The West Coast Eagles jumped another hurdle as they continue to surprise many pundits, and prove that they are in fact the real deal in Season 2018.
The Eagles hammered the reigning premiers after withstanding a spirited second quarter revival, to run out winners by 47 points in front of a record WA crowd.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
Jack Darling... again
It seems as though I am writing about Darling every time I review an Eagles game this season, and for all the right reasons.
Darling was an absolute monster today, quickly laying to rest any doubts I had as to whether or not he could handle being the focal point of a West Coast forward line, and subsequently targeted by the better Richmond defenders. Not only did he stand up, he dominated!
You’ll have to excuse me if I ramble here. West Coast supporters won’t mind, I’m sure, but if you’re a Tigers fan, you may want to skip this next bit.
Jack Darling announced to the footballing world today that he is here to stay. He put on an absolute clinic, taking six contested marks amongst his 15 grabs, and putting the All-Australian captain to the sword in the process. Any time Rance decided to sag off Darling, the Eagles made him pay.
But it wasn’t just Rance that had his colours lowered. The usually stingy David Astbury was also clearly beaten when he spent time on Darling. It was as dominant a forward display we have seen from anyone in recent years, and that includes Buddy Franklin. His six goals return accurately reflected his impact on the game.
When Darling filled in for Josh Kennedy at the beginning of the year, I was fully expecting him to fade into a secondary or third-tier role once the full forward returned. He’s done anything but. Darling continues to elevate his game, and he did it convincingly today against some regarded as the best in the defensive business.
After many years, I am a believer in Jack Darling. What a privilege to watch a forward at his best.
I feared the worst for Yeo when he hobbled down the race in the first quarter. The Eagles were up and about and losing a player of his calibre would’ve been a mammoth blow.
He reappeared with his knee strapped and went about playing a very important role in the middle of the ground for the Eagles. Gaff is flashy with his run, McGovern is supreme in the air, Darling and Kennedy are goal machines, but Yeo is the grunt worker. As the West Coast engine starts to kick into gear, he’s the one right there shovelling the coal.
Despite his time off the ground, he finished with a game-high 29 disposals and six tackles. And let’s talk about those tackles for a second – his tackle on Dustin Martin in the third quarter was an absolute pearler. He refused to be fended off and nailed Martin after pushing through his arms to get to the body.
But wait, there’s more! He chased Dusty down again later that quarter to win another holding the ball decision, and with the aid of a 50 metre penalty thanks to Shane Edwards, went back and slotted a goal. It was salt into Richmond’s gaping wound, and the icing on West Coast cake simultaneously.
Jeremy McGovern v Alex Rance battle of the big defenders
When I looked at the game as a whole before the bounce, I wondered which defensive player would have more of an impact for their team. This was basically a showdown between two serious contenders for the All-Australian centre half back position, but at this stage of the year, the spot was on lease to McGovern despite missing last week.
This week, he took out a mortgage on it, and is looking at buying it outright.
The first quarter was a class in defensive positioning and impacting contests. McGovern worked hard to make marking contests and was fine leaving Riewoldt to help out his teammates when he played on him. At quarter time, he had five kicks and five marks.
To look at the two today, I asked which player I’d have wanted on my team based on the way they competed and the results they had. The answer was Jeremy McGovern. He’s a beast.
The Nic Nat tackles
So it seems that NicNat will not modify his aggressive tackling. Thank goodness for that – I love it! His attack on the man today, particularly late in the game, was a sight to behold.
He nailed Dustin Martin with two big tackles in the pivotal third quarter, and then backed them up with two big tackles on his direct opponent, Toby Nankervis in the last quarter.
It is a genuinely scary proposition to see a guy like Naitanui running at you with intent. He may not have won holding the ball for all the tackles mentioned, but the impact they had on the contest, and the message they sent to the Richmond players was important – he was not taking a backwards step, even after a forced vacation for a week.
Long live the Naitanui tackle.
The Richmond revival
Credit where it’s due – the second quarter was a masterpiece of Richmond football. They absolutely strangled the Eagles with relentless pressure, and had a staggering 23-4 advantage with inside 50s for the quarter.
Truth be told, they probably didn’t get bang for their buck in the second, given the amount of time they had the ball within range of goal. They went from almost four goals down at quarter time, to level pegging at the half, and it was due to the tackling pressure and fantastic set up across half back and centre once the ball was in their attacking zone.
They strangled Hawthorn this way in the third quarter earlier in the year. Amazingly, the Hawks were able to make a run in the last quarter. Perhaps sustaining that kind of pressure against a decent team really takes it out of the players’ legs? Sustaining it against a very good team, like the Eagles, might be impossible.
Simply put, Jack stood up today. Whilst some of his teammates went missing, Riewoldt continued to be a viable target inside 50 for the entire game.
Jack marked as well as he has all season in this one, and finished with five goals. He was Richmond’s best today.
The Eagles forward set up
So, Richmond have this lauded defence that have footy experts wetting their pants every time they get a break even in a contest. Rance floats and assists guys like Astbury and Grimes whenever required, but the Eagles were ready for it today, and whomever had Rance standing next to them made his way to the goal square .
Whether it was Kennedy or Darling, they took the All-Australian captain deep into defence and beat him in on one-on-one contests.
Their spacing was great, and the quick ball movement inside 50 made it an absolute nightmare for Rance and company.
It was not all that long ago when people were questioning the coaching of Adam Simpson, but he and his forwards coach, Jaymie Graham concocted a winning formula today.
Round the corner kicks for goal
There were a couple today from angles where a drop punt was required. Riewoldt missed what should've been a regulation drop punt on a 45 degree angle, and Castagna didn't even make the distance when he tried it from 35-40 metres out.
Stevie J has a lot to answer for with this trend.
One free kick in the second half
This is as ugly, and as damning as it gets, I’m sorry, Eagles supporters. You probably would’ve won anyway – you didn’t need any help.
In the entire second half, Richmond received one free kick. I’m not sure how much more I have to say about this – I think it’s best I leave it to your own judgment as to whether that is fair or not. It was hard and tough in the third quarter in particular – I’m not sure Richmond were so bad that they deserved only one free kick.
And away we go. First goal to Josh Caddy again. Had I thought to have a bet on this game, that would’ve been where my money went today. This is a man who knows where the goals are. He’s very strong through the hips and good overhead. You can choose to ignore him when he is anywhere near goals at your own peril.
I found it odd early that Cotchin got a free when Yeo fell into his back, but moments later Cotchin fell into Dom Sheed’s back in a very similar circumstance and it was called play on.
Loved Darling’s start, marking against Rance. That’s the start forwards need against him – let him know your eyes will be on the ball and that you’re gonna be a target. If you don’t, he will drift off to help out on the person who IS the target.
You don’t give Andrew Gaff a second chance from the same spot. After his first miss, he took a beautiful mark in roughly the same spot, and converted.
Naitanui’s eyes must’ve lit up when he saw Grigg opposing him at a centre bounce so early in the game. I reckon Grigg was faced with two options – contest the bounce and be knocked into next week, or allow Naitanui to have his way. He chose the second option, and NicNat pumped the Eagles forward after taking it out of the air.
It was a relatively close camera shot after Darling goaled from 30 out after clunking another mark, but he was definitely the only player in it. No Tiger defender went and stood next to him. No one took responsibility.
Great kick by Jayden Short after the Cotchin hand off. Got the distance from 55 metres easily.
I don’t think I’ve seen quicker hands than I did from Andrew Gaff as he received on the wing. He caught and handballed in one motion – blindingly quick.
No idea what Rance was trying to do when he veered away from Dom Sheed as he streamed forward. It appeared as though he wanted to cut off a backwards handball to the trailing player. Sheed had no intention of going backwards – he drove forward and found Darling again.
The second was all Richmond. Edwards’ goal was in part due to his brilliant pick up on the run, and part due to the work of Rance and Martin up the field.
You could see the increased pressure when McGovern got the ball in the back pocket. He went one way, saw nothing, went the other way, saw nothing again and ended up handballing to a teammate, in effect transferring the pressure. The Tigers structured up so well in the second.
If you get a chance, look at the way Nankervis starts rucking against Naitanui in the second. He is close to mauling him at every stoppage to counter Naitanui’s athleticism. It was quite well done.
Loved Shannon Hurn’s bump on Townsend on the goal line.
Big win by Nankervis over Naitanui in the air at half forward. He pumped it inside 50 where Riewoldt waited, clunked a mark and goaled.
Another mark for Darling on Rance, this time on the boundary. His shanked banana kick landed with Redden who rectified Darling’s mistake by kicking truly. We’ll call it a goal assist.
Yeo being penalised for deliberate when he kicked it out of mid-air was very harsh indeed.
Brendon Ah Chee took a couple of nice relieving marks in the second. Big marks, too.
Incredible to see Castagna not make the distance from 35-40 metres out. When you go round the body, you sacrifice a lot of distance if you don’t hit it cleanly.
I love the way Trent Cotchin throws himself at the ball. He did it again today in a situation eerily similar to the way he collected Shiel in the preliminary final last year. This time it was Dom Sheed in the way, but there was no contact to the head.
Castagna made up for his earlier blunder with a great snap to tie up the scores.
The third quarter was the Eagles’ turn to come out swinging, and they landed a heavy blow with back to back marks on forward 50 entries by Kennedy and Darling. Darling’s mark was his fifth contested mark of the game, and he converted for a goal.
Gaff’s rundown tackle on Castagna, and McGovern nailing Townsend were clear signs that the Eagles had stopped the rot.
A very nice five minute patch from Josh Kennedy saw a couple of marks and a couple of goals. Big assist to Jake Waterman, whose kick to the square from the boundary was perfect.
Conca’s goal from 50 was excellent, and hurt doubly as Kennedy had just missed from an almost identical spot at the other end moments before.
LeCras started getting in on the tackling act, dragging down Short, winning a free kick and slotting a goal.
Darling continued to do it all, catching Astbury red handed right in front of goal. Pity he couldn’t convert.
Cotchin’s dumb 50 metre penalty was so costly. It took McGovern from the wing to 40 metres out. McGovern’s mark was a cracker – a one-handed guide down in front of the pack. Cotchin knocked the ball away, and The Gov made him pay.
Darling could’ve had another mark inside 50 but LeCras chipped in front of him. It mattered not – the result was another Eagles goal.
Great body work by Naitanui on Nankervis on the wing, knocking him out of the contest and winning possession.
Open goal for Riewoldt was the result of an ill-conceived leap by Tom Barrass. I don’t know what he was doing, but it was smart play by Riewoldt.
Gaff’s dribbling kick to the boundary was so obviously deliberate – I have no idea how the umpire missed it. No crowd reaction? Surely not.
Jayden Short benefitted from an overenthusiastic bump from Willie Rioli after his mark in the middle. It looked as though Rioli forgot that Short had marked it and barrelled into him. A 50 metre penalty was a big punishment.
If there was any doubt lingering as to whether the Eagles would go on with the job, it was laid to rest early in the last quarter, with Naitanui getting the ball to Yeo in the middle who bombed long to where Darling took another grab. His goal set the eagles up to kill off the Tiger challenge. Minutes later, Jamie Cripps goaled to seal the game.
From this point on, it became a celebration of all things Darling, interspersed with a few Jack Riewoldt moments.
It was a pity Scott Lycett couldn’t convert after skilfully stepping around an opponent on the run.
And that’s about it from us. A fantastic win by the eagles to cement their spot on top of the AFL ladder. I have to admit, I did not see this coming at the start of the year – not at all. All credit to the club; they’ve done a wonderful job thus far.