After stringing together their best winning streak under Adam Simpson of 10 games from Rounds 2 through to Round 11, the Eagles are now poised to record their equal worst losing streak under Simpson’s reign if they can’t get over the GWS Giants in Round 16. The two teams meet in contrasting situations, both in current form and where their respective seasons were heading a month ago.
While the Eagles haven’t won since their mid-season bye, the Giants are enjoying a mid-year resurgence, with four consecutive wins breathing life into their finals ambitions. The Giants upset the Crows in Adelaide, before recording expected wins against the Gold Coast and Brisbane, before a vital win over Hawthorn lifted the Giants into the top eight. However their position in the finals is far from assured with a tough run to finish the season.
The Giants meet the Eagles who are ripe for the picking. Two quarters in the past two games have been costly for West Coast with the first quarter against Essendon and the final term against Adelaide proving the difference in both losses. The Eagles have seen their hold on top spot dissipate and now form part of the chasing pack for the other spot in the top two.
The Eagles don’t have an easy run home, so wins at home will be imperative to guarantee a top four finish and then push for top two, with two home finals on offer.
The Recent History
Remarkably, this is the fifth meeting between the two sides in the past 29 games. The two sides met three times in 2017, with the Giants claiming all three. They recorded their first ever win over West Coast, and their first win in Perth in an entertaining eight point win in Round 10. Toby Greene was the difference in the final term, while Andrew Gaff led all-comers with 35 disposals.
The Giants also finished the stronger in their second meeting of the 2017 regular season, with a four goal to one final term resulting in a 21 point win in Round 22. Only one point separated the two sides at the final change, but on the back of 43 disposals to Josh Kelly and three goals to Toby Greene, the Giants confirmed a top four finish. The Giants then ended West Coast’s season four weeks later when they thrashed a tired Eagles outfit in the semi final.
West Coast claimed bragging rights earlier this season when they defeated the Giants in Sydney by 25 points. Despite being without Nic Naitanui and Jeremy McGovern, the Eagles controlled the stoppages and had too much firepower up forward. Jack Darling kicked four, Jake Waterman three and Josh Kennedy two as the Eagles out-muscled the home side in tricky conditions.
The three wins by GWS in 2017 are their only wins in this short rivalry, with the Eagles leading 6-3 overall. The Giants have yet to travel West so far this season, meaning they will be seeing Perth Stadium for the first time.
Injury concerns have affected both sides at various points this season, although it has been the Giants who have had the more recent drama. Jeremy Cameron serves the second of his five week suspension and his replacement Jon Patton is set to undergo a third knee reconstruction after going down at training during the week. Patton was seen as the saving grace up forward for GWS, but that responsibility will now fall on Rory Lobb, who only returned to the line up himself last week against Hawthorn.
Patton is one of two changes for the visitors with midfielder Jacob Hopper also unavailable through injury. Harry Perryman comes back into the line up, while Brent Daniels will make his debut. Daniels is primarily a small forward, who can run through the middle, but with his inclusion, the likes of Tim Taranto and Matt deBoer are likely to spend more time in the centre. Along with Hopper, Patton and Cameron, the Giants still have Toby Greene – who has been decisive in recent wins over West Coast – Brett Deledio and Tom Scully on the sidelines.
The Eagles made three changes as they continue to battle the loss of a number of key players. Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling, Mark LeCras and Tom Barrass all remain on the sidelines, although there is light in the tunnel with all bar LeCras a chance to return next week against Collingwood. West Coast have tried a number of reinforcements, but patience has run out for Fraser McInnes and Jake Waterman, who were both omitted. Liam Ryan was the third omission, following a minor car incident at the start of the week that has seen the club provide counselling for the first year player.
Into the side come ruckman-forward Nathan Vardy for his first game of 2018, after persistent groin problems, small forward Daniel Venables and first gamer Oscar Allen. Allen becomes the eighth debutant for West Coast this season, and could fill a role either up forward or down back, depending on where the Eagles find themselves breaking down. Without Barrass, the Eagles have been reluctant to send McGovern forward, but did so against the Crows, with mixed success.
Jon Patton’s injury leaves only Lobb up forward, meaning the Eagles could play Will Schofield on the last line and leave mid-sized defenders Brad Sheppard, Shannon Hurn, Thomas Cole and possibly Allen to mind the rest of the GWS forward line. The Eagles have struggled for goals without their dynamic duo, but Vardy could present a viable target, with McInnes and Waterman both lacking impact in the past fortnight. There have been questions over the fitness of Nic Naitanui, with Adam Simpson admitting the number one ruckman has been sore, so there is a possibility that Naitanui could be a late withdrawal, particularly with Vardy back in the senior line up.
The Talking Points
What Will Oscar Allen Bring?
The 191cm utility brings an important level of flexibility to a side missing tall timber at both ends of the ground. Drafted with the Eagles second pick at the 2017 National Draft, Allen won the Larke Medal as the best player for WA at the Under 18 Nationals as a forward, but has spent much of this season at East Perth in defence.
Defence seems his most likely starting position against the Giants, which would give the Eagles match committee greater confidence in committing Jeremy McGovern up forward. However, if McGovern is required down back, Allen can also play the third lead up target, the role that Jake Waterman had impressive with through the first half of the season. Waterman has been the standout of the first year players at West Coast in 2018, but will benefit from the breather, after picking up just 17 disposals and eight marks in the last two games. Waterman has also gone goalless in that two week period, after booting 13 goals in his first 12 games.
As the eighth Eagle to debut this season, Oscar Allen has the perfect opportunity to claim a stake at either end of the ground, especially while the Eagles battle their tall timber dearth.
Should West Coast Have Rested Nic Naitanui?
This seems like an obvious move, particularly considering Naitanui’s output in the past two weeks. Naitanui has seemed sluggish on the field, lacking any influence in either game against Essendon and Adelaide. Naitanui is a barometer for the Eagles, and when he lacks intensity on the field, it tends radiate through the rest of the squad. While he has never been a big disposal winner, his work at the tap knocks and around the stoppages plays a major role in the Eagles claiming first possession. Naitanui lowered his colours against Essendon big man Tom Bellchambers, while the Eagles were smashed out of the centre in the final term against the Crows, with Sam Jacobs comprehensively getting the better of Naitanui and partner Scott Lycett.
Naitanui was always destined to miss games throughout the season as West Coast manage his game time in his comeback from a knee reconstruction, and after missing Round 10 against the Giants (through suspension), this game presented as a perfect opportunity before the last dash towards finals.
While the Eagles still have to get the job done against GWS, they have a crucial game against the Magpies next week, which could decide who gets a top two finish. Brodie Grundy is one of the form ruckmen of the competition and Naitanui’s duel with the Collingwood ruckman will be a vital component in the game.
Conversely, the Giants have only Dawson Simpson ruling the ruck at the moment, and the Eagles combination of Lycett and Vardy would easily account for the journeyman. Naitanui is a possibility to be a late withdrawal come game day and this would be smart player management for the team’s most important player.
Will West Coast Benefit From Cutting Ties With East Perth?
Much will depend on where the Eagles go from here but following the announcement by the East Perth board that they would terminate the relationship, West Coast got on the front foot about establishing their own reserves side to play in the WAFL.
The alignment system that has been in place with East Perth has had its benefits, primarily in bringing all players from the squad together, playing the type of football that West Coast aim to produce at AFL level.
Having complete control in all facets of the reserves side would streamline their development process, but can the WAFL remain sustainable with a tenth side? It seems unlikely, and what makes the Eagles having their own standalone side also complicated is the set up of a new training base at the existing headquarters of the Perth Demons. Which suggests that an alignment with the Demons is the most likely outcome, despite the Eagles’ preferred wishes.
The player who needs a big game…?
Luke Shuey. The Eagles vice-captain has had an average season at best by his standards. The 2016 John Worsfold medallist missed five games through the middle of the season due to a hamstring injury, and has looked a shadow of his best in his return. The Eagles have lost all three games in that time, with Shuey managing just 14 and 18 touches in his first two games back, before collecting 26 in the loss to Adelaide.
However, like many of his teammates, Shuey went missing in the disastrous final term, and he leads a midfield group who are determined to rectify the caning they received from the Crows last week. And while Shuey may have been easing his way back into things after his injury, his form in the opening six weeks of the season wasn’t exactly sparkling.
Shuey’s numbers look impressive enough, but there has been a real lack of line-breaking play that made him the premier midfielder at the club two seasons ago. Shuey has only booted five goals in ten games, and is averaging just five inside 50’s and six clearances. Shuey provides real dash for West Coast, and against a strong GWS midfield, the Eagles will be looking to their number one playmaker to gain ascendancy through the middle.
The mounting injury lists for both sides makes this a hard game to predict, while there are a number of other factors that suggest this is a true 50/50 contest. The Eagles have failed up forward without Kennedy, Darling and last week, LeCras, booting just seven, six and twelve goals in the past three weeks.
While West Coast are currently on a three game losing streak, the Giants enter the game on a four game winning streak, despite being destined to miss the finals after a number of poor performances. Their four wins have come despite a number of key players missing, and like West Coast, are now without their two key focal points in Jon Patton and Jeremy Cameron. However, their improved form has coincided with the return of Josh Kelly, who has a strong track record against the Eagles.
The West Coast midfield will be looking to bounce back following a disappointing last quarter mauling to Adelaide, but the Giants are no pushovers through the middle. The big question for both sides will be who will score the goals, and the Eagles may just have enough options. Home ground advantage will be important as well and West Coast should get over the line in a close one.
West Coast by 14.
EAGLE TRIVIA: Oscar Allen becomes the Eagles’ 8th debutant in 2018 – only in 1987 (26), 1989 (10), 1991 (9) and 2000 (9) have West Coast had more. @WCE_History