It was a one-sided Derby out west, as the Fremantle Dockers proved far too strong for a West Coast team struggling to keep players on the park.

With just a goal to their name at halftime, the Eagles looked incapable of penetrating the Fremantle defence, as the Dockers stretched the lead to over five goals at the main break.

The second half commenced with Nic Naitanui looking like he meant business, but the resurgence was short-lived, as Freo turned the screws on the Eagles and capitalised on their copious mistakes, often going coast to coast to hit the scoreboard.

The Dockers gained a huge lift from their small-to-medium-sized forward crew, who seemed to do very little wrong for the entire game. As Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn took control of the air, it was Sam Switkowski, Lachie Schultz, and Michael Frederick wreaking havoc at ground level.

Let’s jump into some of the talking points from the game.

 

Oh, and before I commence, apologies for this review being a little late – some idiot… who may or may not be me, thought he was doing a different game and went ahead and reviewed that, so I had to back up and do this one later. Well, Richmond v St Kilda now has two reviews and… I am sorry.

 

THE SLICK SMALLS

The work of Lachie Schultz in this game will be covered elsewhere, and he will be spoken about glowingly for his workrate both inside 50 and moving up to the wings. Finishing with two goals of his own, it was his three goal assists that impressed me most, creating opportunities for his teammates whenever the ball was in his hands.

He was a deserving Glendinning-Allan Medallist.

That said, I wanted to focus on the efforts of two other smaller blokes in this contest.
In the preseason, Champion Data released their annual “elite” list. Quite a few scoffed at the inclusion of Sam Switkowski in his role as a small forward, but avid footy watchers, who aren’t continually sucked in by players like Connor Rozee and Charlie Cameron, would have nodded their heads sagely.

You see, Switkowski is special. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of a younger Luke Breust – and that is a compliment of the highest order, as Breust is one of the more consistently excellent small forwards of the last ten years. He has the uncanny ability to accelerate into a contest, control the ball perfectly and continually make the right decision. The stats sheet says three turnovers, but I only managed to see one mistake of note from him in the entire outing. His hands, vision, and willingness to take a couple of seconds to ensure he is not just making the first available delivery, but the right delivery to a teammate, makes him dangerous irrespective of how far out from goal he is.

Switkowski is now 25, and this should be the season his name starts to appear on the lips of people with a big voice in the game. He is quick, elusive, and hungry for this team to excel. That is a dangerous combination if you’re charged with curtailing him on the day.

The other one I wanted to touch on was Michael Frederick.

I said “touch on”… not “touch up”, damn it. You guys are filthy.

13 touches and two goals should be about standard for him, given what he has at his disposal, but I felt tas though, had a couple of things gone his way in this game, he was capable of repeating his preseason form, and really pantsing the Eagles defenders.

Had Schultz been a little more generous with the footy, Frederick would have waltzed into an open goal in the second quarter, and given he missed a couple of other chances, a five-goal game went begging for him in this one.

What really impressed me about him was his ability to find space and stretch the West Coast defence. As this team starts to understand what they have in each of Schultz, Switkowski, and Frederick, I expect we will see a lot less on the long bombs hoping for Taberner and Lobb, and a lot more shorter passes, giving these three a chance to work their magic.

I like what I saw from the Freo smalls – they have the opportunity to put some teams to the sword in 2022. Whether or not they do so will largely depend on those around them recognising it, and capitalising on their talents.

 

I FEAR FOR THE WEST COAST DEFENCE

Firstly, what a game for Jeremy McGovern in this one, notching his second-straight defensive double-double, with 15 intercepts and 12 one-percenters. He was just two rebound 50s away from registering the third ever defensive triple-double (10+ in intercepts, rebound, and one-percenters) in history, but geez, the Dockers played into his hands a little too often for my liking.

Alongside him, Shannon Hurn racked up 13 intercepts of his own, building his own brick wall in defence. Those two were pivotal in restricting the Dockers from absolutely tearing this game apart.

But what happens next?

Hurn is 34 years old and has had calf issues for a couple of years. Hell, I am well aware that it’s the old man’s injury. Despite his form, McGovern turns 30 next week. I have to ask – who comes next in these roles? Do you see anyone on these teams capable of doing what either of these blokes currently are? Who is the next Eagle to register an All-Australian blazer in defence?

The Eagles brought on Alex Witherden in the hopes he could learn from Hurn and slot in when the former captain retires. Though serviceable, I am not sold on him becoming a defensive pillar for this team – more like a support beam, maybe.

And outside Tom Barrass, who will stand up as an elite interceptor? Barrass will be required to play tight defensively – I cannot see anyone ready to work into the role McGovern plays. There are no acorns set to become oak trees.

Look, we’re friends here – most of you know I am a pretty fair bloke when it comes to assessing lists and teams. West Coast desperately need to either draft a key defender, or trade for a young former West Aussie who can play the role. Right now, they are reliant on McGovern and Hurn, and they really stood up in this game, but long term… I am genuinely worried their defensive walls will be built on foundations of sand.

 

RELEASING THE TAG

So, I want to ask you guys – why would Adam Simpson stop doing the only thing that seemed to be working in his favour in the first half?

Jackson Nelson did a stellar job on Andrew Brayshaw until halftime, restricting him to just seven touches. It’s a role that the Eagles have struggled with since Mark Hutchings used to perform it and give Steele Sidebottom nightmares a few years back.

They tried Brayden Ainsworth as a tagger at one stage, but there has not really been anyone capable of curtailing the work of a top-flight mid. Until now, perhaps?

Nelson was dogged in restricting Brayshaw, often having a hand on him like a jealous teenage boyfriend who thinks his girlfriend’s skirt is just a little too short. I’ll give him this much – he was damn effective in limiting any efforts from Brayshaw from being involved, and hell, if there were any players thinking of making a move on that tease, Andrew Brayshaw, the close proximity of Nelson all but scuttled that, too!

And then, as if he’d seen enough, Adam Simpson pulled the pin on the role, and Brayshaw went about collecting 19 second-half touches to lead the Dockers.

Right, so why would Simpson do that? Was Nelson completely spent after running around with the supremely fit Brayshaw? Or did the West Coast coach figure his team was not scoring and thought that by releasing Nelson to the wing, he could generate some run and carry?

To the second question, I have to answer with a question of my own – when has Jackson Nelson ever generated any run and carry to the level that would have been required to get West Coast back into the game?

That’s right – never.

So, the answer, to me at least, is apparent – Nelson was spent. He managed ten second-half touches, but with just five being rated as effective, his damage was minimal. Meanwhile, a suddenly free Brayshaw licked his lips and went about being the number one score involvement player in the game, with 11.

In future, Jackson Nelson with a better tank could be the answer for the Eagles as a replacement for a role that was never filled. He is 26 and could play 4-5 years as the West Coast stopper, and seriously, given what he’s done to this point in his career, this could be the role that gives him a real sense of purpose in the Eagles team.

However, unless he is able to perform the role for a whole game… it won’t do him, or the team much good.

 

WHERE IS THE PACE?

Despite players like Jack Petruccelle, Connor West, and Zac Langdon out there for West Coast, they looked cumbersome compared to the pace of the Dockers.

I have already sung the praises of the three up forward for Freo, but the run from players like Jordan Clark, James Aish, Brandon Walker, Blake Acres, and Bailey Banfield when he was subbed into the game made the Eagles look like they were standing still. Hell, as good an endurance runner Andrew Gaff is, when was the last time you saw him win a footrace to the footy?

It was those Freo runners that capitalised when the Dockers grabbed the footy in defence, that would run and spread, leaving their plodding opponents in their wake as they opened up the game and gave the forwards plenty of opportunities.

But for some misguided kicking, leading to both McGovern and Hurn having a picnic in the air, Freo could have set some records in this game. They were so superior when it came to leg speed that I am actually surprised West Coast were able to keep the margin within ten goals.

 

MAKING A NAME

Without Nat Fyfe in the mix, this Freo team was supposed to fall over in the middle, weren’t they? Even with Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong in there, they were supposed to struggle a bit.

But the work of Will Brodie at the coal face needs to be acknowledged. His consistent combative efforts to win the footy and dish it to a player in better position really helped stop the bleeding for the Dockers with Brayshaw well held in the first half.

He finished with 17 contested touches, and led all players with eight clearances. This is particularly impressive when you look at the way Nic Naitanui was able to control the ruck, particularly in the second half.

Will Brodie is no Nat Fyfe. He is no Caleb Serong, and he is no Andy Brayshaw, but given a second chance at an AFL career after his Gold Coast run, perhaps the penny has dropped for him at Freo?

He would not be the first player to start excelling once he left Gold Coast, and with Fyfe expected to miss a bit more time recovering from surgery, Brodie has a real chance to stake his claim as a permanent part of this midfield.

 

THE LIFTS

I have been pretty critical of Blake Acres over the past 12 months. He reminded me of the type of player that just looked happy to be playing AFL footy, running around at three-quarter pace and doing a whole lot of nothing for long periods in games.

Maybe Will Brodie isn’t the only player to have the penny drop in 2022?

Acres played a near-perfect wingman game in this one – not in terms of collecting 40 touches… I don’t think that is in his repertoire, but more in terms of what he can provide this team. He maintained his space, made a lot of ground to impact contests, and ensured the Dockers had an outlet when they needed one.

With 22 touches and a goal, Acres did what Freo picked him up for, and he did it very, very well.

This was not a vintage Michael Walters game by any stretch – I am unsure we’ll ever see him back at 2019 levels again – but what he did in this game was exactly what Freo need from him – he competed.

When Walters has his tail up, he becomes incredibly dangerous. This season, it seems as though he has finally stopped throwing his head back and flailing his arms about – it got to the point where it was almost embarrassing in 2020/21. He is attacking the contest, keeping his feet, and though I did see him lead with his head on one occasion, he is doing it a hell of a lot less than he was the past two years.

A Michael Walters demanding defensive attention opens the game up for those around him. Teams have woken up to him in recent years and have started to sag off at times. This year, it seems as though Walters is angling to make teams who employ those tactics pay. His 17 touches were important, and his second efforts created opportunities for his fellow smaller forwards.

This is the Michael Walters Freo need. No ducking, no appealing, no petulance – just a fantastic footballer doing what he does best.

 

LAST WORDS

I feel like I have not been complimentary enough of the Freo defence, who were faced with the arduous task of containing Liam Ryan, Josh Kennedy, and Jack Darling.

There was a bit of wallpapering from the Eagles attack late in the game, but the work of Brennan Cox, Luke Ryan, Alex Pearce, and Heath Chapman was wonderful inside 50. They may not have racked up McGovern or Hurn numbers, but they also didn’t have forwards taking uncontested marks in their area, either, did they?

A game of two halves with the ruck contests. Lloyd Meek started really strongly, clearly outworking Nic Nat around the ground, but fell away dramatically in the second half. I wonder whether Adam Simpson gave Nic Nat a bit of a rocket at halftime? He emerged looking like a man that meant business. I would hate to be tackled by him – Will Brodie ended up with a mouthful of turf at one stage, courtesy of a Naitaui tackle.

As for the deliberate rushed behind free kicks, that is over-officiating at its worst. I don’t want to see it occur in close contests, and the only thing that has prevented this from being more widely discussed is the fact it was one each, and the fact the game was a blowout. If it happened in a tight game, those decisions could decide the result, and I don’t want to see that occur.

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