Just when you thought we’d had the thriller of the day, with North Melbourne and the Giants playing to a draw, out come the West Coast Eagles and Richmond.
This weekend has kind of struck me as similar to the structure of a wrestling show. Start out hot with a game to get the blood pumping (Port v Geelong) then head into one that keeps things humming along (Hawks v Swans). Following that, you have a couple of “fillers” just kind of there to make the event last a decent amount of time (Freo v Gold Coast and Adelaide v St Kilda), one of which turns out to have a hot finish. You get one that goes to a time-limit draw in the Giants and Roos, and then you start getting into the area of the main events – the clashes the people paid to see.
And people, there is no better heavyweight clash right now than the Eagles and Tigers mixing it up.
Sure, this was seventh against eighth, but given the intensity, the drama and the stars on show, this was a battle of two of the league’s genuine heavyweights.
And it did not disappoint.
There was so much to like – the cold-blooded shot at goal from the great Josh Kennedy, the continued emergence of Callum Coleman-Jones as one of the best young forward talents in the game, the shutdown role of Nathan Broad on Liam Ryan, and the crash and bash midfield work of Elliot Yeo.
Yep, this was a clash of the titans, and with the footy world awaiting what is the advertised main event for this weekend in the Dees v Pies, this is the game that has stolen the show. If they were selling the weekend of footy on the Hulk Hogan v Andre the Giant match-up of Melbourne v Collingwood, then the Eagles and Tigers just put on the Savage v Steamboat show-stealer.
Let’s jump into the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE CHALLENGE, AND THE RESPONSE
We had a battle of two lions in this one. Not of the Brisbane variety, but of the kind that are looking to sink their teeth into your throat and go for the kill.
Atop the mountain was Nic Naitanui – the undisputed king of beasts. He has been the leader of the ruck pride for years now, and though others will roar in their own way from time to time – Gawn, Grundy, etc… – when Nic Nat roars, others cower at his feet.
But once in a while an upstart climbs the mountain, teeth bared, looking to challenge the old lion, and usually what happens is the old lion looks over his shoulder, turns to face his challenger and sends him tumbling back down the mountain.
But this young lion named Mabior Chol took a couple of big bites out of the leader of the pride, and whilst it didn’t hurt the king, it sparked him into action. What followed the fast early start from Chol was yet another dominant display from the best tap ruckman in the game.
And not only did he beat the young lion with great hit outs and solid clearance work, he also started to get plenty of the footy.
You would have heard many lament the fact that Naitanui does not do enough around the ground at times, right? He doesn’t take marks, and though he has an impact in contests, he doesn’t win a heap of footy.
Well, when a young lion takes a bite out of him early, Nic Nat starts playing like he has something to prove.
He finished with 20 touches, 31 hit outs, five clearances and seven score involvements to pave the way for the Eagles to win the clearance count. Chol will be a player at this level – at 24, he still looks raw but his athleticism and willingness to take the game on hold him in good stead to be a very good ruckman over the next couple of years. He will pick himself up, dust himself off and tend his wounds. When his time comes to climb the mountain again, he’ll be ready.
And Nic Nat will be waiting.
HELLO, OLD FRIEND
With a restriction on the amount of minutes he was supposed to play, the last quarter of Elliot Yeo forced the West Coast Eagles’ hands.
Drawing a long bow here, but I am old enough to remember when a young Michael Jordan was working his way back from injury and had a minutes restriction placed on him by the Bulls. He would be out there, getting on a roll and suddenly, the coach would call a time out and Jordan would head to the bench.
Unlike Yeo, who I expect to be incredibly professional about it all, Jordan had no problem displaying his displeasure with the system, and once the shackles were removed, he lit up the court. This was the season he had the massive game in the Boston Garden – I’m sure if you have watched any of his work, that game would have been highlighted.
Well, Yeo didn’t quite have the AFL equivalent of dropping 63 points, but he did have ten huge last quarter disposals, as his hardness at the contest and willingness to throw his body into harm’s way to get his hands on the pill were evident.
How good was he in the last quarter?
Here’s a number or two for you. The highest number of total clearances for the game was seven – Yeo had six in the last quarter alone. When the chips were down and the Eagles needed someone to put their hand up, it was their warrior who had spent so long watching on that relished the opportunity.
Was he clean and damaging with every touch – no, not under that sort of pressure, but seeing Yeo in the guts when the game was there to be won is the type of thing that would have to warm the hearts of Eagles fans as they now start to eye off finals from a position of relative power.
With Kelly coming back, McGovern not too far away, Brad Sheppard almost ready, AND Luke Shuey possibly ready to go after the bye, this Eagles team have their two-way mid back in the swing. The minutes restriction was thrown out the window with the game there to be won, and I am bloody glad they did it, too.
THE KIDS CAN PLAY
So, Luke Edwards, huh?
At 19 years old, and playing just his second game, Edwards found himself on the wing matched up primarily on Marlion Pickett, and whilst they played quite a distance from one another, the influence of the kid was huge down the stretch.
With Pickett spending a lot of his time covering holes in defence, Edwards was able to form part of the West Coast wall across the middle, and his 11 touches for the quarter led all players.
On Friday night we saw a young man from Hawthorn record a huge number of tackles in his first game – it will be interesting to see how the Rising Star people work out their nomination this week.
Edwards finished with 27 touches and six intercepts as he looked completely at home across the middle for the Eagles, and whilst many will point to the work of some of the more established players in getting West Coast over the line, Edwards’ contributions when the game was there to be won should not be discounted.
I feel like a Demtel salesman here – but wait, there’s more!
Whilst many will focus on the game from Edwards, and rightly so, the work of Luke Foley was also really positive for the Eagles.
Deployed across half back, Foley looks like a natural in the role. The fact the Eagles were able to do what they did with kids in the team both adds to their depth when the stars return, and gives these kids a real taste of what is in store for them as part of this club.
THE FUTURE AT BOTH ENDS
Oscar Allen at one end, and Callum Coleman-Jones at the other… both these teams are really well-placed in terms of young big men as they head into the next few years.
Allen’s praises have been sung long and loud for a while now – he is so versatile and attacks the aerial contest with a ferocity you just can’t teach, but I have to say I was impressed again by Coleman-Jones in this one. Not just for his work inside 50, but for the way he consistently presented up to the wing to provide a “get out of jail” option for for his defenders as they tried to release the footy from defensive fifty.
This season, I have been taking notes on these “get out of jail” or “gooj” marks, and with a couple in this game, CCJ looks to be one who will provide a great option as the Tigers look to transition from defence to offence.
These “gooj” marks are just about the most important disposal on the ground between the arcs. They are pivotal in terms of getting the footy going your way, and are often taken by a player outnumbered in the contest. Coleman-Jones’ efforts over the past little while have not been lost on me, and even though we are going to see a ton of Oscar Allen over the next decade, we’re also going to see a fair bit of the young Tiger as well.
Question – if Riewoldt goes around again, and he should, and Lynch reclaims his place in the side, is there room for Coleman-Jones at Punt Road? He is uncontracted at the moment, and the past few weeks, maybe a position on one of the two teams out in SA or west maybe something that looks attractive?
THE UNSUNG MIDS
Two blokes – Jack Redden and Kane Lambert – had a huge influence on this game.
I’ll start with Lambert who, after a hiatus due to injury, returned with a bang to provide some timely touches for the Tigers as they powered through the first half. As seems to happen with players returning from injury, Lambert kind of spent most of his petrol tickets in the first half, notching 20 touches, before adding seven in the second.
His last quarter goal looked as though it may have been the one to seal the game for the Tigers, but the Eagles were evidently not done just yet.
And then there was Redden, who has been flying under the radar at West Coast for years now. He notched another 32 touches to go with his seven clearances as he put in another workmanlike performance to carry the Eagles’ midfield until the cavalry arrives after the bye.
Redden can do pretty much everything on the field. He has excellent defensive instincts, knows how to find his own footy, and often provides an inboard option when the Eagles are looking to swing the ball around on a switch.
Would you prefer to have Shuey and Kelly out there? Dumb question – of course you would, but to have Redden able to slot in and play the vital role he did in this game is the type of luxury teams would kill for.
This may not be popular, but that’s why you read The Mongrel, right? To get the truth, and not a sugar-coated version of events?
I sure hope so.
Liam Ryan played a half-hearted game in this one, and though many will focus on his opportunistic mark in the third quarter, and his short pass to Kennedy in the last to set up the winner, the fact of the matter is that he was absolutely killed by Nathan Broad in this game, and this is by no means a knock on Broad, as he is an excellent defender, but when someone has your number, the only way you get the game back on your terms is via hard work.
Liam Ryan simply did not work hard in this one.
Look, he may be carrying an injury, or there may be some extenuating circumstance, but this was not Carlton he was playing against, and he didn’t have a kid named Caleb Poulter to bamboozle. This was a premiership defender, and he continuously beat Ryan to spot, whilst it seemed Ryan was content hanging out the back, hoping for an easy ball.
Broad had more intercepts (nine) than Ryan had touches (seven) and in a game that went down to the wire, I reckon Liam Ryan’s lack of hard work may just slip under the radar due to the fact the Eagles won.
But at least you guys know.
It’s not like the Tigers to collapse at the end of a game and turn the footy over, but as the Eagles piled on the pressure, for the first time in a while, the Tigers lost their cool in big moments.
Players uncharacteristically hacked at the footy, mis-kicked, and made big errors attempting to get to the safety of the boundary line.
Nick Vlastuin and Liam Baker, renowned defenders, made silly errors to give the ball back to the charging Eagles, and whilst it is very easy to sit here in my study, writing about errors made by players far better than me at what they do, it was not the execution from a Richmond team we’re used to seeing under pressure.
They’re the ones usually turning the screws on a team down the stretch, but they had the tables turned in this one, and suddenly, they were making the type of mistake they’re usually forcing.
Another week, another dangerous tackle decision awarded that really wasn’t there.
Umpires are just so jumpy about anything that results in a player hitting his head on the ground, that as soon as a tackle even begins to look as though it might end up with a boo boo on the noggin of the bloke with the footy, the whistle is blown and the fella who couldn’t legally dispose of the footy is rewarded for his ineptitude with a free kick.
This week, it was Oscar Allen, dragged down in an excellent tackle from Marlion Pickett, about 30 metres out from the Eagles’ goal.
Righto, you with me?
So, one of my fellow Mongrels argued that the tackle forced Oscar Allen to land on his face. The thing is, even if Pickett had let him go half way through the tackle, Allen would have landed right on his face, anyway. He was lurching forward and there is this thing, I am sure you’ve heard of it – momentum. It’s really difficult to stop.
So Pickett stays out of Allen’s back, completes the tackle and the umpire, thinking that he’ll get his bum smacked by the AFL is he doesn’t call it, decides it is a dangerous tackle. I have a whistle… I’d better blow it!
Allen would miss the ensuing shot, but that is not the point. We are now reaching the stage where we play a contact sport and we’re being told to stop making contact! It’s like the Victorian Chief Health Officer is in charge of AFL umpiring at the moment.
Sometimes, good tackles are not dangerous. On the flipside, dangerous tackles are never good.
That should be the line umpires use to make their minds up so we can move away from this panicky, reactionary style of making decisions based on what may happen, as opposed to what actually did.
Was it a good tackle? Then it can’t be dangerous. Was it dangerous? Then it cannot be good.
DO WE GET THE MEASURING TAPE OUT?
More to the point, would the umpire have made it out of Optus Stadium alive had he called the short pass from Liam Ryan to Josh Kennedy, which led to the game-winning shot at goal, as too short ordered play to continue?
They would have jumped the damn fence!
I have no doubt this will be analysed within an inch of its life over the next day or so, but my first instinct was to think this was “no 15” and that the ball was going to be held up inside 50. As much as I love the grandstand finish, I reckon the Tigers have every right to feel as though they may have been a little hard-done-by on that one.
Still, the shot from JK… bloody brilliant!
DID YOU THINK DUSTY WAS GOING TO PINCH IT?
It kind of set up for him to head forward, grab the footy and kill the game in the last minute, but a couple of unselfish/strange decisions saw the Eagles able to repel through their club legend, and soon to be 300-gamer, Shannon Hurn.
Martin loomed as the man ready to take control of the game in the dying moments of the last quarter. He did just about everything right, but swing onto the right footy and go for home when he had the chance. For a moment there, it was almost looking like another page was going to be written into footy folklore about the three-time Norm Smith Medallist. Alas, he’ll have to settle for the dozens of pages already written about him.
HOW GOOD IS TOM BARRASS?
I love this bloke. Seriously, he is one of the better big defenders in the game and really stood up after quarter time in this one.
As the matchups were worked out, and the players found their roles, sneaky Jack Riewoldt managed to get away to snag a couple of early goals, but the way Barrass attacked the contests following that – every team needs a player of his ilk.
His numbers will not blow you away by any stretch, but when you’re using the eye-test as the way of assessing the worth of a player, Barrass passed with flying colours in this one.
DID YOU KNOW THE ATLANTA FALCONS PLAY IN THE NBA?
I didn’t. But we are listening to expert spots commentators, so I am looking forward to seeing Trae Young in his new role of running back point guard in the near future. Pad-up, Trae!
Bit of a cock up there from Jobe Watson. Hope he owns it and throws in a ridiculously incorrect sporting reference every week!
IS IT A SHAME NICK VLASTUIN COCKED UP THE KICK IN LATE?
Yep, because his job on Jack Darling all game was spectacular.
Sadly for Nick, Tiger fans will lament his poor late game decision-making when there were so many positives he had to his game through the first 115 minutes of footy.
WHO DO THE TIGERS DROP?
Harsh question, but probably needs to be asked.
Josh Caddy looked slow. I prefer him on a wing, but with McIntosh and Pickett in the side, they own those roles.
With the addition of Matt Parker, does that place one of Rioli or Castagna in the gun? Neither have really done much this season – not losing a hell of a lot by giving Parker a try.
WHAT DOES JOSH KENNEDY HAVE RUNNING THROUGH HIS VEINS?
It’s ice-water. He is stone cold.
After such a great comeback, in front of adoring fans, there is no other bloke I would have wanted with the ball in his hands. Josh Kennedy may be a year or two away from the end of a pretty spectacular career, but he keeps adding highlights like this every few weeks to remind everyone just how good he is.
It was a cold, calculating shot at goal – some may have succumbed to nerves, or the moment may have been too much. Not JK… he is an absolute star, and he ate up the pressure in this one, and spat it back out.
CAN YOU BOTTLE SHANNON HURN?
I don’t know… maybe put him behind a glass panel to smash open when required?
He obviously cannot play forever, but his reliability and footy IQ are simply off the charts. Who was it dropping back and cutting the Tigers off at the knees as they mounted one last challenge?
You guessed it – Bunga Hurn! Look after those calf muscles, Shannon – I have a feeling this team is going to need you at your best in a couple of months.
Shai Bolton continued to look electrifying with the ball in hand. That radar was off early in the piece, however. Two out on the full from him as he headed for home.
I really like the work ethic of Kamdyn McIntosh, but his delivery by foot let him down a little in this one. Both he and Marlion Pickett put a bit of work into ensuring Andrew Gaff didn’t get off the chain in this one.
With West Coast not playing a genuine second ruck, a couple of time their shots at goal were touched on the goal line with no one back to offer a shepherd. Not saying that they would have gone through, or that Nic Nat should have got on his bike to get down there, but to have nobody on the line… those are easy mistakes to rectify.
Jack Graham punching Jack Redden a couple of times as he attempted to handball was one of my favourite moments. One of those real line-ball things where the ump wants him to try to get rid of it, so he does… but Redden’s head was just in the way. I’m surprised more don’t do that.
Both clubs put their feet up next week, with the bye. Both will retain their places in the eight, as those below either sit out next week, or don’t have the runs on the board to challenge.
Round 15 sees the Tigers get a win over St Kilda, who will no doubt find a way to lose no matter how poor Richmond play, whilst the Eagles get the Dogs at Optus in a rematch of their early-season belter.
Overall, spectacular finish by the Eagles. There will be some Tigers fans irate with the umpiring , but there were several issues the players brought on themselves in this game that were to to blame.