A nine goal third quarter blast put the Western Bulldogs to the sword as the West Coast Eagles moved to 8-3 in their premiership defence.
Remember about five or six weeks ago when everyone was jumping off West Coast? There was talk of a premiership hangover and back-to-back flags seems something that was well and truly beyond them.
How times change.
We’ll dive deep on their third quarter, but it was the kind of performance that screamed “we’re still here!” to any who’d doubted them. The stars stood up, and even some lesser-lights shone brightly at Optus Stadium.
I’d say that the Eagles are back, but really… were they ever gone?
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
In a league where scoring has become more difficult than ever, a nine-goal quarter all but seals a game, and it sealed this one when the West Coast Eagles ran rampant over a hapless Western Bulldogs in the third quarter.
The Dogs failed to capitalise on an early advantage in scoring shots (see below), but they had no answer as the boys in blue and gold flexed their premiership muscle and reminded the league that they are not to be dismissed this season.
Jake Waterman popped up for three goals in four minutes, emphasising just how quickly one forward can still have an entire team at his mercy. Waterman had a career-high in disposals, with 22 for the game, and matched his high for goals, with those three mentioned.
Others chimed in with goals of their own, as the West Coast machine started humming on all cylinders, and rival clubs started to look on warily. Darling got off the chain, as did Liam Ryan. Kennedy made the most of limited opportunities, and Jamie Cripps continued to work back into good form.
The Eagles moved into the top four with this win, and would now be eyeing a big win against the Swans next week, and perhaps a jump into the top two to make a huge tilt at back-to-back flags.
Okay, okay… I got a few messages already. Here’s a column I wrote a few days ago where I basically gave Darling a whack for having his most disappointing season in years. Here it is here. I’ll own it.
I thought it was justified. His numbers were at career-low levels, but you know what, I was happy to see him bounce back in this game and completely own the forward 50. I have to say; owning the forward 50 is difficult to do when you have a bloke who’s won a couple of Coleman Medals in there with you.
Darling took four contested grabs and kicked six goals to lead the game in both categories and started to look like the version of himself that tore the competition to shreds over the first ten games of 2018.
His ten score involvements means that he’ll rate beautifully in this week’s Mongrel Player Power Rankings, and with six marks inside 50, Darling’s form would send a shudder through the competition. The Eagles are a good side with Darling plodding along, but when he has a spring in his step, they're brutal.
Looking at that forward set up inside 50 at one point, there were the big two, then Ryan and Rioli, and then you had Cripps and Petruccelle roaming around. That is the kind of talent up forward that changes the colour of opposition coaches’ pants… and not via tie-dying.
The challenge for Darling is to now back it up. Let’s face it – any big forward can have a good day. We’ve seen Mason Cox do things once that he’ll probably never be able to repeat, but Darling has the capacity to do what he did in this game ion a regular basis, and remind everyone why he was the best player in the game for the first half of last season.
Oh, and I am adding this bit in post-script – how good was it to finally see him keeping his feet in contests and not flopping around hoping to get a free kick! To whomever had a word to him over the last week… thank you.
THE LESSER LIGHT
I often find that great teams find something unexpected, and today, in the space of a few minutes, Jake Waterman became the intangible for the Eagles. His three goals in four minutes were a genuine highlight for a bloke who kind of found himself on the outer with the emergence of Petruccelle in the team.
I’d asked a couple of Eagles supporters, how Waterman was travelling during the season, and they were quietly confident that he’d fight his way into the side at some stage. I suppose it speaks volumes about his character that he did just that, and when he got the chance to strut his stuff, he delivered.
Organic growth… long-term readers will have seen me bang on about it before, but it is vitally important to teams already on top. New recruits don’t keep you on top; the kids already there getting better by the year keep you up there. Waterman was one who needed to display that growth, and if today was any indication, he’s put the hard yards in, and can now reap the rewards.
So I was just running down the stats for Ryan in this game. 12 touches… four marks… no tackles… they’re not exactly the kind of numbers you write home about, are they?
But there was something about his game that spoke to me. His pressure, hard running, and willingness to put himself in dangerous spots; he made the Eagles a better team even when he wasn't impacting the game.
When he gets a run at the ball in the air, irrespective of who he’s flying against, he’s a huge chance to mark it. I thought he was completely robbed of a mark early in the second quarter as he floated across the front of the pack. The result of that non-decision saw the Bulldogs go end-to-end and score, which struck me as a kick in the pants for Ryan.
I’ve been guilty of thinking he should probably keep his feet on the ground a little more often, but the more I watch him, the more I just want to see him have a crack at everything.
His interception at top pace early in the last deserved better than the poster he got when he had a shot. Mind you, I reckon there may have been one or two short options on when he had that kick at goal. He was flying along and did not break stride as he took the ball, ran to 45 and went for home. If it had come off, there’s a chance we may have seen the double mark/goal of the year, Peter Bosustow-style.
This is the second week in a row I’m highlighting this bloke, and for good reason. He is a star surrounded by stars, which makes his light seem a little less bright.
Some of his work to get into the passing lanes today and get a hand on a ball destined for the chest of a Bulldogs forward was absolutely top-notch. One in particular late in the second quarter looked as though bailey Smith had hit the perfect kick inside 50, but there was Sheppard, making the ground and getting there to break the play up.
With Shannon Hurn resting the entire last quarter, much of the defensive responsibilities were referred to Sheppard and Jeremy McGovern, and in taking them on, the Eagles did not miss a beat. They have an embarrassment of riches down back, and when Tom Barrass returns, they are going to be one hard team to kick a winning score against.
I think it was Gerard Healy who lauded the efforts of Gaff at quarter time – I actually thought it was his worst quarter of the game. He got his hands on it plenty, but hacked it forward and sideways without looking too often, and when he is playing like that, the Eagles suffer as a result.
A team built on kicking efficiency and retaining possession, what Gaff did in the first quarter completely flew in the face of the game plan, and his 44% efficiency rating that quarter indicated that Healy may have been talking out of his backside.
After the break, it was a different story, with 27 touches of much better quality coming Gaff’s way. He started to find a bit of space to operate and was able to use the ball a lot better as he removed himself from traffic. He went by hand in contested situations instead of throwing the ball on his boot, and he started to bring teammates into the game more. He still managed to get his hands on a heap of clearances (six in fact, second only to Sheed and Yeo on seven)and used the ball well to list that efficiency rating up to 78% by the end of proceedings.
I’m a big fan of Gaff when used the right way, and though I heard Healy again applaud the move of Gaff into stoppages, I still think he is far better suited in using that run and carry on the end of a handball chain than at the coalface, hacking it out.
Gaff has worked into this season beautifully, and with the Eagles hitting stride, he looks determined to make amends for the mistakes of 2018.
THREE QUARTERS OF A CAPTAIN
We’re half way through the season, and if the All-Australian team was named right now, here’s your captain.
You know what that’s called? Justice.
Hurn was sublime in this game, with just one of his 18 disposals not hitting a teammate. In the second quarter, it was as much his positioning and ability to stop an attack dead as it was any other factor that allowed the Eagles to gain the ascendancy.
Shannon Hurn has emerged from an AA year in 2018 as a player who would not rest on his laurels. Even as the Eagles struggled early in the season, Hurn was resolute, consistently named amongst the Eagles’ best players week-in and week-out.
His foot skills, already such a source of pride for the Eagles, have lifted another gear as he propels them out of defence with pinpoint accuracy. Early this season, McGovern struggled a little, but with Hurn back there anchoring the defence, the Eagles did not miss a beat. He is an absolute warrior, and one all West Coast fans should be proud to call captain.
And will hopefully call All-Australian captain come the end of this season.
THE YOUNG PUP
We get glimpses from young kids playing well all the time in the league, but Bailey Smith is starting to show a consistency that most rookies don’t possess.
He’s had 20+ disposals in four of his last seven games, and though he had just 16 in this one, his ability to “see ball, get ball” was evident, particularly in the first half. I like his aggression and I LOVE the fact that he hasn’t had his instincts coached out of him yet.
Too many times players get caught up in over-handballing and working the ball unnecessarily from player to player for what seems to be just to get others involved. Smith takes the bull by the horns and actually looks to gain distance, or go to someone in a better spot. I like that he doesn’t handball off just to get an easy stat back.
You know, it’s a shame that the one part of the game from Jason Johannisen that wasn’t great is the thing that people will remember the most, and that was him not taking possession at half back, and electing to knock the ball back to a teammate. Jamie Cripps read it, grabbed the knock back and ran inside 50 to kick a goal.
But JJ offered so much more on the night, and his run and carry, combined with his 32 touches at 91% efficiency tell the tale of a man who used the ball exceptionally well, and used it often.
Johannisen is a polarising figure in AFL circles. Many bemoan his Norm Smith medal win in 2016, believing that Tom Boyd was far more influential. I may be one of them, however on a day like this, he did a lot of great things for the Dogs, and deserves better than to be whacked for the one thing he did wrong.
And why am I bringing it to peoples’ attention, then? Hell, I read what people say. I know there were people baying for his blood after that faux pas, but that was a blip on the radar in an otherwise excellent game for him, and I reckon people should get off his back.
But yeah, Tom Boyd for the Norm Smith, for me. :)
CALEB DANIEL IN DEFENCE
Now look, I may not be up to speed on all this equal opportunity stuff, and how blokes like me aren’t allowed to pick on little guys… can I call them that? How about “vertically challenged”? Is that okay? Anyway, the way the commentators talk about Caleb Daniel in defence, it’s as though he is some kind of miniature defensive maestro, slicing the opposition up like an expert swordsman or something.
But they don’t particularly focus on his most glaring weakness. He’s a shorty pants.
But you see, I’m the perceptive type, and I got the inkling that Daniel would really struggle in the air when I noticed… wait for it… he was short. Given my incredible perception, I was of the opinion that all you’d have to do is kick the ball in the air, in the vicinity of him and his direct opponent and Daniel would be in big trouble.
Lo and behold, on six occasions in this game, we saw Daniel’s direct match-up either mark against him in the forward half, or get a free kick as Daniel tried to compete. In the first half alone, Jack Petruccelle, Liam Ryan and Jack darling all capitalised on Daniel’s weakness by marking against him. In the second half, we saw, at times, Nathan Vardy (how did that match-up come about?), and Liam Ryan twice more win in the air against the diminutive Bulldog.
That’s six aerial contests in the forward half the Dogs won, because Daniel is a hobbit. Has anyone checked if his feet are hairy?
Now, it’s difficult to blame Daniel for being short. It’s like you guys blaming me for being devilishly handsome – I can’t help it! But if you know that he is highly susceptible to being beaten in the air, why would you throw him down there at centre bounce resets and allow one-on-one contests against him?
It reeks of terrible coaching, and unfortunately for Daniel, it puts him in positions that, whilst not “no-win” are definitely “rare-win” situations. Luke Beveridge may have a lot of faith in him. People have a lot of faith in many things… and a lot of times they’re misguided.
Starting Daniel on a wing and allowing him to drift back as the loose man – that makes sense. You still get his excellent ball-use and decision-making, but plonked in or around defensive 50, the little bloke is a liability. He can get the ball 30+ times. He can gain a heap of metres in the process. But if the price is giving up inside 50s to overhead marks, the price is too high to pay.
If James Sicily ends up going for his shot to the ribs of Lincoln McCarthy, then Aaron Naughton should probably go as well.
You could see Naughton was frustrated. A budding star of the competition, he was being blanketed by Will Schofield, and the delivery inside 50, particularly in the second half, gave the Bulldog forward little to no hope.
As the Eagles cleared yet again, Naughton’s frustration got the best of him. He landed a right hand to the mid-section of the Eagles defender, which doubled him over. A 50 metre penalty was paid and Naughton put his presence in the next Western Bulldogs game in jeopardy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I’m guessing Naughton would love his time over again. He’ll need to learn to deal with close defensive checking, and strong team defence as he grows into the forward the Dogs expect him to. He will come in for some genuine attention in the coming years, and there’ll be days when elite defences collapse on him.
He’s got to be a bit better than that.
WHAT’S THAT SAYING ABOUT BAD KICKING?
So, as we reached half time, my missus was really itching for me to head down the street and buy some dinner, since… you know, I basically neglect all household duties on the weekend in order to write these reviews for you guys.
I’m sitting there waiting for my order to be filled, and I’m perusing the stats, only to see the Dogs with 14 scoring shots, and the Eagles with ten.
Yet there are the Eagles, sitting with an 11-point lead heading into the third quarter. Were the Dogs a better side in the first half? No, I don’t think so, but by not capitalising on their opportunities, it made them much, much worse, and when the West Coast storm blew in during the third quarter, and the Eagles started raining goals, the Dogs had no buffer.
Early misses to Dale, Bont, Naughton and Libba hurt the Dogs, and sadly, they were not able to recover. They had their chance to put a bit of a lead on the Eagles on their home deck, and failed to do so. Not taking the chances afforded you at Optus Stadium spells enormous trouble, and once the Eagles hit their straps, the gravity of those Bulldog misses was painfully evident.
THE SCORE REVIEW SYSTEM
Another day, another touched ball off the boot that’s given a goal. This wasn’t a close game, but this system is a farce at the moment and needs to be addressed. The review officer was busy looking to see it there was a touch in the goal square after Oscar Allen’s shot at goal, but he was looking in the wrong place. Zane Cordy didn’t touch it in the goal square; Marcus Bontempelli touched it off the boot.
In the wash up here, it counts for little. the Eagles were on a roll and would’ve won by plenty irrespective of what happened with that one kick, but in a game decided by a kick, such as the game the day before between the Dockers and Magpies… this is not a good look for the league.
Fix it, or scrap it.
I really liked the second efforts of Nathan Vardy after quarter time. If I’m being honest, I looked at his game at quarter time and though he was going to have another of those afternoons where he didn’t get near it, but to his credit, he fought back to not only pick up ten of his 11 touches after the first stanza, but started applying pressure on the runners at stoppages and around the ground as well.
He had four clearances, and whilst the stat sheet says he had just three tackles, there was a heap of body work and chasing that goes unheralded that Vardy should be commended for. He is fighting for that second ruck spot once Naitanui returns. It’s between him and Tom Hickey – he did his chances no harm today.
Elliot Yeo started the game like an animal. He had the first two clearances and his pressure on the ball carrier was elite. His crash and bash style made life tough for the Bullies’ mids attempting to extract the ball all game, but was on display to maximum effect in the first quarter.
I thought the Dogs’ attack on the ball in the first quarter was first class. They weren’t going to die wondering what’d happen if they really had a crack. They were throwing their bodies in willingly and looked as though they really wanted to take the fight up to the premiers. It was working, too, but they just couldn’t capitalise on the scoreboard.
In suppose I’d better mention Bontempelli before I get accused of hating him again. He was good without being great today. 27 touches with most by hand is a good return, but he could not hit the side of a barn with his kicking. Overall, his disposal efficiency was at 56%, but when you isolate the kicking, it’s a much uglier number. He only had two clearances for the game as well, so you know what… I reckon you can go on thinking I hate him, because I’m finding it pretty hard to praise him on this performance.
I’m not going to celebrate Gov getting whacked in the back of the head a couple of times, but how good was it to see a bit of fire in the belly from him! Just the lazy eight intercepts from him in this game… probably would’ve been more had the Bulldogs ventured past the middle a little more often in the third.
Loved Sheed’s goal from the boundary in the third quarter. Not sure if you know, but he’s relatively good at slotting goals from tight angles.
I left this bit til last, as I wanted to slot him into the ‘good’ section, but it was getting a little busy up there. Luke Shuey has quietly gone about compiling a great five weeks of footy. He is averaging 27.8 touches, 7.2 tackles and seven clearances per game. If you’d like to know why the Eagles have rattled off five wins on the trot, look no further than Ching Ching Shuey – he has been incredible.
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