West Coast v Brisbane - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The West Coast Eagles got the job done and secured a home final against the Magpies with a 26 point win over the Lions at the Gabba.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Jamie Cripps

Well, when you’re in a forward line boasting the likes of Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy, Mark LeCras and pinch-hitters like Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli, it’s understandable that a player like Jamie Cripps can get lost in the shuffle.

But today wasn’t one of those days.

I thought he was far and away the best player on the ground, racking up 23 touches and slotting three goals. Moreover, he did his damage when the game was there to be won. By three quarter time, Cripps was already in the book as the best on ground, compiling 19 touches and all his goals before the last break.

Not content with kicking goals himself, he was also responsible for two direct goal assists as well, and drove the Eagles inside 50 on six occasions. He is a consummate team player, as evidenced by his pass to Darling in the goal square despite having every right to run in and blaze away from 35 metres out in the third quarter.

Cripps is the sort of player that can bob up and be the missing piece to a premiership puzzle, and if Josh Kennedy doesn’t get back for the first week of the finals, the Eagles might just need him to be just that, and more.

Mark Hutchings

So if you’re Brisbane, you’ve got to come into this game knowing that West Coast has this bloke, and this bloke’s job is to make life for one of your midfielders as miserable as possible, right? It’s not a stretch to think it, and then when you see this starting to play out, you should have something in place to stop it from happening, or at least reduce the impact.

The Lions didn’t stop or reduce anything when it came to Hutchings. For the entire first half, he made Brisbane captain, Dayne Zorko look like a whiny little runt (not a typo), with close attention, good tackling, and physical pressure. We’ll get to Zorko’s response soon enough, but for the moment, we’ll concentrate on Hutchings.

He broke Zorko’s heart in the third quarter when he snuck forward and snapped a goal with Zorko in the vicinity but having no influence on Hutchings’ movements. The goal put the Eagles up almost six goals and gave them the breathing space they needed to take the foot off the pedal a little. Zorko would come into the game in the last quarter, but five touches to half time means that he now sits comfortably in the back pocket of Hutchings, who has to be considered as one of the best taggers/run-with players in the game right now.

Keep an eye on the Mongrel Punt Facebook page over the next 24 hours as we’ll be asking just who is the best accountable midfielder in the game.

Jack Redden

He has been the surprise packet of the West Coast midfield this season, averaging almost 25 touches per game – up almost five on last year. The absence of both Priddis and Mitchell really paved the way for Redden to step into a more prominent role with the team, and he is delivering.

He had 27 touches this afternoon, with 12 coming in the contest. Most impressive was his stoppage work, where he racked up eight clearances for the game

Jarrod Berry

He was one of the only Lions looking to create every time he got the ball. I looked at the stats following the game and saw that Beams had 32 and a host of others had more of the footy than Berry, but none of them could claim to have been more proactive with the footy in hand.

Whilst others opted for the sideways handball or the backwards kick, when Berry got it, he broke lines and looked forward, and if you’re a young forward, all you want is the opportunity to beat your man one-on-one. Berry gave them that opportunity.

He ran at 91% efficiency on his 22 touches and sent the Lions inside 50 five times. He had six clearances, five tackles and two direct goal assists amongst his seven score involvements to be the best Lion on the ground, for mine.

The Gaff replacement

The big question around the Eagles after Gaff’s suspension was ‘who can replace him?’

Well, if we’re being honest, I don’t think anyone can really completely replace all that he brings, but Dom Sheed is making a real good go of it. 19 of his 30 touches were uncontested as he used that run and carry to his advantage off half back and through the middle.

Sheed surprised more than a few with his early season form, and after a period out of the team, his renaissance late in the year (largely due to Gaff’s absence) has seen him average 27.6 touches per game over the last three weeks

Zac Bailey

Here was a little surprise for me.

Not having watched a ton of Brisbane games this season, the way Zac Bailey moves with the ball in hand was a real eye-opener. He has a ripping change of direction, can kick the ball a mile and looks like a real player in the making.

Drafted at #15 in last year’s draft,. Bailey adds to an already impressive young line up in Brisbane. He had 20 touches at 85% efficiency today, and certainly looks like he knows where the goals are. With a solid preseason under his belt, we might be seeing a star in the making for Brisbane.

My hope is that they can start to retain these players, as they look to be building a very capable list.

Top two

Well, after all the injuries, all the questions and all the crap thrown at them by the Vic media, the Eagles are top two and will welcome Collingwood for the first week of the finals.

Yes, they had their hiccups – their twin tower forwards struggled to stay on the park and when they both went down, the Eagles kind of fell in a hole. Well, not completely. Remember when Indiana Jones leapt across the pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark and just made it? Then he held onto that vine and thought he was safe, only to see the vine start to pull free of the earth? That basically sums up the mid-season stretch for the Eagles.

I suppose the good news is that Indi, and the Eagles survived, and the good guys went onto to in.

But they have to outrun a gigantic boulder yet. Their 2018 to this point indicates that you’d be foolish to bet against them.

 

THE BAD

Honourable losses

OK Lion fans – this has to be the last season where near enough is good enough. A 26 point loss against a top two team is honourable. A five point loss to Port, a seven point loss to Collingwood, a 14 point loss to the Bulldogs, a five point loss to Adelaide and a three point loss to North are all honourable losses.

But they’re losses, and I’m not sure about you, but when I watch my team, I want wins! This team has to learn how to win. When the game is close, it was a little kick missing the target, or a retreating kick dribbling out of bounds after going nowhere near its target that brought them undone.

To be honest, I didn’t think there was much between these two teams today – this may have been due to West Coast going into preservation mode somewhat after half time, or it could’ve been that Lions just missed too many easy targets to be able to eke out a better result.

Fact of the matter remains that this team is good enough to now win games, not just be competitive in them. In 2019, nothing short of 10-12 wins should be considered a pass mark. No more honourable losses.

 

THE UGLY

Dayne Zorko unable to break the tag

When a bloke starts throwing his arms around at an opponent, or trying to dump his opponent after he gets rid of it, you know he’s beaten, and today, Dayne Zorko was a beaten man.

The Brisbane captain limped to five disposals in the first half in an anaemic display, completely destroyed in the contest by Mark Hutchings. He started throwing arms, his body, and tantrums to get a clean run at it, culminating with a stupid downfield free kick in the third quarter when he dumped Hutchings between wing and half forward after he released the kick.

The result saw Scott Lycett awarded a downfield free kick 30 metres out from goal. He should’ve made Zorko pay, but his kick for goal missed badly. Still, Hutchings took matters into his own hands moments later when he grabbed the ball at full forward and kicked a goal himself.

Now, many will say that Hutchings was doing something wrong in the way he was playing Zorko. They’ll say it was against the spirit of the game, or trot out something that Hutchings was doing to retard Zorko.

Forget all that – he was simply playing better footy. He simply wanted it more, and Zorko, a man meant to lead by example, showed that unless he gets a free run at the ball, he cannot win his own footy. That’s not a leader – not one I’d want to follow, at least.

Every team with a run-with player will send them to Zorko now. He had a massive sook last week against The Suns when Touk Miller got on his case, and he backed it up with an equally unimpressive effort this week.

Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for leadership if you expect your leaders to lead by example?

 

OTHER BITS

Great to see McGovern break his own record for most intercept marks in a season. He now holds three of the top four intercept mark totals of all time. Not bad for a bloke who’s played 100 games, huh?

Stefan Martin was easily the best big man on the ground. I thought Vardy competed better against him than Lycett did at points. Vardy seems to have a little more mongrel in him than Lycett does. Also, nice to see Martin innovating – his kick out of the ruck contest was… new. No tap, no punch… a kick.

I know Jack Darling hit the scoreboard today, but a few of his goals were very… hmmm, easy? Is that the right word? He was fed by Cripps, and his first goal of the game came from the ball spilling over the back of the pack. The one time he did clunk a big mark, he botched it. He’s so important to this side, but he needs to be more than an opportunist. For the Eagles to give the flag a shake, he needs to be at the level he was for the first ten weeks of the season.

I thought Will Schofield was close to the best player on the ground in the first quarter. He was simply too strong in body on body contests against Hipwood, and his tackle on Lewis Taylor was an absolute ripper.

Good to see Liam Duggan hit targets this week. Well, he went at 50% efficiency so he didn’t hit them all the time, but there were no horrid turnovers like I’d seen in a few games recently.

Interesting to see Willie Rioli playing a bit off half back today. His clean hands and vision could be a huge bonus in the finals, but the Rioli name aside, do you fully trust him in a role like that just yet?

Josh Walker has really found a home in the Brisbane defence. His overhead marking, and confidence to back himself to go for those marks, has really skyrocketed.

Fortune favours the brave – Daniel Rich’s long kick out of mid-air was exactly what was needed to kick start the Lions. It was that action that led to the running goal from Bailey.

I reckon Cam Rayner was looking forward to the season ending. He looked tired the last two times I’ve watched him.

Brisbane really looked good when they went through the corridor. It is risk-taking football, but when it comes off, it looks like a million bucks.

Loved the gut running from Cripps to mark at 30m out early in the second quarter. It began with a great mark at half back from Liam Ryan and you could see as soon as it went to him that Cripps was off and running. That gut run bought him the time and space and it was Oscar Allen finding Cripps perfectly running towards goal. Quality piece of play by the Eagles.

Speaking of Oscar Allen, he showed plenty today, and yeah we all know he’ll make way for Josh Kennedy eventually, but there is definitely something there with this kid. The future looks bright.

For a little man, the way Liam Ryan uses his body in contests is exceptional. He was able to move his defender under the ball in the goal square in order to take clean possession and kick a goal, all without using his hands. Wonderful football.

Every time I watch Lewis Taylor, I get the feeling he could be an All-Australian forward pocket one day.

If there was a big collision between two players on the ground, I reckon the odds that Mitch Robinson would be involved would be pretty short. His clash with Nathan Vardy was bone-jarring.

As if Jamie Cripps wasn’t having a good enough time, in the third quarter he started collecting centre bounce clearances too, including two in a row off the back of the square.

Luke Shuey’s deliberate behind – look, this may have been the correct interpretation of the rules. It might have been the most correct decision paid all day, but far out I can’t help but feel it was completely against the spirit of the game. In a one-on-one contest, against Dayne Beams, Shuey opted to punch the ball away from his opponent and was pinged for it. I hated that decision, and if this is the correct decision, I hate the way the rule is interpreted.

The Lions’ execution by foot in the third quarter really started falling away (this is what fatigue does, so all the people wanting no interchange, take note), and it was painfully apparent in the defensive 50 when they couldn’t even hit a target when uncontested.

Eagles fans – how important has Tom Barrass become to your defence? Watching him, his diligence and ability to drop into the hole make the jobs of Hurn and McGovern a hell of a lot easier.

Speaking of Hurn, if he makes the All-Australian team, being named as captain would be a tidy little reward for his leadership. I remember hearing people questioning his reappointment before the season started. I reckon they’re hoping people have forgotten.

Shuey’s centre breaks in the last quarter were excellent. He had two in a couple of minutes, and both resulted in goals.

I know the commentators were talking up the possibility of a Brisbane comeback, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking the Eagles had well and truly put the cue in the rack ten minutes into the last quarter.

Eric Hipwood… what is the ceiling for this bloke. He does the extraordinary things well, and does the ordinary things ordinarily. His mark in front of McGovern in the last quarter was a cracker. On the lead, hands in front of the face, with one of the league’s best defenders bearing down… clunked it anyway.

And so, The Eagles have finished top two. It was set up in the first half of the season, and here we are at the conclusion of Round 23 and they're still there. Robert Walls' predictions of a wooden spoon must be ringing in his ears right about now. A home final beckons, and glory awaits.

 

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