The team can’t travel.

The team has too many injuries.

The team can’t finish teams off and don’t score in the last quarter.

We had them all trotted out before this game, and even during it as wee were told the many reasons West Coast could not, should not and would not overcome Carlton at the SCG.

And then they just went out and won, anyway.

The Eagles have had many detractors in 2021, and truthfully, they have deserved much of the criticism directed at them. They have been unimpressive at times, and disastrously poor at others, but as we conclude Round 12 of the 2021 AFL season, there’s West Coast, injuries and all, sitting inside the eight.

As for Carlton… well, whether it’s in Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere on the continent, they never fail to disappoint. Like a teenage sexual encounter, they promise so much and deliver so little. Losing Harry McKay hurt, but not as much as their disgusting transition defence, or the hack kicks to nowhere and refusal to chase.

In the end, it was the Eagles running out 22 -point winners on the road, and as they look forward to the cavalry arriving over the next few weeks, we jump into the Mongrel’s good, bad, and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

GIMME THAT!

With Nic Naitanui giving his mids first possession in most games, it should come as no surprise that four of the top five clearance winners on the ground wore blue and gold, and the number one man in that regard was Nic Naitanui,

Sure, he and Elliot Yeo tied on eight for the game, but the way Nic Nat took control of the game down the stretch was a sight to behold.

I’ve read a couple of things stating that Naitanui’s play probably doesn’t deserve the amount of column space it gets at times, and we’re all aware that over the course of the season, he’ll have games where that rings true, but when he just takes control of ruck contests like he did in the last quarter, you can only sit back, watch and enjoy just how adept he is at making his opponent look redundant.

I don’t want to be unfair to Marc Pittonet here – he did exactly the same thing to Bailey Williams when Nic Nat went off for a rest, but when the Big Daddy of the ruck ranks came back onto the ground, Naitanui wasted no time in putting Pittonet in his place.

In the last quarter, Naitanui dominated, picking up five of his game total of eight clearance. He simply pushed Pittonet around like I did to Joe Ganino when we were both at school. And like Ganino, Pittonet had nothing to retaliate with.

The West Coast big man propelled the Eagles forward and left no doubt in the mids of those watching that the decisions to rest him earlier in the game were the right ones. A fresh-legged Nic Nat may not have established the West Coast lead, but he sure as hell made sure it wasn’t.

The next time someone tries to convince you that Naitanui isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, or that Brodie Grundy is the best big man in the game, grab your phone, play them the last quarter of this game and show them what a dominant ruckman can do when the game is in the balance. Gauge their reaction when he throws himself across the boot of an opponent, recovers and dishes to a teammate for goal. The stat sheet may not be your friend in terms of Naitanui, but the eye-test always is.

He passes it, every time.

He whacked the Blues in the last quarter. Completely walloped them.

 

THE ONE MAN BAND

If there was one player out there who looked like he was in control every time he went near the football, it would have to be Liam Ryan.

With a ridiculous level of confidence in his ability and his impact on the game, Ryan took young Carlton defender, Liam Stocker to the cleaners. Stocker was no match for Ryan in the air as the diminutive forward clunked nine marks (four contested), snagged four goals and steadied the Eagles every time Carlton looked as though they were prepared to make a move.

The 2020 All-Australian looked proppy early, getting some heavy work done on this hip and glute before the game, and cramped up in the last quarter, but his highlight package was THE highlight package of the game.

He sat on Stocker’s head to take a grab, danced around defenders to slot a goal from 40 metres out after another mark… basically everything he touched turned to goal in this one. And after the game, when asked about his role, he nonchalantly spoke about how he was filling in for the injured Josh Kennedy, because, you know… “I’ve done that before.”

Talk about taking your match-winning performance in stride!

On a weekend where Jamie Elliott snagged six goals to carry the Pies over the line against the Crows, Ryan’s four goals were just as vital to the Eagles’ win against the Blues. When we reflect on season 2021, there may be a moment at some point where we smile about the day Liam Ryan ensured the Eagles were going to be in the mix with his performance against the Blues.

What a pleasure to watch him play.

 

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

This was a big game for Dom Sheed.

All season, he has been the one constant for the Eagles midfield. Luke Shuey has been hurt, Elliot Yeo is still working his way back, Tim Kelly is out… it has been a season where the expectations on Sheed have risen sharply.

And with the quiet confidence he has become famous for, Sheed took it in his stride as the number midfielder for West Coast in this one. Yes, he had Yeo running around with him, and yes, Jack Redden provides ample help in an incredibly underrated role, but it was Sheed to the coalface in this one, winning clearances and driving the Eagles forward.

He had 32 touches and eight clearances as he worked perfectly with Nic Naitanui to give the Eagles a 37-24 clearance advantage, and was instrumental in the Eagles final quarter thrust, with ten disposals.

Some have doubted Sheed over the journey, thinking more of him as a “moments” man, capitalising on caviar highlight plays to forge quite a CV, but this was a meat and potatoes performance, doing the dirty work required to get his team over the line.

Dom Sheed… meat and potatoes. Plenty of substance to his game today, and no need to be fancy. Quite satisfying.

 

THE HELP

Remember when we were talking about the help the Blues needed for Patrick Cripps?

Well, it’s here, but where is the help for Sam Walsh?

The kid is doing everything in his power to get the Blues to be better, but aside from what appears to be a hobbled at times Cripps (and a three-quarter pace Cripps at others), they’re running players like Will Setterfield through there and he’s not going to help anyone.

Paddy Dow may or may not blossom into something – the jury is still out on him, and Marc Murphy is on his last legs as a player, let alone a midfielder that can help. We’ve gone from wanting help for Cripps to getting it, to wanting help for Walsh all in the space of 12 months.

The kid is standing up and doing all he can, but at some point he is going to find himself in the same position Cripps was a couple of years ago – fighting a lone hand against gangs of three and four. And I hope like hell that he doesn’t end up broken by the pressure.

As for Cripps… well, let’s just say he looked pretty slow in this one and that was exacerbated by a corked thigh/hip in the second half. He is a warrior, but the crash and bash style has not been kind to his body. After showing signs last week, he returned 22 touches in this one – the one tackle is… concerning.

 

DOING IT WITH THE KIDS

Terrible heading…

Anyway, this was the Blues’ big chance to knock the Eagles over. They were depleted and looked vulnerable. If you are still in the habit of listening to radio or the spuds they have on TV, you would have heard them spouting how the Eagles were cherry ripe for the Blues.

Here were the outs, and I’ll probably miss a couple – Josh Kennedy, Luke Shuey, Jeremy McGovern, Tim Kelly, Oscar Allen, Liam Duggan, Alex Witherden, Willie Rioli, Brendon Ah Chee… you guys know I am a Hawks man – I would take any and all of those guys in brown and gold right now. Seriously, any of them – they are walk up starts at a dozen clubs or more, and the Eagles replaced them with the following names.

Luke Foley, Harry Edwards, Luke Edwards, Xavier O’Neill and Jamaine Jones.

It was an Eagles side as depleted as it has been in a long time, and yet… they found a way to win. That was the most impressive part – not Tom Barrass flying and intercept marking. Not Liam Ryan controlling the footy like he had it on a string. Not Nic Nat and Sheed tearing up the centre of the ground. It was that they did it with an undermanned and inexperienced side.

The Eagles have been whacked for being unable to travel this year. They have been whacked for a heap of reasons, and the doubt surfaced again after last week’s capitulation to the Bombers, but when push came to shove this week, the culture of the West Coast Eagles proved to be stronger than anyone gave them credit for.

The kids, supported by the veterans, stood up, and we got a glimpse of the future of this club.

 

THE BAD

 

WAST-ED CURNOW

Cards on the table – I am a huge Ed Curnow fan. He does whatever job you give him and rarely lets the team down.

You want him to stop someone? He’ll do it. You want him to get in there and win clearances? He’ll do it. Clean your fish tank? Well, I haven’t really asked him to do it, but he seems so eager to please that I reckon he’d consider it… and I don’t even have a fish tank!

So, when I saw him lining up on the wing, I thought ‘oh… he must be going to curtail the impact of Andrew Gaff.’

Nope.

He played on the opposite wing and lined up on the opportunistic Jamie Cripps. Meanwhile, Gaff ran around with Matt Cottrell, and whilst Cottrell is a good, honest battler making his way in the league, he is NOT the player to stop Gaff. He is not even the player to slow him down.

Gaff went about his regular business of clocking up 30 touches, but where he really hurt was in his run forward, where he recorded a goal, himself, and also registered three direct goal assists. I honestly felt like walking over, and slapping David Teague in the head with his pissy little clipboard to get him to play his best stopper on someone you actually need to stop!

Gaff is a prime mover, and matched up on Cottrell, he had a feast. Meanwhile, Cripps just seemed to lead Curnow away from the action, with the players splitting 21 touches between them.

I said above how much I adore Ed Curnow, but if he is in the team without a role, even if it is cleaning a  fish tank, then it is a waste of his talents. There are not many who can do what he does, and when you play him on the damn wing, there’s one less player who can stop the run of the opposition.

 

BAILEY WILL WON’T

I know young rucks take a while to develop, and I know that Bailey Williams is just 21 years old, but if the Eagles are to be a force in the second half of the season, he has to be more of a presence than he was in this game. You have to make a contest, and Williams failed to do so too many times.

When he moved into the ruck, Marc Pittonet tore him a new one. When he went forward, Liam Jones ripped him to shreds. He was second to the footy, gave away free kicks and looked anything but the ruck capable of holding the fort whilst Naitanui rested.

At one point, Williams had recorded five disposals – all five were clangers. He ended up with one more touch and didn’t add to his clanger count, which I suppose is a win, of sorts, but this will not be a game he whacks on the hard drive to enjoy and show the special lady in his life.

“So… did you see what I did against the Blues?”

*She remembers

“Yes… yes I did. I’ll be leaving now.”

I couldn’t blame her after that performance.

 

THE UGLY

 

TRANSITION WHAT-FENCE?

For all the talk about the wide wings, and how singing the footy into the corridor allows for heavy scoring, I got the impression watching this that there was something else that contributed more to heavy scoring – poor transition defence.

Both sides were guilty of this during the game, with mids not running hard enough back to help their defenders, and forwards barely moving as their men ran off them.

Some of the biggest offenders early in the game were some of the biggest names. Patrick Cripps meandered about like he was wearing concrete boots when the opposition had the foot. Amazingly, those boots would turn to helium when his team gained possession. Elliot Yeo took the meaning of “resting forward” a little too literally, as he allowed Nic Newman to run off him and through the centre with no pressure.

I’d say it was circle work, but the ball was going straight up the guts at times.

The intensity lifted at half time, and it had to. There were simply too many players content to run one way up until half time, and only their horrid kicking inside 50 prevented heavy scoring. At the main break, I sat there thinking that neither of these teams deserved to play finals this season, but luckily, the Eagles were able to tighten things up after the break to the point where the Blues almost felt compelled to come along for the ride.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS ELLIOT YEO FIT?

Nope, but he’s getting there.

We started to see second efforts from him in this one, which is what he built his reputation on. His game does not seem to be at the level it was in years past, but he is starting to get back there, slowly.

Yeo’s importance to this team is extraordinary,. When fully fit, his accountability to a desire to simply beat his direct opponent means that not only do you have someone in your back pocket as you attempt to win the footy, if he beats you and goes the other way, you have to work just as hard on him as he works on you. It is an exhausting style of game to combat.

Unfortunately, it is exhausting for all involved, and Yeo does not seem to have the capcity to run both ways to that level just yet.

But it’s coming…

 

HOW MANY HALF BACK FLANKERS DO CARLTON HAVE?

In today’s side, I reckon they have five players whose best footy is as a half back flank.

That spells trouble.

Will Setterfield, Zac Williams, Sam Docherty, Adam Saad and Nic Newman all lined up in the side, which means, to my way of thinking, anyway, that three of them were being played completely out of position.

Docherty can play anywhere – I think that’s a pass, but the jury is well and truly out on Setterfield and Williams has already proven he cannot play in the midfield. It doesn’t leave you with much else other than a team full of half back flankers… and no, that is not rhyming slang for “wankers”…

… but now that I think of it…

 

WHICH INJURY HURT THE MOST?

Interesting one. Harry McKay is the Coleman leader and has been really potent in short blasts against teams, kicking goals and taking contested marks in a bunch. He didn’t get a chance to do that in this one, subbed off after landing heavily and suffering concussion symptoms.

Likewise, Brad Sheppard’s injury robbed the West Coast defence of their best, and most versatile mid-size defender.

I reckon those two go close to cancelling each other out, but am happy to concede McKay is the potential match-winner in that occasion.

Alas, the biggest loss in this particular game was Nic Newman, whose sickening fall called for the game to be halted. He was having a ripping game as the rebounding defender, and was looking as though he could go close to Best on Ground honours prior to his injury.

At that stage of the game, he’d collected seven intercepts amongst his 15 disposals, and was getting forward with regularity. He had picked up a nice goal assist and was looking like the most assured Blues defender. His loss caused the Blues to take the foot off the gas. As much as they may trust Adam Saad and Zac Williams, neither were capable of making the right plays at the right time in this one. That was all Newman, and they missed his rebound greatly.

Best wished to all three blokes – get well soon.

 

OTHER BITS

 

There is still a bit of work to be done in defence for the Eagles. The goal from Eddie Betts at the start of the last quarter should have been rushed over the line. There is no excuse for allowing that to stay in play, and Josh Rotham’s effort to tackle Jack Silvagni is something he won’t enjoy watching back.

Carlton should have been a lot closer, and perhaps even in the lead at stages but for their poor kicking at goal. Both teams missed very gettable chances at stages, but Carlton really shot themselves in the foot with their accuracy… which probably doesn’t do anything to aid with accuracy.

Jack Martin seems to be settling into the exact same career path he was on at Gold Coast. Promised the world and delivered… no, not even an atlas. It is more like a hand-drawn picture at this stage. When you consider what they’ve shelled out for him, Saad and Williams, they’re not really getting bang for their buck, are they?

I liked the game of Jacob Weitering on Jack Darling, and really could have added him to the “good” section. Weitering is no fuss, but he had 13 spoils in this game and restricted Darling, as the Eagles’ main marking target to four grabs (two contested) and a single goal.

The Blues get the week off next round, which will allow Cripps some time to genuinely rest. He looks like he needs it. They get GWS the following week, which shapes as a really good contest.

West Coast welcomes Richmond to Optus Stadium in what should be an absolute belter. Both teams have their injury worries and are relying on kids to hold up their end of the bargain – it’ll be a great test for both teams – I can’t wait for that one.

 

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!