Sometimes you just know how a game is going to unfold in the first couple of minutes, right? You see a couple of things that give the indication that a team is on, or off, and you can kind of pick the result from there.

So when I watched two of the opening plays of the Eagles and the Hawks and saw young Changkuoth Jiath attack the footy with purpose, only to land right in the back of Dom Sheed, then to have that followed up with a Sam Frost kick on the full under zero pressure, I sighed, had a sip of coffee and settled in to take some notes on what I knew would be another West Coast Eagles victory – their seventh in a row as they take the competition by the scruff of the neck.

Full disclosure here for newer readers – I am a Hawthorn supporter. I’d like to think I am pretty unbiased, however I did catch myself swearing a little as the usual, and some unusual suspects for the Hawks cocked things up repeatedly. I also found myself nodding as the West Coast machine continued to roll on. More swearing than nodding, however.

That said, I picked the Eagles pre-season to win the flag, so I appreciate what they bring to the table. Even without Elliot Yeo, they boast a potent midfield and with Mitchell and O’Meara matching up with Shuey, Kelly and Sheed, I thought we’d be in for a bit of a treat at stoppages. I wasn’t wrong.

After four quarters, the result was as expected, with the Eagles too strong for the Hawks, but the game prompted many questions that need answering, and I guess I am the man to ask them, if not answer them. Here goes…

 

WOULD YOU PREFER TOM MITCHELL’S 34 TOUCHES, OR ANDREW GAFF’S 33?

This is an interesting one to start with and as I watched the game on about a half hour delay, I wasn’t checking in with the stats to see how individual players were tracking as the game progressed. I knew both of these guys had a heap of the footy, but I felt as though Mitchell had more than Gaff. I also felt that quite a few of Gaff’s disposals were hit-and-hope kicks to – cue Dwayne Russell – make it somebody else’s problem.

By the same token, a heap of Mitchell’s touches were in close and came in the form of handballs backwards or sideways.

Playing mostly on the outside and drifting back into defence, Gaff provided relief for the Eagles on their defensive exits and his presence at stoppages –usually a backward handball removed, offered a consistent and reliable avenue for his teammate to get out of trouble.

If forced to choose, I would probably take Mitchell’s game, but only just. Truth be told, I really don’t think either player hurt the opposition too much. There was no run-with role on either, which basically confirms that the coaches feel that way as well.

One of the more telling stats that condemn both guys to this disposal-fiesta stalemate was score involvements. Combined, they had seven and with that amount of the footy, I would expect quite a few more from them.

So, yes… big stats, but there were better players on the park than either of these blokes.

 

IS LIAM RYAN THE BEST PACK MARK IN THE GAME… POUND FOR POUND?

I had to throw that last bit in there as it is the caveat that would make you pause and think.

Who was the last small forward to take three legitimate contested pack marks inside 50? I reckon you’d have to go back to the days of Jeff Farmer for a player of that stature to be taking big marks like this, and really, I reckon Ryan is better at the aerial stuff than Farmer if we’re talking consistency.

In a forward set up boasting Darling and Kennedy, how can a diminutive man like Liam Ryan be so damn good? Well, it is probably BECAUSE that forward line has Kennedy and Darling that he is able to get a run and jump at the footy like he does. The two big guys draw the heat, enabling Ryan to get a great run at the footy, and he just has this amazing confidence in his own abilities – he doesn’t actually look like he is going to drop the footy, does he? He is like the anti-Tim O’Brien in that regard.

With his third bag of three goals for the season and 14 goals in total, Ryan is in the top handful of small forwards in the game, but his aerial work puts him in a different category to the Tom Papley/Dan Butler/Charlie Cameron group. Yes, Charlie takes the occasional big mark, but he provides nowhere near the threat in the air that Ryan does.

And Ryan does it against two or three opponents. It’ safe to say that there is simply no player in the league like Liam Ryan right now and at 23 years of age, you have to think that the best could very well be yet to come.

So, the best? Pound for pound, it’d be difficult to place anyone else above him.

 

SHOULD NIC NAITANUI BE THE ALL-AUSTRALIAN RUCKMAN?

Here at The Mongrel Punt, we’re submitting our Rolling All-Australian teams tomorrow to be collated for release this Thursday. Don’t tell anyone… I’m having Nic Nat as my number one man in the ruck, and I am not sure I am picking a back-up, either.

I watch a lot of footy – just ask Mrs Mongrel, and I have not seen a player have the influence even approaching that of Nic Naitanui in games this season. With or without possession of the football, he is the irresistible force that moves the contest to and fro , tied directly to both his movements and his will.

The Hawthorn midfield did a wonderful job in sharking his taps at points this afternoon, but Naitanui was able to completely control Ben McEvoy to the point where he made him look old and slow. Some may argue he is old and slow, but it is one thing to be old and slow, and another to be made to look that way.

Nic Nat showed McEvoy up in this game, big time.

At the time of writing, I don’t have the number of taps to advantage handy, but you could tell by the commentators that he has collected the highest number of the season. At three quarter time, half of his 28 taps were to advantage – usually a good day would see just about 30% of hit outs go to advantage. Against quality opposition, Naitanui went out and owned the air, and he did it with style.

Nic Nat is going to Nic Nat, and it seems it does not matter who the opposition is this season. He is the frontrunner for that AA spot, for mine.

 

DOES TOM BARRASS WALK TALLER WITH JEREMY MCGOVERN PLAYING?

He sure as hell does, and the entire West Coast defence seemed to grow an extra leg with McGovern patrolling the defensive 50 metre arc. I’m sure some of the more excited Eagles fans may have grown what could have been construed as an extra leg at points, as well.

With three contested grabs and 11 intercepts, McGovern took a lot of heat off Tom Barrass, and the West Coast full back responded with his best outing since early this season. He had eight intercepts of his own and was huge on the last line of defence on the odd occasion the Hawks were able to bypass McGovern. Playing on either Tim O’Brien or Conor Nash, you could argue that Barrass was gifted a role on two blokes who would have struggled to take a mark inside 50 even without opposition, but Barrass ensured that neither of them had any sort of say in the outcome of this game.

Barrass looked as though he wasn’t enjoying his footy late last year. A couple of uncharacteristic mistakes  cost the Eagles dearly at the pointy end of the season, but his return to form this year gives a strong indication he is ready to make amends.

I’m not sure where I’ll have him in the votes in this game, but I am about ninety percent sure he’ll be well and truly in there.

 

ANY DANGER WE CAN GET SOME KIND OF WORD ON WILLIE RIOLI SOON?

It’s been 11 months since the whole Rioli/energy drink saga and here we are, still waiting. What the hell is going on?

By the time these stuffed shirts decide on his fate, he will have served whatever time they’re recommending out of the game. Whether he is to be suspended for longer or if this is punishment enough, I am not sure, but the speed that these guys move with their investigation and process is embarrassing.

Get a bloody move on!

 

WHEN IS IT TIME TO SEND JARMAN IMPEY INTO DEFENCE?

Impey has made his name in defence, but after coming back from a knee reconstruction a couple of games back, you can understand why Alastair Clarkson would like to ease him back into the game. Sometimes players take a little while to find their feet again after an injury such as that. Hell, sme are never the same again.

However, I feel that by playing Impey as a small forward, Clarkson may be impeding his progress back into form. You’d think that the long-term plan would be to have Impey as the small, rebounding defender again, right? Then wouldn’t it make sense to have him slot into that role now as the season is shot and the Hawks should be slotting things into place for 2021?

Impey’s run and dash from half back is the kind of thing the Hawks need to catch opposition defenders sleeping. What they have back there now – Scrimshaw, Hardwick, Frost, Sicily… they’re not the sort that will take the game on – Will day might, but asking that of him in year one is a big ask.

Impey does that stuff instinctively, and with the Hawks lacking some run and carry, the time to move him back is now.

 

WHERE DOES LUKE SHUEY SIT IN THE PANTHEON OF CURRENT AFL MIDS?

This is an interesting one – he was very, very good again in this game, working hard at stoppages as he collected seven clearances, but he is just not the guy that goes out and gets 30+ in this minute-reduced season.

He hasn’t had 30+ disposals once this season, but I have to ask – does he need to?

Earlier this year I wrote about the impact of Tim Kelly on West Coast and the impact of West Coast on Tim Kelly. I stated that I did not believe Kelly would scale the same statistical heights in blue and gold as he did in the hoops the two previous years. The shorter games have really screwed up any comparison we’d like to make, but my point was that West Coast didn’t need Kelly to be amassing those kinds of numbers.

They have players that can play their role in a very tight midfield unit and though Kelly will have moments and games where he is the standout, he has more than just Patrick Dangerfield to help him this season.

And this brings me back to Shuey – he doesn’t need to be the player racking up 30+ touches to make himself feel valued. Those seven clearances, the five inside fifties… he does that with 24 touches, and believe me, in the context of this game, those 24 touches were plenty.

And in terms of performing when it matters, he’d be in the top handful. Nice game in this one, Norm.

 

HAS THIS LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS EXPLAINED WHY CLARKO WAS TRYING MCEVOY IN OTHER POSITIONS?

He was destroyed by Nic Nat in this game; not just in the ruck, but he was beaten around the ground as well.

Earlier this season, Clarkson was throwing McEvoy into defence, with Jonathon Ceglar taking the duties of first ruck. Part of me wonders whether there was a handshake deal with Clarko when Ceglar re-signed with Hawthorn that he would make him their number one option, as McEvoy seemingly had plenty left to offer. Maybe he still does.

Just not against Nic Naitanui.

The Hawks are in a bit of a spot here. McEvoy is too slow and his leap seems to be rapidly deserting him at centre bounces, but with Ceglar out, they have no other option, and even if they did, is defence the right spot for him?

Where else could you play McEvoy? You could do a lot worse than to plonk him in a key position spot up forward. Considering what Hawthorn have there currently, and what they add/don’t add, it would have to be an improvement.

Let’s face it – it couldn’t possibly be any worse.

 

WHY ARE THE HAWKS PERSISTING WITH PLAYERS WHO ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE THEM ANYWHERE?

I hate to say this, as I am sure they’re lovely fellas, but the Irish experiment at Hawthorn is just about over.

When you bring in these lads, you need them to be difference-makers, and these guys are. It’s just that the difference is that they make the team worse!

Conor Nash almost gets a pass given he was trying to get a kick against a defence that is lined with wall-to-wall stars, but that dropped chest mark… far out, how can a professional footballer drop that?

Connor Glass is another. He seems to be out there right now simply to gain experience, but can you see him being in the best 22 of a team that is looking to finish top four? I can’t, and as a result it makes me wonder what purpose these blokes are serving in the line up.

Throw in Tim O’Brien, who has now been on the Hawks’ list since 2012, and it becomes apparent that if the Hawks are reliant on players such as these to perform, then it would be akin to asking a blind dog to catch a Frisbee. At one point it might get lucky, but mostly, it’s not going to know what the hell is going on.

The more these three play, particularly in the forward half, the more there are going to be more frustrating and unsuccessful outings in the near future.

 

WHY BOTHER MOVING SICILY FORWARD WHEN THE GAME IS OVER?

Far be it for me to question the master, but what is the purpose of swinging James Sicily forward once the lead is at six goals and the game is out of reach?

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Sic (even though he doesn’t know me… it’s a little weird, right?) and even though he is a hot head, I admire the way he reads the footy in the air and can springboard off half back. It strikes me as his best role, and with power forwards on the West Coast Eagles surrounded by high quality smalls, having Sicily back there seemed to be a no-brainer.

Understandably, Clarkson was after the win, and in a side that had no tall forwards able to take a mark, swinging Sicily into attack made sense.

And no Dwayne Russell, he wasn’t playing there in the first quarter no matter how many times you state he was.

Anyway, with the game still marginally alive in the third quarter, wouldn’t that have been the time to try to strike a blow? Gunston and O’Brien kicked back-to-back goals within three minutes and the margin dipped to five goals. Isn’t that when you attempt to strike to reduce the deficit to three or four goals going into the last quarter?

Instead, the Hawks went in 37-points down, and with the game dusted, Clarkson threw him forward then. It was rather pointless.

 

WHAT DID WE SEE FROM JARROD BRANDER IN THIS ONE?

Moments. We saw moments. And signs. We saw them as well.

The best of them came when the rain came down and he engaged in a foot race with Hawks rookie, Will Day. Running toward the boundary, the larger man dropped the hammer, collected the footy cleanly and left day in his wake as he turned and ran the boundary to hit Jack Darling on the chest.

Darling them proceeded to hand off to Nic Reid for his first goal in footy.

As the Eagles swamped Reid and congratulated him for his goal, I hope a few got over and gave Brander a pat on the bum… in the Georgie Parker style, not the Nick Vlastuin style, for the way he created that with a quality one-on-one win.

 

WHAT’S SO FUNNY?

How good was it to see Ben Stratton really enjoying his footy out there? I mean, really… have a laugh and a joke – you’re the captain of the Hawthorn Football Club and your direct opponent has just taken his third pack mark on the game and slotted his third goal…

Let’s have a laugh about it.

Sometimes footy is a funny game. It is a game that seems to mean more to supporters at times than it does to players, and when you’re the leader of the club and you’re having your pants pulled down, I expect a bit more than some friendly banter with the bloke that is doing it to you.

Remember the unsociable Hawks? They were a pretty good side. There’s not much unsociable about this mob now, though. They’re happily chatting away, smiling, laughing with their opponents… it’s enough to piss a supporter off, really.

Hawthorn invested in Ben Stratton when they made him captain, and Hawthorn members invest in the club each and every season. To see him having a laugh and a joke with Liam Ryan after being beaten yet again, I would not blame Hawthorn supporters for being pretty pissed off with that vision.

This is your leader, but who knows where the hell he is leading you. Leigh Matthews, Don Scott, Michael Tuck, Gary Ayres, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell… you can just picture them laughing it up with the opposition player that is ripping them to shreds, can’t you?

No… me either.

 

WILL YOU DARE TO DREAM? COULD BRAD SHEPPARD BE AN ALL-AUSTRALIAN?

Well, it just may happen. Don’t get too excited just yet, Eagles fans, but with every excellent game from Sheppard, more and more heads are turned.

Yes, there is still very strong competition for a spot on the half back flank in the team of the year. Right now, however, Sheppard would have to be solidly in the mix with names like Haynes, Maynard, Luke Ryan and Jordan Ridley.

Will this be the season that Brad Sheppard finally gets the recognition he deserves?

All I know is that my heart says… maybe.

How very neutral of me.

 

WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE EAGLES?

West Coast hosts the Giants next Sunday arvo and they have the chance to all but kill off the GWS season. This will be a good chance to see how the Eagles perform against a desperate team with their backs to the wall. They’re sitting two games clear of the Giants and if they have a real killer instinct, they’d be picking up the scent of blood, with the Giants unable to string good footy together.

The intelligent predator preys on the wounded animal – the one that is a little slow, is limping and is not at its best. Right now, the GWS Giants are like a wounded animal, and if the Eagles are on, they can get the easy kill, and destroy the Giants’ season in the process…

… thought the Giants seem to be doing enough of that by themselves.

 

WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE HAWKS?

Not the finals, that’s for sure.

The Hawks have some serious soul-searching to do, and coming up against Port Adelaide could be in huge trouble. With Sicily probably in doubt, and maybe out for an extended time, the wheels have well and truly fallen off.

Time to dump the guys who are taking up space, throw more game time at Jiath, Mitch Lewis, Ollie Hanrahan and give Finn Maginness a run. At least you’re selling a little bit of hope for the future. It sure as hell beats whatever you’re selling right now.

 

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