This was no walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, though there were points in the game where it looked as though the West Coast Eagles might break the contest open.
An inspired forward performance by young star, Max King, almost dragged St Kilda over the line on the road, but every time the Saints closed, it seemed as though the Eagles were able to repel them with an answering goal.
There was plenty to like from both sides, however, given the nature of the result, only one team will walk away from the contest feeling as though they delivered. We saw big clashes in the middle, with Elliot Yeo and Jack Steele competing for the same footy, and an enthralling ruck duel between Nic Naitanui and Paddy Ryder that swung back and forth between the two. We saw Jeremy McGovern deployed as the second ruck option with surprising results, and we saw a game of chicken between Max King and Adam Simpson, with the Saints forward forcing the Eagles’ coach to make the move he didn’t want to.
There’s heaps to get through in this one, including an expansive look at the way Jeremy McGovern was, and wasn’t used over the course of the game.
It’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly. Off we go…
THE MAIN POINT TO COVER
The matchup on Max King was a huge concern for West Coast, and it loomed as the avenue by which St Kilda could have dragged themselves back into the game. Halfway through the contest, you could notice a bit of a pattern – when McGovern was spending time up the ground, or was dragged away from defensive fifty by Tim Membrey, King looked likely to take a mark and score.
For the game, the big fella dragged down eight contested grabs, and almost all of them came when he was opposed to either Harry Edwards or Josh Rotham. Go on… jump back on and have a look. I’ll wait.
Screw it – I’m not waiting, those people can catch up.
With one of the best defenders in the caper at his disposal, Adam Simpson elected not to send McGovern to King in an effort to curtail his influence. The result was close to catastrophic for the Eagles, with King easily dispensing with the defensive efforts of Edwards, and doubling up with a healthy dose of beating up on Rotham as well. Whether it was the inability to fight through a screen or put a body on King as he made his way to the contest, the pair (mainly Edwards) were all at sea. And with the Saints closing in on the Eagles, King’s play dared Simpson to pull the trigger.
Finally, he did so, and Gov moved back to take King on as a direct opponent. Even then, King’s ability to recover at ground level provided a problem, but you know what he didn’t do against McGovern? He didn’t fly and take contested marks.
Oh, he did take one over the four-time All-Australian when McGovern backed into his path, but again, it was Edwards who had the job at that point.
The Eagles really missed Tom Barrass, huh?
Anyway, I wonder how the Eagles fans feel about Simpson sticking to his guns here and allowing Edwards to be beaten like that? I mean, all’s well that ends well, but if West Coast fell over in this game, there would be a heap of questions around his reluctance to address that which was the main problem for the team, right? Does a win wallpaper over that?
King is tall, but he lacks the body strength to take contact in the approach to the marking contest and still leap at the footy. Teams have been leaning on him all year – check out Trent McKenzie for Port Adelaide just last week. The issue this week, was that King was just as strong as Edwards. Neither has grown man strength just yet – not the sort McGovern does.
I know McGovern is best at the floating defender role, and on the whole, I thought he was excellent in this game, but there were points in this contest where I thought Adam Simpson’s pigheadedness may have cost West Coast the four points. As it stands, it didn’t, but man… it was close.
And while I am talking about McGovern, was he actually as good a backup ruck as I thought he was in this game, or is it that Paul Hunter is a poor backup ruck and made him look excellent? I haven’t seen Gov in that role, but he didn’t just hold his own against Hunter – he won most contests quite comfortably.
I know I gave Simpson a whack of sorts above, but in regard to McGovern as a second ruck option, he may have stumbled across something here. With Barrass a couple of weeks away, having Gov slot in as a ruck for 7-9 minutes per quarter may work as long as you have a capable interceptor/contest killer in defence to cover for him.
Now that I have that off my chest, we can get on with the regular stuff.
THREE MINUTES OF BRILLIANCE
I have to say, he really didn’t do a lot outside of the second quarter, but Tim Kelly turned on the jets before half time to show the world exactly why he was so highly sought after by the Eagles.
Within the space of three minutes, Kelly tore the game open, with centre clearances, goals and goal assists to aid his team in establishing their half time lead.
With one point separating the teams at quarter time, Kelly picked up 13 of his 25 touches for the game in the second quarter, finding the footy with his relentless hard work, and a bit of a helping hand from both the tapwork of Nic Naitanui, and even one errant tap from Paddy Ryder that got the Eagles streaming forward.
His work to both deliver inside 50 and run to receive the footy again demonstrated just what is required to be an elite midfielder at this level.
In the grand scheme of things, he kind of went missing after half time, compiling just seven touches, but when the game was there to be iced, it was Kelly, dishing off to Dom Sheed to kick the icing goal, picking up his third direct goal assist in the process.
THE NEED FOR SHEED
I really ebb and flow on Dom Sheed. One week he looks as though winning the footy means the world to him, and others… I’m not sure he could give a rat’s tossbag (I stole that from Rex Hunt) as to whether he gets the footy, his opponent gets the footy, or someone else gets it. I’d love to be able to analyse him (with my zero degrees in psychology) and see what makes him tick, because he is a bit of a confusing character.
However, there was nothing confusing about his work in this game. Whilst I touched up… errrr, I mean touched ON Tim Kelly above, Sheed played a genuine four-quarter game, and really rose to the occasion in the last quarter ti stem the tide as the Saints came at the Eagles.
His ten touches and two goals in the last helped West Coast get home against the Max King Express, as he was cool as a cucumber (a refrigerated one… not like the one Mrs Mongrel left on the bench the other day when she went to bed.. grrrrrrr….) when things got really tight.
Sometimes, it’s almost as though Sheed needs to be suitably motivated to pull out his A-Game.
“Oh hey… we’re going down to Geelong and we have to play there. We really need a big game from you, Dom.”
“… yeah nah…”
And then there are times like this, when the situation itself compels him to be at his best and he just does it with aplomb.
Sheed is the type of player you would hate to play against. He is a moments player – someone that can bob up and drive a dagger through your heart at any given moment, and completely irrespective of how involved he’s been up until that point. The Eagles got the best of both worlds from Sheed today – consistency combined with brilliance when required amount to a best on ground performance.
I’ve been waiting for this, and in this game, Elliot Yeo delivered it in spades.
With nine clearances and five tackles, Yeo played the type of game that has become synonymous with his career at West Coast. Burrowing in, fighting for the footy, and at times, tearing it away from opponents to clear, he picked up 19 contested touches to lead the game, and seems to be getting back to that level of football that made him the heartbeat of the West Coast midfield.
Matched up often against the Saints’ prime mover, Jack Steele, Yeo displayed that insatiable hunger for the contest that was so common in his game if we rewind just a couple of seasons. That hunger propelled him to two Best and Fairest awards, and helped secure the West Coast Eagles their fourth AFL premiership. With the Eagles win, they now sit within touch of the top four – it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they give things a shake and make it.
And if that happens, and Elliot Yeo is playing this brand of football, who knows what September could bring?
THE BUMP IS NOT DEAD
Not sure if you noticed Ben Long deciding that there was no way Nic Naitanui was going to do his patented move where he barrels forward and takes half the pack with him in the last quarter? It’s well worth a watch if you missed it.
On two occasions, Long came off half forward and crashed into the big ruckman, stopping him in his tracks with hip and shoulders that would have felled an oak tree. Luckily, Nic Nat is a little more solid than an oak tree, huh?
Long is one of those players who seems content with risking a possible suspension if it means there is a chance he can legally bowl someone over, and let’s be honest, he almost deserves a medal for bravery for running into Nic Nat.
But there were a couple of other really solid clashes in this one as well. Zak Jones made Xavier O’Neill pay for leaving his body exposed (not in the Joe Ganino “I was just here to use the urinal, officer” kind of way), crashing into him completely legally early in the game.
And then there was a strong body to body clash between Andrew Gaff and Brad Hill at one stage as well. It goes without saying that Gaff came off better than Hill in that clash, as Gaff actually has body contact as part of his game now and again. For Hill, that kind of thing is so rare, he may have felt like he’d been run over.
Too often we see vision of what players do wrong when they elect to bump, but in this game there were four great examples of how you can do it correctly, and how it has a part in our game. Everyone got up and played on, and no one remonstrated. That’s footy, and that’s why I still love it.
I covered him pretty extensively in the opener, but Max King deserves his own section here.
The big fella was incredible in this game, launching at the footy as though he owned it – and to a large extent, he did. With eight contested marks (two behind Wayne Carey’s record of ten), King looked almost majestic as he floated through the air to clunk grab after grab. And his kicking… a couple of those shots on a 45 degree angle were absolute rippers.
Many have questioned both King Brothers over the duration, but I reckon they forget that these blokes are just 21 years old – not many players that age come out and dominate the air as Max King did in this one.
He will have his quiet games over the next year or two, but as we progress, his quiet games will be fewer and further between. A star may have already been born prior to this game, but never has it shined brighter.
ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE
Was I the only one that thought Paddy Ryder was really taking the challenge up to Nic Naitanui early in this game?
Without his partner in crime (and the loss of Rowan Marshall is huge – make no mistake), Ryder looked determined to make Nic Nat earn every hit out. They finished around even in that regard, but as always seems the case, it was Naitanui’s second efforts that tipped the balance of power in his favour in this contest.
A couple of weeks ago, we saw Naitanui roasted on social media for not following Todd Goldstein into North’s forward line late in the game. Even though this is a common tactic for the Eagles that sees Naitanui handover responsibility to Barrass or McGovern, he copped a pasting for not doing it, anyway.
He was going to have none of that in this game. If Ryder went forward, Nic Nat was there to spoil his marking attempts. There was to be no finger of blame, or any other finger for that matter, pointed at him, here. I mean, who knows where those fingers have been?
It was fitting that it was Naitanui drifting forward to mark and kick a vital goal in the third quarter, outworking Ryder in the process. I reckon it was an important moment in the game for Nic Nat – almost a way of making the point that he hurts opposition rucks just as much as they do running forward, and given how the game tightened up in the last, the importance of him making that ground, and kicking that goal cannot be discounted.
Naitanui finished with more than twice as many touches as Ryder and somehow managed the amazing feat of having 13 contested possessions and only 11 disposals. The man is truly a magician. And yes, I know the difference between disposals and possessions – it’s just not often you see it work out that way.
No one wants to see a star of the game struck down by injury, but in the first quarter, after getting out over the back, and having Jimmy Webster cursing himself for taking a gamble on a ball in-flight, Liam Ryan slotted a goal from 35 metres out and immediately grabbed at his hamstring.
His night, and perhaps the next few weeks, were over for him.
I can imagine Webster having a thought cross his mind that it would have been nice if he injured it about eight or nine steps earlier…
Liam Ryan is the type of player you happily pay to watch. He is a “bums on seats” type of performer, and one of the most spectacular players in the game. To see him limping off… it was the kind of sight that any genuine football supporter, regardless of who you barrack for, would not want to see.
Believe it or not, there are many of us who don’t support West Coast that genuinely enjoy the best players in the game being out on the park, and Ryan would be chief amongst them given what he can deliver. I hope he has a speedy recovery.
And maybe… just maybe, he’ll have his old running mate back with him by then?
I’ll be completely honest with you guys – I have no bloody idea how they decide what is and what isn’t a free kick in a ruck contest these days. Blocking, holding, jumping early, protecting the space – it seems like the whistle blows and everyone just freezes for a second, knowing that the umpire could point either way and nobody would really have any idea why.
The last two goals of the third quarter were direct results of ruck infringements, and I have to say, I absolutely hate this aspect of the game. The big fellas get in there, tangle themselves up, jostle for position, and when the whistle blows they’re kind of like “Is that mine?”
The AFL has been screwing around with the ruck for years – they’ve implemented the no-third-man-up rule, started to consider taking the footy out of the contest as prior opportunity, and then reconsidered that and changed their minds. Now, it seems as though you cannot use your body to displace your opponent, as well. I’m not quite sure where it ends.
What I’d like to see is the big guys allowed to play. If they want to hold, let them hold. If they want to block, let them block. Retain the obvious two free kicks, such as too high and in the back, and throw the rest out. It saves the umpires having to look for infringements (of which they could really pluck out one or two at every contest) and allows the big men to scrap it out, which, by the way they’re currently competing and giving free kicks away, seems as though it is the direction they’d prefer.
It may just be the frustration talking, or in this case, writing, but I am a little bit tired of watching the big guys contest, the umpire blowing the whistle and nobody knowing what the hell is happening.
WILL JACK BILLINGS EVER FULFIL HIS POTENTIAL?
Nope. It’s just a flat out no.
Billings had the makings of one of the best mid/forwards in the game, but at some point, he simply lost his way, and has resorted to playing the wing and doing a decent job of it. That is now what he is – a decent wingman. Not good – just decent.
He is by no means Andrew Gaff, and he is a world away from being Hugh McCluggage, Karl Amon or Paul Seedsman this year. At just a tick over 20 touches per game, he is a player in cruise control, and his free agency money should reflect it.
What a waste.
SHOULD JOSH KENNEDY GO ROUND AGAIN?
He just makes things happen, and though the Eagles need to get to a point where they make the transition from Kennedy/Darling to Darling/Allen, what Kennedy offers right now is a wealth of experience and the ability to both hold his ground in marking contests and the knowledge to lead at precisely the right time.
He dished off two in this game that could have resulted in goal assists, as well, but from now on, JK, if you are anywhere within 55, go for home. Your team trusts you to take the shots.
WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH OSCAR ALLEN IN THIS ONE?
He couldn’t really get near it. Beaten when going forward, and relatively okay when deployed in defence, Allen was playing a “nothing” kind of role in this one.
It must have been a little humbling for him given the young bloke clunking marks and kicking goals wearing red, white and black. Allen is capable of so much more than we saw today, and in a way, the Eagles got lucky by gaining a win despite his inability to get involved.
WAS BEN LONG’S MISS PERCY JONES-ESQUE?
It was pretty close, wasn’t it? When you consider that if he took one more step, he would have run over the goal line, It would be harder to miss from there than it would to kick a goal…
… but Long managed it.
Kicking the footy into the goal umpire from point-blank range… man, I know a far few Saints supporters have been scathing of Long in the past, but I have always thought he gives the side something they need – a bit of mongrel. He also gives the side something they don’t – costly mistakes.
Great to see Willie Rioli in the stands. Would love to see him get back this season, but I am not sure at the moment. He adds such an x-factor to this Eagles team that you’d be tempted to take the risk on him even if he is slightly underdone… and you’d expect that after this long on the sidelines.
Nice outing for Andrew Gaff – the type I like from him. Plenty of outside footy for him, which means that the inside mids are doing their work.
I should not allow the free run Zak Jones allowed Jake Waterman to have at the footy cloud my judgment of what was an excellent game for the former Swan, but I can’t really help it. Jones finished with 30 touches, seven clearances and eight inside 50s, picking up the slack of Jack Steele, who had 17 touches – way below his regular output. Steele did add 12 tackles, but he was beaten at the coalface by a hungry Elliot Yeo in this one.
That may have been the best game of the season for Dan Butler. With two goals and 20 touches, he created a bit of havoc for the Eagles’ defenders, and looked like a live wire for most of the game.
Worst game of the season for Brad Crouch? His first game as a Saint wasn’t great, but after time to adjust, you’d not expect him to be challenging for that unwanted title at this stage of the season.
So, the Eagles march on, and take on the Magpies (apparently) in a week’s time, whilst the Saints and Dockers could well be a match that determines whether either can make the eight.
Guys… the season is winding down – I am almost a little sad. Thank you to our members for their amazing support so far this season. Really appreciated – HB