A blisteringly hot Perth day did not keep over 36,000 die hard West Coast Eagles fans away from Patersons Stadium for their clash against the Western Bulldogs. Round One had already produced some unexpected results, the biggest being the upset defeat of the Sydney Swans by fledgling hometown rivals, the GWS Giants. Wins by Fremantle, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide, Geelong and Essendon point to a tightly contested season while Hawthorn’s easy defeat of the Brisbane Lions signals they are again the team to beat. None of these outcomes affected West Coast fan’s enthusiasm at having their “boys” back on the park after a 2013 season which went horribly wrong. Injuries to high profile players, underwhelming performances in home fixtures and a jaded game plan sent the Eagles from a widely-predicted Top Four finish to a lowly 13th on the Ladder.
Fortunately football moves on and with a healthy player list, new coach Adam Simpson, recruits Xavier Ellis (Hawthorn), Jamie Bennell (Melbourne) and Elliot Yeo (Brisbane) and classy performances against Fremantle in the pre-season, the West Coast Eagles are now once again fancied for a Top Eight finish. In contrast, the Western Bulldogs are not considered a competitive chance for Finals this season. However they are a developing team and finished 2013 strongly. There was also plenty for them to play for on their trip west with favorite son Robert Murphy celebrating his 250th game milestone.
It was a textbook start by the Eagles who scored a goal from the very first bounce down. Nic Naitanui soared over his ruck opponent to win a tap to Scott Selwood whose precision pass found Jack Darling 30 meters in front of goal. Darling’s accurate kick had the Eagles on the scoreboard within the first 20 seconds. With an Eagles’ forward line packed with very tall players – Darling (6ft 3in), Kennedy (6ft 5in), Sinclair (6ft 6in) and resting ruck men Naitanui and Cox (both 6ft 7in) – the smaller Bulldogs needed a plan to address the height differential. Unfortunately they had no answers to the Eagles “talls” or to their “smalls” who ran amok in the forward line whenever the ball was jostled loose from marking (catching the ball after it is kicked over 15 meters) contests by the bigger forwards.
Mark LeCras had a field day with a five goal haul and Jamie Cripps and Luke Shuey kicked two apiece. The Bulldogs tried hard but were under immense pressure in every position on the ground. They particularly struggled when trying to exit their defensive zone because the Eagles’ players were relentless in their intensity. The Bulldogs were forced into hurried handballs which invariably went astray as they lost their composure. Any game plan went right out the window under the patient work of the West Coast players, hard at the ball and intent on playing constructive football. For West Coast fans the match was a delight as the blitz of goals continued unabated. Although the Bulldogs continued to show effort and produced an eight goal second half, the Eagles managed 12 of their own and in the end it was a thrashing.
The news is all good for the Eagles, their players look fit and in a competitive frame of mind. Experienced players like Matt Rosa and LeCras look ready for big seasons and their new recruits were all solid. Sharrod Wellingham, who came to West Coast from Collingwood in 2013 but had an injury interrupted season, played well and may produce his best football yet in the West. For the Bulldogs all is not lost. Experienced players like Shaun Higgins and Matthew Boyd never gave up and young players Jack Macrae and Lachie Hunter showed promising signs.
At the end of Round One the Ladder shows Fremantle in first position and West Coast in second spot on percentage. Western Australian football followers could not be happier and Patersons Stadium may well return to the days when it was known as the “Fortress” and the “House of Pain” because interstate teams feared playing there. All will be revealed as the season progresses!
Scoreboard West Coast Eagles: 4.2 9.4 13.6 21.8 (134) Western Bulldogs: 2.1 3.1 5.3 11.3 (69) Best players West Coast Eagles: LeCras, Rosa, Mackenzie, Darling, Selwood, Wellingham Western Bulldogs: Higgins, Boyd, Macrae, Hunter
Article last changed on Monday, March 24, 2014 - 9:50 AM EDT