In a round that continues to deliver, the West Coast Eagles sent a strong message to the rest of the competition, with a systematic dismantling of the highly-fancied Port Adelaide unit.

It was an Eagles team running amok in the first half as they pummeled the Power from all angles. Luke Shuey powered the first quarter blast from the middle, with Josh Kennedy, Liam Ryan and even Jarrod Brander getting in on the action up forward.

Meanwhile, down back, the work of Brad Sheppard, Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern combined to put the clamps on Charlie Dixon so effectively that the big Port forward failed to hit the scoreboard for the whole game and had just one disposal inside fifty.

It was a comprehensive beating from the Eagles and one that should have plenty of teams looking over their shoulders as we start to sort out where teams sit heading into the meat of the 2021 season.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE RESPONSE

During the week I wrote an article focusing on the form slump of Andrew Gaff to start the season. Whilst not denigrating Gaff in any way whatsoever, the slow start had to be of some concern. It was Un-Gaff-Like to have games in the teens where it looked as though he was out of position all the time. We’d just got so used to seeing him play at an elite level.

There were two ways this game could have gone. Matched up against either of Xavier Duursma or Karl Amon – two brilliant runners from Port – Gaff was either going to put in another subpar performance and start the drums beating around his place in the wingman pecking order, or he was going to knuckle down and produce a vintage Andrew Gaff performance.

And Eagles fans would be delighted that it was the second option that came to fruition.

Yes, Gaff was on his bike early in this game, as he worked mostly to half back across the first half to collect 20 touches. His up-and-back running didn’t expose his opponents, who had 12 (Amon) and 14 (Duursma) in the first half, but it did give them a bit of an indication that if you want to be the wolf that sits atop the hill, they were going to have to knock Gaff off his perch.

And Gaff wasn’t quite ready to depart.

With a point to prove and run in his legs, Gaff’s influence on the game was marked, but in ways that you would not normally see him impact the contest. He stood under high balls and waited for the contact, happy to accept his role and take his lumps if they came his way. On several occasions, he positioned himself beautifully to cut off the long ball out of defence and had to put himself in harm’s way to take the mark.

He didn’t flinch – not once.

In our weekly wingman rankings, the name of Andrew Gaff was conspicuous by its absence over the first two weeks, but watching this performance, I have a feeling he will be hard to knock out of the number one position for Round Three. Yes, Duursma and Amon might be climbing the hill, and they may have their eyes on the spot that Gaff occupies right now, but there is still plenty of life in Andrew Gaff right now.

And perhaps for a fair while longer. Keep climbing, boys.

 

SILVER SERVICE

There will be some that look at this game, or read about it in the newspaper. They’ll peruse the stats section and see that Nic Naitanui had 11 touches of the footy and 28 hit outs. They may be tempted to dismiss his game as nothing special.

Guys, those people are called idiots.

They’re the people who throw numbers at you to prove a point and haven’t even watched a game. They subscribe to the bible of Champion Data and deserve your ridicule (did you know that former Champion Data honcho, Glenn Luff is the list manager at North Melbourne… hahaha).

The ruck work of Nic Naitanui at points of this game was as good as you’ll ever see. Whilst his game around the ground was not at the level of, say, his amazing last quarter against St Kilda last season, the service he gave to Luke Shuey, Tim Kelly, Dom Sheed and Andrew Gaff was absolutely first class. No other ruck in the game does that – not Brodie Grundy, not Max Gawn… none.

As I watch games, I take a few notes to feed this review and on six occasions I wrote a variation of the following bullet point.

– Nic Nat to Gaff/Sheed/Shuey/TK… perfect

It just kept happening, and it wasn’t as though Naitanui was up against some scrub second-tier ruck – Scott Lycett is a bull of a man, and he more than held his own at stoppages around the ground. It’s just that when Naitanui was allowed to run and jump at the footy, the result was a fait accompli.

So, if you run into someone tomorrow who tells you that Shuey was great (he was), Kelly was good (he was), Redden flies under the radar (he does) and Gaff shut some people up (he did) but says that Nic Nat didn’t do much, you have my permission to find a glove and slap them right in the face with it. They are impostor football fans that would not know a good ruckman if he jumped up and kneed them in the throat.

 

THE BIG MEN GO CLUNK, AND A SMALL BLOKE DOES AS WELL

Just let me check a few things here…

Oscar Allen… five contested grabs. Josh Kennedy… two contested grabs. Jack Darling… one contested grab. And Liam Ryan… two contested marks to him as well.

This was the difference in the forward lines this week – the West Coast players could actually run and leap at the footy and win a marking duel inside 50. Charlie Dixon had to go up to half back to collect a contested grab. He finished with two – both in the second half when the game was put to bed.

When the Eagles went forward, it was like night and day compared to the Power’s efforts at the other end. Darling, Kennedy and Allen worked for each other, providing the work that often goes unsung when we talk about successful attacks. The little hip checks, the subtle blocks and the dummy leads to get rid of the help defender – they were all on display as the Eagles gave the Port Adelaide defenders a bath.

It was capped off by Liam Ryan’s ridiculous hanger in the second quarter that brought the house down.

I don’t know about you guys, but watching the footy this season, there is so much to like about the spectacle in general – I loved having the game back after the covid garbage last season, but this was different… this was footy – real footy back again with a crowd reacting like a crowd should to genuine highlights form great players. This was a team of forwards working so perfectly together that they left their opponents looking at each other with their hands outstretched, wondering whose fault it was that another goal was kicked against them.

This was the West Coast Eagles forward six as it’s drawn up… and I loved it.

 

THE FINE WINE

I’m stealing this from one of our esteemed writers whose name I cannot remember – not that their name is not worth remembering; I just cannot remember who said it, but comparing Shannon Hurn to a bottle of fine wine is an analogy that may be apt.

I say “may be” because I don’t drink wine, and I am taking his word for it that it gets better with age.

Hurn just refuses to be rushed with the footy in-hand. It’s not that he knows what to do with it every time he gets it – no one really knows that. It’s that he knows what he doesn’t want to do, and that is bomb the footy long and hope that someone gets on the end of it. He is measured, calculated and rarely makes a mistake.

For those that don’t pay much attention to numbers, Hurn is a guy that you should probably make an exception for. Over the first three weeks of the season, he has produced the following numbers (and yes, I am aware I just dismissed numbers when speaking about Nic Nat’s game – these numbers are different… because I like these numbers).

Round One – 31 disposals at 94% efficiency

Round Two – 25 disposals at 100% efficiency

Round Three – 26 touches at 92% efficiency.

People, that is bloody ridiculous that the Eagles have a man of this calibre allowed to run and do basically whatever he likes with the football without being placed under enormous pressure every single time he touches it. If you were playing against the Eagles, one of the first things I would have on the whiteboard would be “No easy kicks for Hurn!” and if you gave one up, you either owe me a foot rub, a coffee, or if it is a really poor mistake, a foot rub with coffee. That’d teach you for letting him do as he pleases.

You know we run a Defensive Player of the Year column weekly here at The Mongrel, and at the moment Hurn would have to be close to leading it. He is so calm and in control coming out of defence that he could almost lull an opponent to sleep with his soft caress of the footy. If you allow him to patrol half back and call his own shots, then I don’t care whether you’re a premiership coach or just starting out – you deserve the beating you’re about to get.

 

 

THE BAD

 

I THINK WE HAVE OUR ANSWER

Coming into this season, there was much debate about the second forward spot at Port Adelaide and how best to make it work.

The Power have Mitch Georgiades, who is raw but has talent to burn. They have Todd Marshall, who has all the skill yet still manages to come across as pretty timid. And they have a resting ruckman named Peter Ladhams…

… and he really stunk it up in this game.

So, in looking at this Power side and the structure that clearly wasn’t working for them in this game, you have to wonder what gives? What is the move that is begging to be made to give the Power something other than a tall forward option?

Do they drop one of Georgiades or Marshall? Both were solid contributors, combining for five of Port’s 11 goals. Or do they start to contemplate working with one ruck, that will give Port the option to play a smaller player that can actually impact a contest?

Tom Rockliff was on the sidelines for this game, unable to crack a place in the side. His toughness around the contest would have been valuable. Kane Farrell’s run down the wing could have added a bit of zip to a Port team badly needing it, and Trent McKenzie is hoping a spot opens up pretty soon. Is it time to hand the reins over to Lycett for the whole game with relief in the ruck coming from Georgiades or Marshall? Perhaps even Dixon inside 50?

If what we’re going to get from Peter Ladhams is akin to his efforts in this one – five touches, zero marks and a couple of free kicks against, then you tell me – what is the point of having him out there?

Also, Steven Motlop fell in a hole in this game as well. I should have known – never plays three decent games in a row.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

TWANG!

Oh geez…

Adam Simpson, I know that Luke Shuey is a go-er, and I know that forcing him to sit out longer periods of the last quarter would be like extracting teeth for a competitor such as Shuey, but this is the second time he has twanged a hamstring late in a game in the last 12 months, and you could argue that in both games, he didn’t need to be on the field when it happened.

Can we just agree that if you’re seven goals up half way through the last quarter in his return after soft tissue injury, that he sits out the dead-rubber last quarter and starts his recovery so you have him in the side again next week, instead of a month from now?

Shuey was huge early in the game and did the bulk of his damage while the game was hot. Between him and Andrew Gaff, the Eagles had 37 touches to half time and set themselves up for the win. Shuey played like a rabid dog, kicking off the ground, making little knock ons to advantage teammates – he was doing everything you’d hope to see from him in his comeback game.

And then… twang!

In legs that are 30+ years old, Shuey’s body simply could not go for that last ten or so minutes. Now, instead of nursing him through a couple of days to get a good recovery session or two into him, he will be back with the rehab group, and the Eagles will be substantially worse off for it.

For Christ’s sake, next time the game is in hand, take the pressure off the bloke and sit him down.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IF WE WERE HANDING OUT AWARDS TO BEST DEFENDER OF THE NIGHT, WHO WOULD GET IT?

Hmmm, I covered Hurn above, so how about I look a little deeper to find another bloke who was excellent all night?

Tom Barrass was the master of Charlie Dixon all game. Not flashy and not with the numbers that would make you sit up and take notice, Barrass had the best numbers anyone could have asked for in the wash up of the game. 0.0 – that was Charlie Dixon’s scoreline.

The other bloke was Jackson Nelson, who took on the job of curtailing Steven Motlop and shut him out of the game. He switched over to Connor Rozee at points as well in a very well-rounded game. He doesn’t get many plaudits, but if you go back and watch this clash again, he hardly made a mistake.

Dan Houston was also excellent for the Power.

 

WAS THAT A PASS MARK FOR FANTASIA?

Not many Port players get a pass mark in this one, but Fantasia once again remained dangerous and was one of the few that actually kept his defenders busy.

With two lovely set shot goals – seriously, they were poetry in motion – Fantasia gave some small cheer to the Power fans that trekked over to watch their team. He’s had an excellent start to the season.

 

HOW DO YOU PUT THE BRAKES ON THAT EAGLES FORWARD LINE?

I’m asking for a friend… named Ken.

Look, when the midfield is getting clean air to work in, it becomes very difficult to find the brake pedal, let alone bring the car to a halt. That said, you have to take the small and mid-size forwards out of the play.

Liam Ryan we covered – you simply cannot allow him to get a run at the footy unimpeded. A body must remain on him as he heads toward the contest. All of you who have played footy, or even basketball, know that when someone is leaning on you, as you try to jump, you simply cannot elevate.

The other bloke is Jamie Cripps. He is a connector and when he is on, the Eagles usually are as well. He is average size, average speed and has average athleticism, yet there he is with two goals and 14 touches to his name.

You have to trust that your big defenders can actually halve contests and prevent this mid-size blokes from carving you up. Easier said than done – I know, but when Jamaine Jones and Jack Petruccelle are the other options, they’re really not going to cause too many issues. Concentrate on the ones who are.

 

WHERE IS TIM KELLY AT?

In a good place… in a very good place, indeed.

Whilst Shuey was the catalyst for the opening term onslaught, it was Kelly who drove the Eagles hard in the second term to out the result beyond doubt. Kelly had ten touches, moving like a predator around the packs, and running back onto the loose footy several times.

It was mentioned that he had lost a bit of weight and he looked in fine shape in this one as he streamed forward at points. I thought he was one who put the cue in the rack and three quarter time. If only Luke Shuey had the same mindset.

 

 

OTHER BITS

 

The Port midfield ended up with some decent numbers in this one. Boak had 26 and Wines picked up 27, but when it mattered, they were just invisible.

Boak had eight touches in the first half, whilst Wines had just six. Whilst it was good to see them fight back into the game and get involved, they combined for 18 touches in the last quarter… and the horse had well and truly bolted by then.

Nice game for Jarrod Brander bit he is still struggling to find a permanent role. I don’t actually think it’s his fault – the Eagles are well-stocked for key position players, and at 196 cm and 92 kilos, Brander has the body of a KPP. The Eagles just cannot find a place for him as one with the excellent spine they possess.

Quiet one for Zak Butters, but he started throwing his weight around in the third quarter. He loves the contact and will be a great player, but I reckon he walks a fine line when he starts to get frustrated, and I thought he may have been on the verge of stepping over said-line at one stage.

I think you look at Connor Rozee and agree that he’ll be better for the run? 15 touches across half forward is okay, I guess, but with five in the first half, his inability to influence the contest did not help Port in any way.

 

And that’ll do me – great win by the Eagles on their home deck, sending the Power tumbling out of top spot and into the mix on the next tier down – a place they haven’t really known for a while.

As we come away from this one, with West Coast having a full book of home games scheduled for Optus Stadium, you come away with the feeling that you’re going to have to be at the top of your game to knock this team over this season. And if you do, it’ll be a win earned the hard way.

 

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