In the final game for round one of 2020, the West Coast Eagles showed why they would be considered one of the favorites to win the competition this year. (Ed. note: the AFL has suspended the season until at least May 31st.) The home team enjoyed the warm day (88º F. ), but it was their team structure and discipline which cooked the visitors. Melbourne started the game determined to show they are a better team than results from last year suggested. However, it was their delivery into their attacking zone that demonstrated they had learned nothing over the summer break. By quarter time, the Eagles were up five-zero in goals and it was already clear that Melbourne lack the structure of the home side.
In a Friday night (Melbourne time) Semi-Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Geelong Cats picked themselves up from their previous week's loss to the Collingwood Magpies, to keep their finals hopes alive and defeat the reigning Premiers, the West Coast Eagles. The Cats had been under intense media scrutiny all week, as many pundits predicted the Cats would again drop out of the finals series with two straight losses. The Eagles too had their own mid-week drama to deal with, as small forward Willie Rioli was handed a provisional suspension for interfering with a urine test administered by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority.
The Cats opened the game with a burst of goals. Their plan was clear. Run the ball through the middle of the ground, using handpassing and accurate kicking to catch the Eagle intercept markers [mark = catch] out of position. After nine minutes of play the Cats had booted three goals, keeping West Coast scoreless. Geelong's Captain Joel Selwood continually put his body on the line and midfielders Tim Kelly and Cameron Guthrie used their pace and ball skills to break the Eagles defensive lines. The Eagles abandoned their zone defense structure and played a man-on-man defense,
The West Coast Eagles held off the brave Adelaide Crows, to put a speed bump in the way of the Crows' push for the finals. Much was at stake for both sides. The Crows were playing for a place on the top eight, the Eagles were playing for a chance to creep into the top two. In perfect football conditions, the first quarter was an arm wrestle. The Crows concentrated on retaining the ball to stop the Eagles using their kicking game to control proceedings. It worked for a while, as both defenses applied plenty of pressure. The first goal was scored by the Eagles at the twelve-minute mark when Oscar Allen took a good mark (catch) and converted from a set shot from the boundary. (Ed.note: It was his first of three, in what was recognized as a performance that earned a Rising Star nomination on Monday.)
Three minutes later Jack Darling marked an Allen kick, after the Crows turned the ball over in defense. Darling's set shot from the boundary was also accurate. The Crows' only goal came from a Matt Crouch pass to teenager Darcy Fogarty, who marked and converted from fifty meters. Live-wire West Coast forward, Liam Ryan, gathered a loose ball and weaved through traffic to goal for West Coast with just seconds remaining of the quarter. The Eagles entered the attacking zone 21 times for three goals. The Crows failed to make full use of their six entries, finishing with just 1.4 for the quarter.
In Western Derby Number 50, the West Coast Eagles annihilated the inaccurate Fremantle Dockers to move to second on the AFL ladder and place a huge question mark over the Fremantle Dockers' finals hopes. After a slow start to the season the Eagles have hit their straps in their quest for back-to-back Premierships, with perhaps Geelong as the only team that can stand in their way.
The first quarter had the hallmarks of a tough ‘Derby’. It was a tight struggle, with defenses on top and forwards under pressure and missing "gettable" goals. It took eight minutes for the first goal to be scored. Jamie Cripps slotted a major (goal worth 6 points) for West Coast after marking (catching) a centering kick from Liam Ryan. It took another eight minutes for the next goal, which was a skudding 30-meter soccered goal by the Eagles' forward, Willie Rioli. The warning signs were there for the Dockers in the second half of the quarter.
The West Coast Eagles survived a spirited second-half challenge by the Gold Coast Suns, to position themselves for a move into the top eight. After two consecutive thrashings, the Eagles were expected to work back into form against the young Suns; and that is what they did in the first half. The Eagles started slowly, put the Suns to the sword in the second quarter; but then struggled as the Suns fought back in the second half.
The big movers on the AFANA AFL Power Poll this week were the Tigers and the Saints up four places each, while the Adelaide Crows fell four spots after a disastrous loss to the previously winless Kangaroos. Other notable happenings over another topsy-turvy round of footy were the Demons notching their first win for the season up in Sydney, while the previously unbeaten Cats were ambushed late by an impressive Giants outfit despite losing Callan Ward to a nasty knee injury in the first quarter.
Thursday night saw Geelong continue its early season dominance with a stirring win over Adelaide, the upstart Brisbane Lions stormed home to defeat the vastly improved Port Adelaide and the Grand Final replay saw the Eagles once again victorious over a disappointing Collingwood.
Highly fancied Melbourne are yet to register a win after faltering against Essendon, the much maligned Gold Coast Suns won again, and Richmond added a couple more players to its ever increasing injury list in a big loss to an impressive Greater Western Sydney Giants at Spotless Stadium.
The West Coast Eagles outclassed and out-muscled the Fremantle Dockers to strengthen their grip on second spot on the ladder. However, their win could have serious ramifications for their premiership hopes as their main play maker, Andrew Gaff, looks set to be banned for an extended period. Gaff swung a left arm haymaker into the Dockers’ second draft pick, Andrew Brayshaw, breaking his jaw and re-arranging several teeth. The incident sparked several ugly melees as Fremantle players targeted Gaff with ferocious tackles and bumps. The Eagles absorbed the renewed vigor of the Dockers and finished the game playing conservatively, but still in control and making good use of their forward line air superiority.
The West Coast Eagles controlled the Western Bulldogs for most of the day to put in a workman-like display of winter weather football, to run our comfortable winners. The Dogs fielded a young team with the majority of players in their second or third season, and it showed, against the more experienced Eagles. Playing conditions were tricky with a strong wind blowing and some showers of rain in the second half. The game was unspectacular and dour as players dropped marks (catches), missed easy goals and kicked the ball out bounds without being touched (resulting in a free kick to the opposition) in their attempts to master the vagaries of the wind swirling around the field.
After another top notch round of footy, Richmond holds onto top spot on the AFANA Power Poll as a result of its 47 point win over the Adelaide Crows, damaging the Crows chances of returning to finals football in 2018. Collingwood had to fight hard to defeat a determined Essendon, while the Swans stumbled at home against a very impressive Geelong.
Port Adelaide kept in touch with the top two after a comfortable win over Saint Kilda, the Eagles returned to the winners list in the “battle of the decimated forward lines” as they held off the Giants in Perth, and the Hawks solidified their run at the finals with a second half blitz to defeat the Bulldogs.