhead forward Josh Kennedy.
Davis finished the game with just 5 kicks and 2 handballs, a far cry from what we’re used to seeing from him. In any case, I’d expect Davis’ disappointing showing is a symptom of early season blues, and the number 1 should be back to his best next week.
West Coast acquired former Saint Tom Hickey in the offseason as insurance in the absence of Nic Natanui, but it seems as if the big man has leapfrogged his fellow ruckman in Nathan Vardy for the number one spot at the moment. Vardy had a shocker against the Giants, finishing with just 9 disposals and 13 hit outs.
If Nic Nat is eyeing a midseason return, Nathan Vardy will need to do more to justify his inclusion in the team ahead of Hickey. At this stage, it seems the hunger of Hickey is far greater than that of Vardy.
The Giants Midfield
GWS finished with 15 more inside 50s than West Coast, but couldn’t turn the sizeable stat into a sizeable score. Many would be quick to blame the Giants forwards for the lack of output, but the ball delivery from the midfielders of the orange and charcoal was frankly atrocious.
On most forward entries, the Giants opted to play defensive football, not taking the ball through the middle but targeting the pockets, where the Eagles defensive unit was waiting with joy, intercepting entry after entry. Risks need to be taken in football, and the Giants were far too feeble at Optus Stadium.
Flag unfurling spectacle
West Coast Eagles’ events department, take a bow. Fans were treated to an absolutely terrific performance in which the reigning premiers unveiled their flag. Starting with a back flip off the Optus Stadium roof by the Eagles mascot, and ending with a real life eagle doing a lap of the ground, the Eagles started the evening in style.
How long do the Giants stick with Cameron? It seems as if the GWS brand has become increasingly fragmented under his leadership, with performances ranging from impressive to dour on a weekly basis. Yes, they are missing the likes of Ward, Greene and Kelly, but the Giants didn’t look hungry to take home the 4 points against the Eagles unlike what we have seen in years prior. It’s only round 2 and there is plenty of wa
ter left to flow under the bridge, but it will be interesting to see how long Leon Cameron has at the helm of GWS if they fail to reach or exceed top 4 expectations this year.
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