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The Good, Bad and Ugly - West Coast v Fremantle

It wasn’t pretty, and to be honest it lacked intensity, particularly in the first half, but the West Coast eagles won their eighth straight derby against the Fremantle Dockers, thus time by 13 points.

I should elaborate a little. The game lacked passion. It was a clash of styles, and each of those styles did not seem to be working the way they were intended. The Eagles wanted to play like Terminators – efficient, clinical, and effective. The Dockers were more like the Tasmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes cartoons – out of control, manic and haphazard.

It led to a game that failed to hit highs, but struck several lows in terms of disposals, and panicked kicks forward to no one. Skill errors were abundant, and the inability of Fremantle to hit the scoreboard or targets inside 50 cost them the chance, if not to win, then to get closer.

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

 

THE GOOD

 

SHANNON HURN

The rightful All-Australian captain picked up his third Glendinning-Allan medal in the last four derbies with a dominant display across half back.

Hurn, as most of you will know, was the only club captain selected in the 2018 All-Australian team, yet was passed over in order to appoint Lance Franklin as captain (*vomit*). It was a bone-headed move BEFORE Hurn went and led his team to the flag. It was an incredibly short-sighted and bone-headed move after he proved he was the best captain of the year.

But anyway, that was last year. Today, Hurn just went about his business… you know, like a leader, collecting 32 disposals, 15 intercept disposals and rebounded out of defensive 50 six times.

To top it all off, he travelled at 84% efficiency. Quite simply, the bloke just hits targets irrespective of what’s happening around him. Slippery ball… it doesn’t matter. Opponent putting him under pressure… it matters not.

This was the perfect defender’s game. He was powerful, resolute and impenetrable all night… unlike my old mate Joe Ganino. He’s very penetrable most nights.

 

TOM BARRASS

So you have Shannon Hurn doing as he likes across half back. And you have Jeremy McGovern floating in and clunking marks as well. Then you have Brad Sheppard roaming far and wide, picking up disposals from defensive 50 and hurting the opposition with them.

And then what do you have?

Oh yeah… this unsung blokes who flies in over the top of packs and just destroys contests like hit’s his hobby.

I’m a huge Barrass fan, as anyone who’s been reading since last year would know. The Eagles have a few players I really like – Mark Hutchings, Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps, Willie Rioli and Tom Barrass… on top of the players everyone likes, of course.

Barrass does the big jobs, and never, ever shirks the issue when there is an aerial contest. He goes at it with the same ferocity whether he is all alone, or whether there is a pack in the way. He finished with 17 touches, 11 marks and killed his fair share of the wayward Freo forward 50 entries.

 

DAVID MUNDY

You know what Fremantle needed? Two or three of this bloke.

He looked like the only player out there in Freo colours capable of taking his time, lowering his eyes and hitting a target in a dangerous spot.

He worked hard at the coal face, collecting ten clearances and ten intercept possessions as part of his game-high 36 touches. In the absence of Nat Fyfe, Mundy increased his contested work, finishing with 23 contested possessions.

Mundy had his fair share of turnovers as well, but he is one Docker I would not mind leading to if he managed to find a bit of time and space. I’m not sure I can say that about anyone else.

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JOSH ROTHAM

Look, I know this bloke may have made a mistake here or there, but he looked right at home in the Eagles’ defensive half.

He had 17 touches for the evening and ran at 100% efficiency in just his second game. He has some of the best to learn from down there, with experienced heads guiding him as to where to go, what patterns he needs to know, and where to kick once the ball finds its way to him, and he pulled it off with aplomb this week.

The thing about good sides is that they find pieces that can slot in to fill a void. Lewis Jetta, who was great last week, was missing and Rotham slotted in perfectly. This year, the Eagles have unleashed Rotham, Oscar Allen and Jack Petruccelle. I know the latter two played last season, but this is the year they’re making their marks.

So, win the flag, start the next season 3-1, AND introduce three new elements to the team along the way? Not a bad effort.

 

ANDREW GAFF’S FIRST HALF

So Gaff basically had his own ball in the first quarter, racking up ten touches to the raucous cheers of the West Coast faithful.

Not content with that haul, he wandered back out for the second quarter to collect another ten to be the most damaging mid on the park in the first half. He drifted out of the game a little, and his disposal left a little to be desired after half time – there were a few instances where he just threw the ball on his boot and hoped - but he just worked and worked to get to the right positions throughout the first half, and did so largely unimpeded.

We’ll get to why it seemed he was unimpeded soon, but credit to Gaff for constantly making the play, and willing himself to contest after contest. He is one of the best gut-runners in the game, and if you go back and watch him where you can WITHOUT the ball, you see just how hard he works.

He will run at three quarter pace whilst others jog. When they slow to a walk, he slows to a jog, but not for long. He sets the standard at West Coast for others to follow. He does not dog it. He does not take it easy. There is a fire burning in his belly that only a premiership will quench.

And averaging 35 touches per game after two weeks back from suspension, Gaff looks determined to right the wrong of 2018.

 

BRAD SHEPPARD

I’m just piling up these West Coast defenders, and for good reason. Check out this ridiculous game for Sheppard.

27 disposals, 14 marks, 100% disposal efficiency, and ten intercepts.

This was a damn picnic in the defensive half for Sheppard. He started like a train, and though he tapered off a little, his ability to find the ball and deliver it to the next in the chain without causing even a hesitation screams of a guy who knows those around him, knows where they’ll be, and knows where the team needs to get to.

The Eagles were not at their best today – not by a long shot – but the way Brad Sheppard played indicates that though there may be some struggling for form, there are plenty of others ready to step up right now and make a significant contribution.

He and Andrew Gaff are those looking for premiership redemption this season. Gaff’s absence was self-inflicted. Sheppard’s was a cruel blow dealt by fate. If there is a reason for me to want the Eagles to win another flag, it’s because I’m pulling for Brad Sheppard to experience it with his mates.

 

THE BAD

 

ALLOWING ANDREW GAFF TO ROAM FREE

At one point the camera moved to the coaches box, and there was Ross Lyon, looking flabbergasted as one of his players missed a target.

Yep, that’s probably the way your supporters feel, Ross, when you leave Andrew Gaff to run around and collect the footy like it’s one of the cheaper pokemon cards while his direct opponent goes and camps on the other wing hoping the play transfers over to him.

Sorry, but that is under 14 tactics. How do I know? Because my old coach, John Lundberg used to make me do that while all the play was on the other wing, and I bloody hated it! So we had Andrew Gaff run around and get 35 touches, and Freo had Brad Hill run around as well… where the ball largely wasn’t, collecting 18 possessions.

You can roll your eyes all you like at poor disposals, and rightly so – some of them were atrocious tonight, but this move was just as bad as any missed target. This was a miss from the coach’s box, and this one is on you, Ross.

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THE UGLY

 

INACCURACY… NOT JUST IN FRONT OF GOAL

I know a lot was made of Matt Taberner’s kicking at goal. He had two goals to his name, and three behinds (and a couple that didn’tgo anywhere near the goals at all), but it was more than just kicking for goal that plagued the Dockers.

It seemed at times that the Dockers were trying to pick out the West Coast defenders and ignore their forwards. Between Shannon Hurn and Brad Sheppard, the Eagles had 25 intercept possessions as those two just positioned themselves in the right spot, or the wrong spot depending on which side you supported over and over again.

When you add in that Tom Barrass and Josh Rotham both killed contests left right and centre, I started to feel sorry for the Freo forwards. The delivery to them was horrible, and then when they’d finally get an opportunity, they’d take their turn to cock it up.

Just when it seemed that Freo were going to make a run, they’d miss a very get-able goal and the Eagles would take it away and score. It was only in the last five minutes that the Dockers looked as though they may threaten the premiers,  but a couple of passages of play where the Eagles possessed the ball took the sting out of the contest, and kept the margin safe.

Commentators asked the “what if…” in regard to Matt Taberner, but there were a lot of other “what ifs…” out there for Fremantle tonight. What if they could hit a target on the wing? What if they could handle the ball cleanly and not double grab leading to hack kicks forward? Sadly, the answers to those questions avoided them.

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QUICK BITS

Tom Hickey led the Eagles in clearances. THIS is what I was banging on about in the preseason, and as late as last week when I wrote about those whose value was rising. What people don’t realise is that Hickey was third among rucks last season in average clearances. This is his wheelhouse.

He had the lazy seven clearances and absolutely loves taking it out of the air whenever the opportunity presents. Keep an eye on this bloke at stoppages – he makes you pay.

Nathan Wilson is doing nowhere near enough for my liking. Running around half back, he should be accumulating possession numbers in the 20s at the very least. With the long bombing boot of his, he could be a weapon.

Instead, he had 14 touches, and is averaging just 15 per game for the season. This is a guy who should be absolutely slaying it from kick ins, but it all just seems a little too hard for Nathan at the moment. He strikes me as a player we may never see reach his potential.

How painfully thin is the Fremantle midfield? Mundy tried his heart out but with Hutchings going to Michael Walters early, they were always going to struggle. I think there’s only one team more reliant on a star mid to carry them, and that’s Carlton. They need Fyfe back in a hurry.

Had a reader write in mentioning the condition of the ground, and that it was very slippery underfoot, despite there being no rain around. It really did impact the nature of the game, and the skills of the game suffered dramatically. The Eagles adapted to the game best, perhaps learning from their Brisbane experience earlier in the season. I know I am writing from the other side of the country, so I’m asking – is dew on the grass this time of year an issue in the Perth games? I’ve never really noticed it before tonight.

Thanks to Anthony Young for the update on the conditions.  

Jack Petruccelle had a flying start to the game, and really looked as though he could’ve been really influential, but Freo was able to adjust and play goal side of him at every stoppage after the first five minutes. The result – four touches for the rest of the game for Petro. He’s bloody exciting, but needs to find a way to stay involved when his best attribute is taken away. I know I knocked Ross Lyon above, and justifiably so, I reckon, but shutting down Petruccelle was an obvious issue that required addressing, and he was quick to jump on it.

McGovern was a bit out of sorts on the night. It looked as though his timing was off, and early in the game, he found himself matched up on Brandon Matera, which caused a couple of headaches. We are yet to see a dominant Gov performance across half back this season. I reckon he’s building, but the fact the Eagles are sitting 3-1 with one of their defensive pillars not playing the way we expect indicates two things – the team knows how to compensate, and the defence is so well-balanced that, contrary to popular belief, they don’t need him to be the biggest intercept marker in the game every week.

It’s probably the best all-round game I’ve seen Brandon Matera play in recent memory. 16 touches and seven score involvements is the sort of game both the Dockers and formerly the Suns would have wanted from him more consistently. He had a bit of composure in this game, which was a rarity in his team, and perhaps handled the slippery conditions a bit better than his teammates.

I’d like to see Matera prepared to use his foot skills a bit better when out in the open. At times I feel like he’s trying to be Robbie Gray when he’s more like… well, he’s more like Brandon Matera, isn’t he?

So I didn’t check the full stats til after the game – Elliot Yeo continually gets under my guard. 30 touches, seven marks and eight deliveries inside 50… he is such a hard worker, and just does the little things so well.

Good to see Jesse Hogan finally get on the scoreboard for Freo. Hopefully this is the point where he starts building into the season. He crashed the pack a couple of times and had a real “almost” kind of game. I think it’s pretty fair to say that he is nowhere near the player this season that he was last, and has a bit of work to do. He threw his body into the contest in this one, and looked like he pulled up sore several times - not a specific injury, more like a player who was really just feeling the nature of his contests.

The more I watch modern AFL, the more I wonder whether shepherding is a lost art. In the last quarter, the ball came over the back deep in the Dockers’ defence and three Freo players were on the scene, with no Eagle in shot. Yet there was the Eagles, swooping in to make the ground ball a contest as two of the Dockers stood and watched. Get your body in the way of an opponent and put someone on their ass! Just because your teammate is trying to collect doesn’t mean your job is done. Help the bloke out, for god’s sake.

Too many players are looking to be the release handball instead of ensuring their teammate is protected – it’s an element of the game I really dislike.

Three goals for Jack Darling is a good return considering the conditions, and that he didn’t have a great game by any stretch.

I think it’s fair to say that Fremantle got a little shafted at times by the umpires – not to the extent it would’ve made a difference, but there were a couple of non-decisions (Gaff caught red-handed dropping the ball in the last quarter jumps out) that were real head-scratchers.

How important is Jamie Cripps to the Eagles set up? I listened to Kane Cornes talking about the importance of Jake Melksham to the Demons’ forward set up, and I liken his influence to that of Cripps at West Coast. Not overly big, his ability to hit up across half forward and make good decisions with the footy is vastly underrated. I never hear about him in the Melbourne media, but I guess that’s why we’re here – to point out the stuff they ignore. He had a blinder last season, and after time out to start the year, he has been wonderful the last couple of weeks.

Cripps had 24 touches, ten marks and two direct goal assists despite not hitting the scoreboard himself. Playing higher up the ground, his work as a marking option to send the ball inside 50 (6x) was very valuable.

How far away is Willie Rioli? I reckon he would’ve swallowed up these conditions. He is like an island of calm in a sea of chaos at times, and will add yet another dimension to West Coast once he returns.

Nice recovery from Jack Redden after being a little wasteful with the ball early. 33 touches at 76% efficiency means he really lifted his game, and his disposal accuracy after missing a few targets in the first quarter.

The Dockers really missed Joel Hamling once he left the park. It put their defence, and Alex Pearce in particular, under significant strain. Having to contend with the Kennedy/Darling duo is a nightmare at the best of times, but when you lose a pillar of the defence, the problems are compounded. For what it’s worth, I think he and Luke Ryan battled on admirably, but when the key forward have six between them (and Darling could have easily had five), you give the nod to the big forwards.

I particularly liked the one-on-one contests between Kennedy and Pearce. Kennedy’s contested mark against the Freo full back was absolute quality.

So I have to give votes on this game. Hurn is a given for me, and the more I think about it, I am having a lot of trouble going past the remainder of the Eagles defence to round the votes out. Barrass, and Sheppard might round it out for me, but I’m not completely convinced until I double back and have a look at a few things.

What’s next?

The Eagles get Port Adelaide in a game I believe will be an absolute ripper. Scott Lycett will be back in town, and he has been aggressive in Port colours. You’d think he would like to show the Eagles what they’re missing without him. Tom Hickey will have to be on his game to counter the force of nature Lycett has fast become.

Freo visit GWS (sounds like they’re headed to a bottle shop) and will have a hard time given how good the Giants looked against the Cats.

We’re really starting to find out a lot about sides now. The Eagles aren’t playing great footy, yet there they are at 3-1. The Dockers are so up and down, and a 2-2 record befits where they’re at. I didn’t think they were much good in this game, yet with a few minutes left they were in striking distance. Winning ugly is still winning, and if they can eke out a few ugly wins, they may yet play finals.

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