To finish off an interesting Round 1 – to say the least. Gold Coast travelled to Optus Stadium to take on a decimated Eagles side, missing over 1400 games of experience in their lineup. To be honest, it is near on impossible to fault the Eagles, as despite losing the game, they had to show up to a gunfight with a few steak knives, and boy oh boy did they get in close and personal and do some damage on their much more fancied opposition.
West Coast were missing players like Allen, Shuey, Yeo, Darling, Cripps, Cole, Duggan, Sheed… to name a few. Things almost managed to get worse, as backup big Bailey Williams almost knocked himself out on a ruck bag. Luckily, he was fine to play the contest.
Let’s take a look at how this one played out…
Let’s be honest… West Coast were all heart and balls in this contest, unafraid and unwavering in the challenge they faced in the contest. With a patched-together team, they made Gold Coast look complacent early, relying on outstanding spacing around the ground- both inside and out, plus also a lack of urgency of some of the Suns. Defeated, but far from disgraced, West Coast were right in the fight for the vast majority of the match, with the Suns managing to get the jump late in the last quarter to take the win. West Coast were often able to slice Gold Coast open with creative overlap run, either from some centre stoppages, or their outstanding rebound defence.
For Gold Coast, they managed to dominate the contested ball, however early had to settle for a number of chaos ball entries, as the Chol/Casboult combination often messed up their spacing. Suns fans would have liked Levi getting his opportunities around goal, Casboult kicked 2.1 with another shot out on the full – he almost shot himself in the foot in regards to his kicking, but he missed that as well. It took an outstanding final term from the Suns’ midfield brigade to set up the forwards, and the onslaught became too much for the Eagles, going down by 27 points.
West Coast fans would have been delighted to see Willie Rioli return to Optus Stadium. Starting in the middle, it didn’t take long for him to light up the track. In the first quarter, he spent a fair bit of time minding new Suns Co-Captain Touk Miller, and his bodywork and physicality was outstanding. In the first term, he collected two centre clearances, and was a constant menace, with Naitanui on the prowl in the ruck. In the third term, he got the crowd going, kicking 1.1 in a scintillating display. He led the charge, throwing his body around, with guys like Sam Petrevski-Seton and Zac Langdon heeding the call. However, what was a positive was also a negative..
It was in the third that he also seized the opportunity to lay out Matt Rowell – who was going back with the flight of the ball inside 50, when Rioli left the ground and collected the Suns star with his hip and side- causing a rebound 50 opportunity that the Eagles took the length of the ground to kick truly from. Ye s- I’m a Gold Coast supporter, however, I’d assume with the Match Review panel’s insistence on “protecting the player” I don’t know how he escapes suspension. To help his case, Rowell did play on and continued to dominate (more on him soon)
He also could come under scrutiny for a dangerous tackle on Miller in the same quarter, which may not even be looked at, but he also conceded a downfield free kick after a late bump, which Witts duly converted. All in all, it was great to see him back to playing footy, especially given he was a legitimate factor in this contest.
A ROWELLDY RECEPTION
Ok, yeah that was pretty bad.
West Coast fans must really hate seeing Matt Rowell in full flight, as the two best games of his career have come against the Eagles. The young star took to the contest head-on, as he capitalised on having a number one ruck to work off, Rowell’s clean hands and bulldozer mentality were on full display. Last season he seemed to struggle with a few ailments, and the question had been asked “have we seen the best of him”? I wasn’t aware, but he had an OP issue that had sapped his lateral movement power, well he got that fixed, and willed the Suns to victory. Rowell managed to shake off the Rioli hit to accumulate a game (and career) high 33 disposals, six tackles, 22 contested possessions, nine clearances and six intercept possessions in a clear best on ground performance. Despite his injury history, he almost went searching for contact, constantly driving into and through the Eagles tackle attempts – admittedly sometimes biting off a little more than he could chew, he still managed to find a way.
I’ll admit, I did not expect this from Jamaine Jones.
Playing off half-forward and around the middle, the former Cat was superb for the home side. He scythed through the Gold Coast defence when given time and space, with Sean Lemmens and David Swallow struggling to contain him. Kicking two brilliant goals from 21 disposals, six marks and five tackles his contribution was vital in stepping in for the missing warriors from the West Coast engine room.
THE MAGIC MEN
In a game of “stories”, none were more spectacular from two players that produced career-best games with their bag of tricks.
For the Suns, Izak Rankine was absolutely brilliant, despite attempting to recreate a new version of Ted Whitten’s “flick pass” for the modern generation. The former South Australian – in fact he still probably is South Australian – kicked 4.1 for the game, however, was also always looking to get his teammates involved. Following on from his outstanding preseason, Rankine feasted on the ball at ground level, while also showing a vastly improved fitness base. He still showed lapses in concentration in trying to create something from nothing, however, the Suns will live with that if his work rate continues to improve. 22 disposals, four goals, two goal assists and 11 score involvements for the mercurial forward – who looks like he is on the cusp of stardom
For the Eagles, Xavier O’Neill was incredibly impressive, with his own bag of tricks evident around stoppages in particular. First off he showed great skill to not only evade a Wil Powell tackle, but do that with the ball behind his back and hit up Zac Langdon for a goal was outstanding and got the crowd fired up. He managed to kick his own goal at a forward 50 stoppage in the second term. Due to injuries, he spent a large portion away from goals, attending 14 centre bounces, however, he looked right at home in the coalface and looms as a player with genuine X Factor.
Both defensive units put their stamp on this contest. In the first half, Gold Coast would have been ten goals down if not for the efforts of Charlie Ballard. Despite the Eagles getting clean ball from the middle, Ballard was colossal in the first half, then his counterpart Sam Collins followed suit. In the first quarter, Ballard collected seven of his 13 disposals, along with four marks and five intercept possessions. Wil Powell came into the game after half time, and accounted for some crucial work behind the ball in the third term in particular
West Coast had a more even four-quarter performance from their defensive unit, led by noted goal kicker and 100 gamer Tom Barrass, Shannon Hurn, Jeremy Mcgovern and Luke Foley, West Coast – in my opinion had a better collective output from their unit as a whole. Foley in particular was a great linchpin. As Gold Coast tried to limit Hurn’s impact. McGovern stood tall in the second half, but unfortunately, the unit was powerless to stop the Suns in the final stages.
THE BIG MEN
I know that the Eagles were decimated by injury, however, you could see a shift in the Suns stoppage craft, as the return of Jarrod Witts meant they could go on the attack a lot more, rather than having to concede the ruck work. The battle between Witts and Naitanui was brilliant, with Naitanui’s second efforts and Witts combination of finesse and force both giving great service to the midfield. This was no more prevalent in the final quarter, as three goals were kicked in the first minute and a half – all created from stoppages. Witts was able to go forward on Naitanui and kick a goal, however, Naitanui also created a few starting from his tap work, so you can pretty much call it a dead heat.
The cause for concern was how easily each ruck dispersed with the opponent’s backup, with Witts manhandling Williams, and Naitanui making light work of Chol. It’s interesting that both backups didn’t oppose each other, whether that was by design or coincidence, I’m not sure.
It was mainly Gaff, Redden and Petrevski-Seton vs Miller, Anderson and Fiorini for the other group battle., and as I’ve rambled a little I’ll cover each one briefly
Gaff – Led the Eagles with 32 disposals and thrived in general play, however, he butchered the ball in close, almost looked like Dom Sheed as in he was taking a quantity over quality approach.
Redden – Calm under fire, had some very crucial touches in tight and remained as imported as ever. When the going got tough, he got tougher
Petrevski-Seton – Still coming into his own, however, he looked a bit more composed, being moved to a more natural role. Eagles should persist even when reinforcements arrive.
Miller – After quarter time he led the troops superbly. His lateral movement and cleanliness was great, West Coast did well to contain his space
Anderson – Handy touches and burst from stoppages, fatigued late but good signs especially after being able to get on the offensive
Fiorini – Slipped under the guard, did most of his damage as a linkman off the back of the stoppage. Handy game, almost surgical with his disposal.
THE HUMAN MISSILE
Nick Holman was tremendous for Gold Coast, when the going got tough, he got going – and then some… His kamikaze attack on player and ball was absolutely crucial once again, a hallmark since being signed from Carlton. Being healthy last season, he became one of the AFL’s most effective defensive forwards and was rewarded with a spot in the leadership group, a fitting reward for a guy that would barrel through a brick wall every day of the week to get his team across the line.
In this game he made the Eagles pay on the attack. Paid zero respect by Jackson Nelson and the medium defenders, Holman was an outstanding linkup player on the attack, while also getting out some very handy disposals in tight, which was incredibly pleasing as he was dealing with fumbilitis in the preseason game against the Cats. Holman was a menace in general play, with his efforts leading to numerous scoring chains for the Suns. Some may have seen him shed a few tears and were wondering why. Well Nick was battling his own personal loss, with the contest being his first without a very influential person in his life. 14 disposals, 1.1, seven score involvements and six tackles for the Suns heat-seeker.
The 2 goals were a nice return, however, I still fail to see much urgency from the Richmond recruit. He loped after Naitanui when in relief of Witts and seldom launched with outstretched hands. It’s only early, and I will concede that he will take time to adjust to playing an important role week in, week out, however, I just haven’t seen much of second gear just yet. He did have an interrupted preseason, but he needs to gain a bit more match fitness quickly, and a date with Melbourne’s premiership defence beckons next week, he needs to get out of first gear.
Alex Davies will be a very very nice piece for the Suns future. As you might have surmised from his outstanding evasion in the clinches, he does possess the most desirable trait in a modern-day midfielder – A BASKETBALL BACKGROUND.. he makes a damn good footballer as well.
Jack Petrucelle showed exactly what is needed for success at AFL level. Give the speedster some space and let him run wild. Jack Flash was a constant threat to take the game by the throat, however, the decision of using David Swallow on him rivals that of declining a mixer with the local Balinese fire-water this one time…
Bit of a weird game for the wingmen in this contest, as both sides generally kicked to packs, with space on the wings mainly created by overlap run, as opposed to pure pace.
Jack Lukosius looks officially settled up forward, using his foot skills to great effect. I have noticed that he leans back on his kicks when shooting for goal, whereas keeping his head over the ball in general play, perhaps explaining his accuracy issues.
Keep your eye on Brady Hough. At 190cm, he will be a very handy piece for the future of the Eagles. Looked completely in his element and attacked the contest with no fear.
The movement of Hugh Dixon was impressive, working high up the ground and looking confident. He will benefit from learning from the Eagles regular talls.
A bit of an ordinary showing from Sean Lemmens in this one, as he zoned off Jones a bit but also had a horrific turnover, kicking to an Eagle in 60m of space in the second half. Well tagged by Zac Langdon.
Umpires were a bit ordinary in this one, with Rowell getting some leniency with barrelling through tackles, though should have been paid for the Rioli “spoil”. Wil Powell should have been pinged after getting spun in a tackle close to goal, Ordinary, but ordinary both ways at stages.
Casboult was very handy in his debut game, yes he missed some shots, however, his movement and aerial attack was exactly why the Suns got him in. He will need to keep attacking the corridor to help mitigate his accuracy issues.