R10 – West Coast v Melbourne – All That Mattered

Few would have predicted what we saw out there at Optus Stadium today. West Coast owned this game of footy from start to finish, and never really looked like losing it. Melbourne looked dysfunctional, unable to win their own footy and uninterested defensively.

This was a game not dissimilar to The Derby, where West Coast owned the footy from beginning to end. I’d say though that it’s even more impressive in the way they didn’t allow Melbourne back into the contest when they had a run of goals. The Dees midfield struggled for any ascendancy during the contest and were regularly left chasing breakout Eagles players streaming from stoppage without a care in the world.

This game left me with question marks about where Melbourne is heading, and what they think they can achieve out of this year. It also left me thinking that West Coast aren’t far off being a finals side if they can do this sort of stuff regularly. Who knows, maybe a late run this year isn’t out of the question, however unlikely it may seem now.

A little bit to talk about today, so let’s get stuck in…


Do What You Want

It’s not a stretch to suggest the Eagles played this game almost entirely on their own terms. Often you hear the expression “we found a way to win” from players after a gritty contest which swung back and forth. Today, West Coast won this game in the exact way they intended; I would suggest.

From early in the game, West Coast owned the ball in the middle and won clean clearances regularly. This allowed the forwards of Jake Waterman, Jack Darling and co to find one on one’s rather than competing in a contested pack. With that said, most of the time those bigger contests were won by the Eagles as well, with Waterman again marking everything that came near him.

Melbourne were unable to gain significant ascendancy at any point in this contest. They had occasions with a few goals in a row where you felt they would overrun the Eagles, however, West Coast are hardened now, and refused to roll over at any point. Melbourne were beaten up all over the ground by the young Eagles. It’s as simple as that.

What would be of concern to the Dees’ coaching staff is the poor defence all over the ground. Yes, Jake Lever went off early, however, one player does not make a team, and it wasn’t just limited to the defensive 50. West Coast walked the ball out of the back half on kick in, repeat entries were rare for Melbourne, and West Coast moved the ball up the ground far too easily. The amount of space the Eagles had today was almost disrespectful. There seemed to be no accountability from Melbourne, and the Eagles took every inch available and, usually, turned it into a score.


Jake Waterman

This is not the first time I’ve dedicated time to Jake Waterman this year, and clearly it won’t be the last. What this guy has done this year and continued to do today is just incredible. In Oscar Allen’s absence, Waterman has decided to take total ownership of the forward line, and it’s working wonders for himself and the team.

The confidence this guy is playing with is astonishing. Every time the ball goes near him lately, he’s marking it. It’s at the point now where his teammates must feel like just dumping it on his head is the highest percentage play you can find, given his tendency to mark the ball. He owned McDonald down there today.

He’s now co-leading the Coleman Medal with Ben King, Jesse Hogan, and Charlie Curnow. With the way he’s playing, Waterman is my pick of the bunch to take it out. Nothing looks like stopping him.

Oscar Allen will come back sometime soon, and it’s bound to lower Jake’s performance at least a fraction while the two big dogs work out the proper balance, but I don’t think we’ll see any permanent regression. If anything, he’ll get even more off the chain due to not having the number one key defender against him each week anymore. It’s a scary thought, the two of them out there together.


Harley ‘Don’t Even Think About Tackling Me You Waste of Energy’ Reid

Jesus Christ, this kid could be anything. He wasn’t West Coast’s best today (Waterman for me, give love to the big guys wherever possible) however others will fairly argue it was Reid. I spoke of confidence before, and I can’t begin to imagine what is running through Harley’s veins right now.

He just does not care for anything or anyone on the field. He has no regard for who is trying to tackle him and will attempt to fend at every single opportunity. That running goal out the back of the centre clearance is the stuff of dreams. No Melbourne player could go with him, and as he bounced his way toward the goal he must be thinking “this is the easiest game in the world”.

The Brownlows, Club Champions, Players MVP’s and Coaches MVP’s will come, but right now watching him in his purest form is unlike anything else you’ll see in the competition. Every time he gets the ball, you almost expect something brilliant to come of it. He’s playing way above his age and experience.

West Coast, pay him whatever he wants. Do anything you can to make sure he stays for good. This guy is going to dominate the league for his entire career.


Melbourne, Where to?

This Melbourne performance throws up serious questions about where their future lies. Their stars were all out there today and just couldn’t get it done at any stage. I mentioned the early loss of Lever, however, he wouldn’t have been enough to change the outcome in any meaningful way. Let’s not forget the players not out there for West Coast, specifically Allen, Yeo, Hewett, Long, Flynn as players that inarguably would improve their on-field performance.

West Coast will do this to more sides this year. Freo and Melbourne won’t be the only ones, however, Melbourne just looks a bit cooked to me. They looked slow and uninterested in working hard enough defensively to change the narrative of this game. Their forward line is still questionable as ever. Ben Brown isn’t going to get it done for you, nor is Harrison Petty. In years past their gun midfield have led the way but this year their own form is wavering week to week.

The good thing is the trio of Gawn, Petracca and Oliver remain elite. It’s the pieces around them that need significant work in order to continue to contend for the next few years. Following this performance, Melbourne sits seventh on the ladder, equal on wins with GWS, Freo, Gold Coast, and Carlton. Quite honestly, I see all those sides going past Melbourne over the next one to two years.

This may seem overly harsh, however if the Dee’s can address their weaknesses by way of the draft, it can all turn around quickly. I say draft because sustained success is the ideal way to solve the problems. They’ll be an interesting watch for the rest of the year. Will they prove me wrong and rebound? Or will they slip out of the eight entirely. There are certainly teams coming for their spot.


The Side Notes:

Pickett looked to be the guy today providing the spark to potentially be a difference maker for Melbourne, unfortunately for them, we didn’t see it quite enough. His line breaking and fast ball movement looked elite at times. Would love to see him have a thirty disposal game and really own the football.

Liam Ryan almost took the greatest mark the game has ever seen. One-handed from the side of the pack over Max Gawn. If he had found a way to pull that down, my god…

Melbourne’s opportunity to get this game back to parity came in the third quarter. Poor kicking for goal was the only thing that stood in the way. Melbourne’s three goals seven shows plenty of opportunity, however West Coast kicked five straight. Bad kicking is bad football (just ask a Port or Freo supporter, they’ll tell you all about it).

Brady Hough today gave us a new look into his game, collecting 25 disposals in less of a dour display than we usually see from him. He’s been rightly lauded for his defensive efforts, so it was good to see him get more of the footy today and show the other side to his game.

A quick mention to Liam Duggan and Tim Kelly. The ball is safe in their hands and today was no exception. Great decision making for the most part and very damaging performances from them. Duggan is quietly putting together an excellent season, and deserves to be spoken of more than he has been.


What Mattered Most

West Coast were prepared to work harder for longer today. Take stats out of the game, the eye test was all you needed to see that the Eagles pushed hard to defend in transition, their pressure was immense, and they gave it everything on turn over to ensure one on ones forward.

There were times in this game where Melbourne wasn’t looking for an effective disposal, rather they were just trying to give it to someone else before the tackle came. When they finally did have the ball, there just wasn’t the same intensity to push on and provide an option. The young Eagles enthusiasm for the contest won out, they wanted this win, and they got it.

So that’s all that mattered from the hit out today. Next week, Melbourne takes on St Kilda – enjoy the win there, fellas. West Coast have a tougher ask of Adelaide in Adelaide which is suddenly shaping as a seriously intriguing matchup. I think the Crows win that one, purely because it’s a home game. Definitely one to watch.