The West Coast Eagles did it the hard way. As the Saints grabbed the lead early in the last quarter, there would have been more than a few supporters wearing blue and gold feeling pretty nervous.

But this was a win, and a comeback built on guts, determination and spirit. Tim Kelly, Nic Naitanui and Tom Barrass all stepped up their games to drag their team over the line against a St Kilda side that dominated large stretches of game time, but just couldn’t put the score on the board.

There have been many famous wins in the history of the West Coast Eagles Football Club – during the broadcast they listed their unbelievably good record of making finals, and amongst those campaigns there has been a number of glorious victories. I am not sure where this one ranks, but in terms of fighting it out, overcoming the odds and never giving up when things looked bleak, it’d have to be right up there.

There was drama aplenty, stars falling and incurring injuries, some bone-jarring clashes and a recruit stamping his claim on the midfield and making the statement that he can bring everything he brought at Geelong over the last couple of season, and maybe a little more.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of a terrific win by the Eagles against a gallant St Kilda.

THE GOOD

 

THE NEW BLOKE

If Tim Kelly hadn’t repaid the west Coast going into this game, I reckon there would be a few decision-makers sitting back watching his performance against the Saints smiling to themselves, content that their investment in him was money, and draft picks well spent.

Kelly was everywhere at stoppages, and his combination with Nic Naitanui at stoppages was absolutely thrilling to watch. Together, they claimed 18 clearances… but I will get to Nic Nat soon enough.

Kelly’s clean hands in the slippery conditions were an absolute standout and his work ethic both at stoppages and on the spread gave the Eagles the push they needed exactly when they needed it. His running goal in the last quarter was one of his nine score involvements (out of 20 scores) and he added two direct goal assists to his tally as well.

Only one man had more touches on the field than Kelly – Andrew Gaff, but the value of TK’s touches far outweighed those of his teammate.

This is the player West Coast fans were hoping they’d get when they traded for Tim Kelly. This is the player they’ve been longing for as the team has struggled with the greasy Queensland conditions.

And this is the player they got when they needed a win to stay in the hunt for top four, with finals just around the corner. Tim Kelly stood up in this game, and put the footy world on notice in doing so.

 

THE GOOJ MARK

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, as I reckon it is the most important mark in footy right now – The ‘Get Out Of Jail’ mark. Yeah, the GOOJ… I know it sounds dumb, but remember where you heard it first.

I’m pointing it out in this review, because there is a bloke in blue and gold I reckon might be the best in the league at it, and his name is Jack Darling.

We all hear about locking the ball in the forward half and how important it is to apply forward pressure to prevent the ball coming out. There are three ways it does come out – back to the centre after a goal is kicked, as part of a mad scramble, and the other is by someone taking a strong mark as the pack converges on them.

And that’s what Jack Darling did both in the second quarter and late in the last quarter as well. Make no mistake, these possessions are just as important as a contested mark 50 metres out from goal  – they allow the team to release the pressure and turn defence into attack, or at the very least, into a neutral situation. They break the deadlock and open up the game.

Think back to this game, or if you have a rewatch (I know some of you Eagles fans are obsessive and like to do that… I do as well sometimes) and watch how many times either team sets up the wall and kicks back inside 50. That relieving mark is priceless in the modern game, and when the Eagles needed one tonight, it was Jack Darling that provided it.

The Saints had a few that provided that target at the other end. Ryder clunked one, as did Membrey and Max King, but it was Darling who did it when the game was at a fever pitch, and it will probably be a moment that is lost when people talk about this game.

Add the two GOOJ marks to Darling’s night of two goals and four contested grabs in adverse conditions and there you have the game of an unsung hero in tonight’s win.

And from now on when you’re watching footy and some bloke clunks a big mark at half back to get your team out of trouble, I know you’re going to be thinking “Ohhhh, that’s a GOOJ mark.”

Sorry… not sorry.

 

WATERTIGHT DEFENCE

I have to give it up for both defences in the third quarter. This is a very Eagles-heavy review, and with a comeback like that, I reckon it’s justified, but the St Kilda defence were the equal of the West Coast defence in the third quarter as both teams really started to struggle with the handle as the rain fell.

I loved the run of Hunter Clark off half back, and with Dougal Howard having close to his best game as a Saint, I really felt as though St Kilda could go on with it.

How quick was Dougal running back ahead of Liam Ryan to rush that ball through? He has some serious toe about him! Nick Coffield was solid and even the old stager, Jarryn Geary had some really good moments.

At the start of the last, it looked as though that trend would continue, with the Saints peppering the forward50 and the Eagles looking as though they’d run their race.

But it was not to be. The tide turned and the blue and gold wave washed over the Saints defenders as the Eagles started controlling the footy through the middle.

I reckon some of the St Kilda defenders would be furious with the lack of defensive accountability from the midfield in the last ten minutes. Gaff and Kelly were allowed free rein to collect the footy and they hurt with their last quarter touches, whilst the St Kilda mids were off hunting the footy.

St Kilda did a fair bit wrong late in this game, but it wasn’t their defence that was the issue. They have plenty to work with in that back six, but part of me wonders whether Jake Carlisle chasing Jack darling around may have prevented a few of those clunking marks?

That one was maybe a selection loss?

 

LIAM RY-AA-N?

Oh, that’s a witty title, isn’t it?

Do you think Liam Ryan has a sneaky chance of making the All-Australian team this season? Right now, if you threw together your squad of 40, could you possibly leave him out?

He was a maestro in this game, looking like a dangerous forward when others were struggling to find touch. He did what he is not supposed to do – took contested marks in slippery conditions – and produced the second-best combination of the night with Tim Kelly.

The synergy between Nic Nat and Tim Kelly was almost otherworldly in this one, but the combination of Kelly and Liam Ryan was almost as good. They found each other with the footy multiple times and seemed to have a sixth sense about where the other was when the heat was on. Dare I say… it was Krakouer-esque in terms of combining with each other.

It was Ryan setting up Tim Kelly to hit Andrew Gaff on the chest in the second quarter, and it was Kelly with a perfect tap on to the running Ryan to set him away moments before. They just continually looked for and found each other all game.

I’m not sure if Ryan has the runs on the board to make the final 22 in this season’s AA team, but what I do know is that selectors have very short memories. Ryan’s last month has been excellent, whilst both Tom Papley and Dan Butler have fallen away a bit – Papley more so than Butler. Could it be that the selectors may be swayed by some of the brilliance of Ryan down the stretch?

His last three weeks have seen him average 14 touches and 2.7 goals per game, but his run is probably a little too late, with earlier games where he couldn’t get near it (Rounds 11 and 13) still fresh enough in the memory bank to work against him.

Still, a huge game in Round 18 and he may be able to erase those memories, and make some new ones that are too hard to ignore.

Squad of 40, for mine.

 

DOOOOOOUGAL

I’m a big Dougal Howard fan, and I reckon he could still be one of the elite defenders in the game, despite ken Hinkley and Port Adelaide setting his development back by sapping his confidence and attempting to play him as a forward.

He is really starting to own the defensive 50 and his aerial work, particularly in the third quarter, was exceptional.

He was charged with keeping Josh Kennedy quiet and did a stellar job… save for that one late goal that you know… changed a hell of a lot.

But rather than judging him on a bloke kicking one goal, I thought he was tremendous in stifling Kennedy up forward for the majority of the game and has really started working himself into the position of the number one defender at St Kilda.

 

BARRASS STEPS UP

I’ll get to Jeremy McGovern’s hamstring injury eventually, but in his absence, Tom Barrass had the kind of third quarter defenders dream about.

He was a marking, spoiling, contest-destroying wrecking ball in the third term, as the responsibility of controlling the defensive 50 arc fell to him. And look – if you listen to the Channel Seven commentary team, you’d think this guy was a nobody who just learnt how to be a defender – as of tonight, he is the number one ranked player in one-percenters in the entire competition.

I wish they’d do their damn homework, or at least have someone in their ear telling them that “Hey Darce… you know he’s been fantastic all bloody year, right?”

Barrass had five intercept possessions in the third quarter alone en route to finishing with a game-high 11, and he added a massive 16 one-percenters to add his name to the list of defenders notching the elusive defensive double-double this season. With six rebound 50 disposals, he was four away from becoming the second man to ever notch the defensive triple double (Robbie Tarrant, Round 19, 2019 for the record).

Barrass gave up one contested mark on the lead to Ben King in the fourth quarter, but that was on the back of a perfect kick from Jack Steele – I am not sure there was much he could do about that one.

Overall, this was the stage for Tom Barrass to strut his stuff, and he was up for the challenge. He read the ball beautifully in flight and scrapped at ground level with the best of them. With 15 disposals at 93% efficiency, Barrass’ name should be right up there with Tim Kelly, Nic Naitanui and Liam Ryan in terms of the best players on the park in this one. He was fan-bloody-tastic.

If you want to know more about the defensive double-doubles and triple-double, I wrote about it below for members – I like them people; they’re great.

MEMBERS – The Defensive Double-Doubles… and One Triple-Double

 

THE DIFFERENCE

Did we all hear the way the commentators were praising Paddy Ryder for the way he was operating against Nic Naitanui for the first three quarters? We were hearing how Naitanui had his hands full in dealing with Ryder and Marshall… yadda, yadda, yadda…

Here’s a question – how many hands would both Ryder and Marshall needed to contain Nic Nat in the last quarter when the heat was at its highest? They’d need to be a pair of Doctor Octopus clones to have held him as he rampaged through clearances, took possession and barrelled into contest after contest with a recklessness and determination that really shows up about 98% of players in the game.

He just wants it more!

He’s got no tank, right? He runs out of legs, right? Hmmm, here are his last quarter numbers.

Seven disposals, eight hit outs, six contested touches, five clearances , two intercepts and three inside 50 disposals.

Yep, sounds like he was completely gassed to me!

If anyone looked gassed in the last quarter, it was Ryder, who started the game strongly, and did have several fine moments against the West Coast champ, but when the Eagles needed someone to stand up and make a difference, it was the big bloke with the dreads that stepped to the fore.

How do we think Nic Nat will poll in the Brownlow?

I have a confession – I do not barrack for West Coast, but I have watched every eagles game this season. I am certain that no other player has as big an impact in as many games as Naitanui this season. Yes, Lachie Neale has been consistently brilliant, and both Travis Boak and Christian Petracca have had games where they have taken over at points, but on the whole, I cannot remember a player this season doing what I have seen Naitanui do this season.

He sat out last week and the Dogs got up over West Coast. If Naitanui plays, I reckon the Eagles win, such is the faith I have in what he provides this team. The Brownlow is not set up for a ruckman to win – who was the last one; Scott Wynd? However, in a year where the Eagles have struggled to find consistent winners, Naitanui has been brilliant.

Right now, if I had a vote for MVP of the league, I would be carefully considering Nic Nat. With 16 contested touches in this one to lead all players, his influence on the result was unquestionable. An that’s what you want in a most valuable player – the ability to change the outcome of a game.

 

THE BAD

 

FROM THE PENTHOUSE…

On our podcast last week (it’s a great listen… me and the missus shooting the breeze about footy) I lamented the fact that St Kilda could still miss the eight if they lost to the Hawks.

Well, mathematically, they could still miss the eight by losing to the Giants, who sit one game and percentage behind them at time of writing.

The Saints were considered sure things a few weeks ago, but losses to Melbourne, Brisbane and now West Coast have sent them tumbling out of the top four picture and they now risk missing the finals altogether.

So, all they have to do is win to remain in the eight. It’s that simple. With GWS facing Melbourne this Saturday, one of their finals competitors will fall out of the running, particularly if it’s Melbourne. The Dogs should beat the Hawks… because the Hawks are shit (it hurts me to write that) and that’ll draw them level with the Saints as well. The Pies play the Saints this week and can leapfrog St Kilda is they win.

So, a likely scenario sees St Kilda playing GWS next week for their finals life. Win and they play finals footy. Lose, and they break their supporters’ hearts.

Again.

Classic Saints.

 

FOR THE SEALER….OH…

Who do you want to pick on? Brad Hill or Max King?

Both blokes had chances to ice this game and both choked badly.

For Hill, I suppose it is most disappointing. Here is a player recruited to bring class and skill to your side, yet his miss with eight minutes remaining would have put the Saints up by three goals.

Class and skill… yet can’t kick on his left foot at all, option for a banana kick on the run from 20 out.

Max King ended the night with four behinds. We have heard him called the next great forward, and once he can stand up in one-on-on marking contests, he may very well become just that, but he did everything right tonight except the most important thing for a key forward – convert.

These blokes left the door wide open and the Eagles barged their way in and bullied their way to a win.

It’s difficult to look at “ifs” and “buts” but they were chances gone begging, and one of them would have been enough to break West Coast’s resolve.

Let’s hope the Saints don’t rue these misses even more at the conclusion of Round 18.

 

THE UGLY

 

TWANG!

With Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden all sidelined, the Eagles needed to get through this week without adding to their walking wounded.

It was not to be so.

Jeremy McGovern copped a knock to the face early in the game and returned to play some scintillating footy. Despite playing well less than a half of footy, he’d collected six intercept possessions and seemed to be on track for a vintage ‘Gov’ performance.

Sadly, we’ve only really seen one of those performances this year.

Instead, he spent the second half of the game on the bench with ice on his right hamstring, hurting it whilst stretching to make sure the ball went out of play on the outer wing. He knew immediately, reaching back and walking very gingerly from the field.

As a hamstring veteran (and someone who is carrying a strain right now), Gov’s looked bad. He was limping quite severely, which indicated to me, Dr. HB, that this isn’t just a strain. Of course, he will go in for scans and the Eagles will say they’re hopeful of a good result, but I am telling you now – that is at least four weeks off for Gov.

The Eagles will play at least the first final without their four-time All-Australian and will need huge lifts from Mr Fix-It, Will Schofield, and their other highly capable big man, Tom Barrass.

The Eagles were stretched even without the injury to McGovern. The midfield without the names mentioned above is being held together by Tim Kelly, Nic Nat and a combination of sticky tape and clag.

If they get Yeo back next week, he will solve a lot of what ails them, but is it too big a risk on the eve of finals? Even if a top four spot is still on the cards? I’ll be watching intently to see if the cats can put away the Tigers. If they can, maybe the Eagles get away with resting Yeo again against North in R18.

Richmond have the Crows in R18, so both them and the Eagles will likely win quite easily – it all comes down to Friday Night Footy. So, West Coast fans – when was the last time you barracked for the Cats?

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHERE DOES LIAM DUGGAN RATE IN TERMS OF YOUR FAVOURITE WCE PLAYER?

He’s rocketing up the list for me, much in the same way Liam Baker is at Richmond. They’re both hard as nails, have terribly wonderful hairstyles and can be thrown into the middle as a disruptor when needed.

I loved Duggan’s mongrel in the contest in the last quarter and have watched his development all season with a smile. This West Coast back six is star-studded and without injury, incredibly difficult to break into, but Duggan has found his place now. He belongs.

 

WHERE’D ZAK JONES GO?

He had a great first quarter, but faded very quickly into an almost invisible role.

Eight of his 15 touches came before quarter time as he looked as though he could be one of the decisive factors in this game. It turns out he was… in the West Coast’s favour.

He collected just seven touches for the remainder of the game and became a non-factor way too easily. After being pumped up as a great recruit and such an asset, it was almost as though the positive vibes jinxed him and he fell in a hole after quarter time.

Strangely, this is the kind of game I thought he’d be perfect in as well.

At least he showed up for one quarter, though – that’d rate him above Dean Kent, who was invisible in this one.

EDIT – Been pointed out to me by some of our wonderful members that Jones was given some defensive attention by Brayden Ainsworth after quarter time. All well and good, but against a kid with seven games to his name, Zak can’t be taken out of the play so easily. Needs to be better and actually beat an opponent. You can’t just run around by yourself every week.

 

WHERE IS JACK BILLINGS AT?

I wrote this earlier in the season and Saints fans had a crack at me. Here goes again.

When the heat is on, Jack Billings gets the hell out of the kitchen. He had 18 touches tonight, which is pretty good, right? 15 were uncontested and yet his disposal efficiency was just 56%. What does that tell you about his delivery? And what hope do forwards have when he is hacking the footy like a school kid feeling the heat?

In the last five weeks, Billings has broken the 20-touch mark just once. It was in a win against Essendon. The other four games have all been losses. As a matter of fact, in every loss St Kilda has suffered this season, Billings has had under 20 touches. That’s seven times for those playing at home.

So, is it that he gets plenty of the footy when they’re winning? Or do they win because he is getting plenty of the footy?

 

SHOULD ROWAN MARSHALL PLAY PERMANENT FORWARD?

I was really surprised to see the Saints play three rucks against the Hawks last week, but then as Marshall went forward, I thought he was one of the clear difference-makers in the game.

He strikes me as a natural forward, and I know Alan Richardson played him there a little before he got the arse. He has great hands, can take a contested grab and might be the contested beats that Max King needs beside him while he develops.

It’s a bit late to start experimenting now, with finals(possibly) around the corner, but for 2021, could the combination of Marshall and King work? And where would that leave Membrey?

 

HOW DID THE WEST COAST KIDS GO?

Firstly, Brayden Ainsworth looks like he’s about 12 years old. On looks, I was amazed that someone so cherubic was playing AFL footy.

The trio of Ainsworth, Xavier O’Neal and Hamish Brayshaw had very little impact on this one, and it is a safe bet to say that if senior players weren’t injured playing all three at once would never have happened.

I like that West Coast is blooding kids in important games, but these blokes are not ready for finals footy. In 12 months, maybe, but it is paramount players like Yeo, Sheed and Shuey get back in time for week one of the finals. The Eagles need players that can both stick tackles, and break them and though these three may be really good, they’re not those players just yet.

 

And that’ll do me. A great win in terms of what it meant for the Eagles. A really disappointing last ten minutes for the Saints, but I do hope they play finals footy this season. I reckon their best is excellent and if they can dictate terms and play their game, they could make some noise.

 

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