PF West Coast v Melbourne - The Good, Bad and Ugly

So if you were impressed with Collingwood last night, how do you feel about the West Coast Eagles?

We at the Mongrel saw this coming a mile off. As a matter of fact, we went early and wrote about how the media was too quick to forget about the Eagles in terms of premiership contention. Now, watch them all come scurrying back.

The Eagles completely dismantled Melbourne, turning their fairy tale finals run into a nightmare in 45 minutes of blistering, pulsating football.

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

 

THE GOOD

Lycett and Vardy

Really pleased to be writing about these two in the ‘good’ section.

Looking at this game, one man loomed large as a potential problem for the Eagles, and that man was Max Gawn. I didn’t expect Lycett and Vardy to win their contest with the big Demon, but what I did expect was for them to make a contest and at least force Gawn to work for his possessions.

Well, maybe my expectations should have been a little higher. Not only did Lycett and Vardy contest with Gawn; I’d give them the win. The Mongrel is a big fan of the little things, and that is an area where Gawn usually excels, but today, it was Lycett’s tackling, Vardy’s harassing, and both Eagles’ willingness to run to space, or back into a contest to counter Gawn’s presence that made a huge difference.

Losing Nic Naitanui earlier this season was supposed to test the West Coast ruck stocks. They were tested today by the All-Australian ruck man, and they passed with flying colours.

These two will have another huge task next week when the second of the All-Australian ruck men stands opposite them. Presenting a whole different range of challenges, another effort like todays by the Eagles ruck duo could go a long way to securing the Eagles first flag in over a decade.

Shannon Hurn

Let’s just put this out there so no one ever forgets. Shannon Hurn was the only club captain in the All-Australian side. He was not named captain, nor vice-captain. He was snubbed in favour of Patrick Dangerfield and Lance Franklin… the same Lance Franklin who isn’t even in his own team’s leadership group.

It is one aspect of the season that has really not sat right with me at all. Shannon Hurn is the rightful AA Captain - a leader in more than just name. Now… on with the review.

Sometimes it’s difficult to pin down exactly who is playing on who. You have so many switches, help defence situations and covering for a teammate occurring that you have to be versatile. That’s what Shannon Hurn is. He was excellent today, as he has been all year, collecting 24 touches at 79% efficiency, taking eight marks, and providing the avenue to exit 50 on seven occasions.

Hurn spent time on Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca and Sam Weideman, and looked in control at all times throughout the first half.

The above mentioned players may have bolstered their statistics with some late game touches, but we’re not looking at junk time stat-padding at The Mongrel. When the game was on the line, Hurn was all over them. Leading from the front.

Liam Ryan

He looked like a game-breaker today, and that would be because he is one. Combining with Jamie Cripps and Willie Rioli, the Eagles have an embarrassment of small to mid-sized forwards who can tear a game to shreds.

Chief amongst them is Ryan, who looks so naturally balanced and classy when he gets the ball. His run from the wing to half forward, turning on the jets, handballing out in front of himself, and making the play happen, was a genuine highlight of the game. Add to that his scintillating mark in the second quarter left no doubt as to how this game was going to play out.

Ryan was on, and when he’s on, the opposition is in trouble. You could almost see his eyes light up when Willie Rioli touched the ball early in the game. Rioli looked up a couple of times and there was Ryan, with a 20 metre break on his opponent. He backs Rioli in when there’s a contest, and he makes space accordingly.

He finished the game with 18 touches and a goal, but did manage 10 contested possessions for the game.

The contested ball

Speaking of contested ball, this is where the Eagles took the Demons’ strength and turned it against them. In a game where Melbourne was supposed to outmuscle them., the Eagles were harder for longer, and their pressure caused turnover after turnover.

Their ability to turn a 20-80 situation into a legitimate 50-50 in the blink of an eye was impressive. They looked like they were willing to engage in physical contact- looked like they were seeking it out. They were the team willing to lay a shepherd to help a teammate. They were the team body lining the ball and winning the even contests, and they were the ones emerging with the ball as the teams scrambles for possession.

The Eagles had six players with 10+ contested possessions to their name. The Dees had just four. They did to Melbourne what “experts” expected Melbourne to do to them, and they did it so emphatically, that the Demons looked like deer in the headlights at stoppages during the game.

And it wasn’t just winning the ball that was impressive. When they found themselves in a situation where they lost the contest, it didn’t just end. The amount of times I saw someone crash into James Harmes as he tried to break from a pack, or find some space was unbelievable. And what was the result of that? Harmes travelled at just 46% efficiency for the day.

Hats go off to the Eagles. Many have lauded their kick-mark game, but not many have lauded their pressure game. They had it on full display today.

Jack Redden

Check this out. In the past two years, Redden has lifted his possessions per game from 16 to 25. He is averaging more clearances, more tackles and more marks. His development is said to have been fast-tracked by working with West Coast Legend (sorry Hawk fans) Sam Mitchell, but credit for the work has to go to Redden.

He is now knocking on the door of becoming an AFL elite midfielder. He had 31 touches today, running at 84% efficiency and had two direct goal assists to add to his late game goal, which I was thrilled to see float through.

I was thrilled for him because that late goal was reward for effort. He was huge early in the game, when it was there to be won, so to see him slot one that was, let’s be honest, pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, made me smile.

And on my weird stat love – he was one tackle away from being the first guy in years to notch a quadruple double (double figures in kicks, marks, handballs and tackles). Check out our article on the elusive AFL Quadruple Double here

The Big Two

Is that 12-0 now with both Kennedy and Darling in the West Coast side?

Kennedy in particular looked to have shed some of the cobwebs as he helped himself to four first half goals, and Darling continued to work back into form.

They combined for seven goals between them, but had Darling had his kicking boots on, they may have had 8-9 between them. They had 14 marks between them and 17 contested touches for the day, but most impressive was the six contested marks.

The last time Jack Darling played in a Grand Final, he had a bit of a shocker. He will be keen to make amends for that performance next weekend, and Kennedy… well, when he is on his game, he is one of the best mark and kick forwards in the game. I loved the way he threw his body into contests he knew he couldn’t win today. There was a real sense of “for the betterment of the team” about his actions.

Darling is still getting out the back a little too much for my liking, but that is part and parcel of being a smart forward. I’d like to see him glove one or two marks early next week before trying to sneak out the back and steal a goal. He got his hands to a few he should’ve marked today. Luckily they didn’t cost the Eagles, but if he gloves them next weekend, the Pies will be in awful trouble.

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THE BAD

Bad handballs

I’m sure this was covered in the commentary (I turned it off at quarter time due to wanting to team my ears off) but Melbourne were so sloppy with their delivery by hand. Whether it was under pressure or implied pressure, the Dees continually coughed the ball up or put each other under intensifying pressure with errant handballs.

Working their way out of the backline the Dees constantly found themselves under increasing pressure. Still, they tried to thread their way through traffic and make the ‘cute’ play. It was the exact opposite of the way they played against Hawthorn the week prior. There was no hard running and giving their forwards a chance. The forwards barely got to see the ball, with Lewis, Brayshaw, Viney and Oliver all taking their turn in missing targets through the guts, and allowing West Coast to rebound inside 50.

The Dees  had a reputation of being flat track bullies until the last month or so. They took enormous steps forward in their self-belief and ability to win the tough games, but they reverted today. Today they tried to play as though they were contesting against the Gold Coast. This wasn’t a run in the park for them – this was the West Coast Eagles, and they don’t allow that kind of play.

Max Gawn

At half time, I wanted to issue and APB on Max Gawn, because he was simply nowhere to be seen. We covered the will to contest of both Vardy and Lycett above, but what of the will to contest from Gawn? Where was that?

He was soundly beaten around the ground, with the Eagles taking a “whole of team” approach to nullify his aerial dominance and ensure that they didn’t bomb aimlessly into their attacking 50 unless they were sure someone was there to make Gawn accountable.

And you know what? Gawn couldn’t work out how to get around it. Neither could Simon Goodwin.

Gawn floundered all over the ground, unable to impact contest after contest, and when he did get his hands on the ball at a stoppage, the Eagles’ mids were all over the Melbourne ball-winners, tackling and harassing them as soon as the ball went anywhere near their vicinity.

Gawn rallied a little after half time, but the horse had already bolted, or should I say the Eagle had already flown. He marked strongly in front of goal after slipping Lycett, but once again failed to convert from his bogey distance of 25 metres out. It was a bad day for Max Gawn, but he had plenty of mates. It’s just that I expect a lot more from him than I do from his mates.

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THE UGLY

Jordan Lewis

I’m not sure I’ve seen a less-effective version of Jordan Lewis. Even as a kid at Hawthorn, you could rely on him to put his body on the line and make a contest. Today, he was a non-factor. As a matter of fact, there were multiple periods where his actions were directly beneficial to West Coast.

Lewis was brought into this Melbourne team to offer stability and leadership. He’d been there and done that as part of four Hawthorn premierships. He was supposed to aid this team in their maturation and remain cool is any crisis a big game presented. Sadly, he was anything but cool today.

A third of his touches resulted in turnovers, and they weren’t just turnovers occurring due to the ball being in dispute – these were errant handballs, poor kicks and even worse decision-making. Basically, Lewis did everything he was brought into this side to prevent happening.

He finished with 18 touches at 67% efficiency, but when under pressure today, he gave the ball up too easily and was made to look extremely slow. Melbourne had Bernie Vince sitting on the sidelines, but his lack of match conditioning probably prevented him from challenging for Lewis’ spot in the team. A pity – he couldn’t have been any worse.

 

OTHER BITS

Ah yes, the fabled “other bits”.

Must’ve sent shockwaves through the Eagles’ camp when Shuey went off limping. He came back on and all was well, but up until that point, he was on-song, and was definitely getting the better of his direct opponent, and serial pest James Harmes.

Tom McDonald had three marks in the first 10-15 minutes of the game, but finished with only five for the game. Well done to the McGovern, Hurn, and  Barrass combination for keeping him goalless, as he has been one of the better, and more reliable forwards of the year. He was a non-factor after quarter time, but so were many Demons.

I thought Aaron vandenBerg was the best for Melbourne in the first quarter. He looked like the only bloke who wanted to take on the physical aspect of the game.

Great to see Mark LeCras still finding plenty of the footy. I couldn’t believe last year when I heard he may not go on this season. He has looked very good at points this season, and started the year like a bullet. The current West Coast forward structure is absolutely perfect for his game.

Not much has been said about Mark Hutchings’ game on Jack Viney, but when the game was there to be won, Viney was not an influence. Credit that to the attention Hutchings was giving him.

I’m a big fan of taking the risky kick inboard if you can make the kick. I’m not sure I’d be confident if I saw Sam Weideman attempting that kick, though. The one attempt he had tonight was cut off, rebounded and ended with a free kick and goal to Darling. It’s feast or famine with those kicks.

I’m really liking the role of Willie Rioli off half back at times. His ability to spot up a target after finding space where there is none is brilliant. The Pies will have to man him up next week, or his run off half back will bury them.

A couple of blocking free kicks paid to McGovern today means the umpires are acutely aware that keeping him out of contests is a genuine tactic from the opposition.

Dom Sheed’s last month has been wonderful. Maybe the last six weeks, actually. Since Gaff went out, he has really lifted his game. 27 touches again today, with 14 contested amongst them.

If the first quarter wasn’t bad enough for Melbourne, the ease of which the eagles kicked the first of the second was the kind of thing that makes heads drop. Kennedy had all sorts of time to snap through a goal off the handball from Venables.

Speaking of Venables, after a relatively quiet one against the Pies, he was pretty good today. He had 12 contested possessions amongst his 17 touches.

Dom Tyson did nowhere near enough today. The way Jack Redden danced around him before delivering the Kennedy for goal was a little embarrassing. He looked slow out there.

The umps seemed pretty hot on the holding the ball decisions. I have to say… I liked it. If blokes aren’t disposing of it properly, they deserve to be pinged.

Elliot Yeo… good early, drifted out of it but wasn’t required to do much after half time anyway. Still a solid, if unspectacular hit out. That said, I think he’ll win the Norm Smith next week.

No idea how LeCras managed to get a foot to the goal on the goal line, but apparently he did. Granted, I am a bit blind, but that was a crazy-looking goal.

Interesting to hear NO ONE talking about Kennedy planting a boot right in the lower back of Sam Weideman to clunk his second quarter mark know it’s different to Toby Greene, but still, it’s a kick in the back. Don’t get me wrong – I like it. But I don’t like double standards.

This is gonna be harsh… Have any of you ever watched The Neverending Story? You know the villain in it that you never see? The one called ‘The Nothing’? Well, that’s what I am calling Melbourne Captain, Nathan Jones after his completely ineffective first half where I barely saw him. He was The Nothing. His first half was one of the most un-captain-like performances I’ve seen. Not one thing he did hurt the opposition today. None. Zero. Nothing.

Let’s talk about Christian Petracca for a sec. Is it fair to say he may just become a permanent forward? Maybe a half forward who occasionally drifts to the square and works out of there one-on-one? I ask because I just don’t think he is going to make the move into the midfield with this club. Is a pinch-hitting forward role big enough for him?

Right, so I didn’t take as many notes in the second half, as the game was completely over, and you could tell. As soon as Jordan Lewis turned it over AGAIN and allowed LeCras to goal, the Eagles put the cue in the rack.

At this point we started to see Viney come into the game. Oliver lifted, and Hannan finally made an appearance. Too little, too late. None of what the Demons conjured from here on mattered at all. It was glorified junk time.

Was pretty happy to see Hutchings roll through a late goal. I love seeing a tagger get off his man and go forward to hurt him. By this stage, however, the tag was well and truly released.

So if we’re looking for The Mongrel’s five best players on the ground, I’m going as follows.

Jack Redden – Has become a star

Liam Ryan – Flashes of brilliance

Josh Kennedy – He’s baaaa-aaack

Shannon Hurn – Consummate defender

Jamie Cripps – Three goals and 24 touches

 

And my bottom five

Max Gawn – Biggest disappointment on the ground

Dom Tyson – Did nowhere near enough

Jordan Lewis – Mistakes aplenty

Jake Melksham – Ten touches, two goals… after the game was over. Robbo will probably give him another full page article in the Herald Sun based on that performance.

Nathan Jones – The Nothing.

 

So, next week the Eagles pack their bags and head over to the Colosseum down the road to knock over the Pie sin the Grand Final. That’s the plan, and that’s what I think they’ll do. They’re a well-oiled machine at this stage of the year, and I reckon the Pies played their Grand Final last night against the Tigers.

 For the Dees, well… not much to take out of this. Even their best players weren’t that great. They’ll be better for this finals experience, but there were a few players who were exposed today, and Simon Goodwin will be having a good, hard look at what he’s got, and what he needs. A back up ruck for Max Gawn would be a wise investment.

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