Brook Kilpatrick reporting for AFANA from Australia
Despite injuries to top talent including Mark LeCras and Andrew Embley, the West Coast Eagles remained at the top of the Ladder as they flew into Melbourne to take on the improving Richmond Tigers. The bookmakers had installed the visiting Eagles as solid favorites, however a quick look at the recent results between the two teams at Etihad Stadium showed the Tigers with a 3-0 advantage. For Richmond it was a chance to notch a win against top class opposition – something it had threatened to do all season without being able to close the deal. For the Eagles it was a perfect opportunity to consolidate a Top Two position on the Ladder and a springboard to the Finals.
Richmond started with Matthew White as the substitute while Adam Selwood donned the green vest for the Eagles. The game was barely a minute old when Ivan “The Mullett” Maric drew first blood for the Tigers as he goaled inside the 50 meter arc. It was back and forward as both midfields tried to gain an early breakthrough. Some solid work by young Richmond dynamo Dustin Martin broke the shackles of the West Coast defense as he ran into goal for the Tigers' second inside four minutes. A poor start for the Eagles was exacerbated when Mitch Brown left the field with a suspected eye injury. However this well-drilled outfit with the two-headed ruck monster of Dean Cox and Nic Natanui worked feverishly to reverse the Tiger ascendancy. Consecutive goals through Josh Hill and Ashton Hams had them back on top by a point at the ten minute mark. A defensive blunder by the Tigers allowed Jack Darling to sneak another one through before Daniel Jackson marked for Richmond, giving him a chance to get the margin back to a point. Jackson nailed the shot and it was once again a one point game. In a quarter of ebbs and flows, the Richmond hierarchy would have been ecstatic to see Martin return to some excellent form as he kicked his second goal of the quarter. The see-sawing nature of the game continued as gun forward Josh Kennedy kicked his first for the Eagles to tie the scores at the 21 minute mark. In the shadows of quarter time, Darling threaded through his second goal to have the Eagles in front by seven points at the first break.
The second quarter saw the Eagles jump out of the blocks to extend their lead. Natanui was dominating when in the ruck and although determined enough, Maric was not able to match Natanui’s leaping ability at the center bounce. A sweet snap on goal from Ashton Hams followed by a Quentin “Big Q” Lynch goal had the margin out to 19 points at the five minute mark, and the signs were ominous for the Tigers. A center clearance for Richmond led to a solid mark and goal from Ty Vickery to steady the ship. With West Coast having the better of the ruck duel it was up to the inside midfielders of Richmond to stem the clearance domination of the visitors. Cotchin and Martin were working overtime to develop some run for Richmond, and when a mark to Maric led to a slick handball to Cotchin, the crowd favorite didn’t let the big man down as he banged through a running goal to reduce the margin to six points. The Eagles' Josh Kennedy looked to have hurt his ankle just prior to Brad Miller receiving a free kick for high contact. Kennedy left the ground as Miller converted the goal to put the Tigers back in front at the 14 minute mark. Just when it looked like Richmond might be getting on top, a Dean Cox goal was followed by a beautiful piece of play from Shannon Hurn, Darling and Chris Masten. The West Coast trio took the ball coast-to coast before Masten put the cherry on top by threading through a classy goal. If that were not enough for the Tiger fans to endure, classy midfielder Brett Deledio was taken out in a contest by his own team mate in Shane Tuck, resulting in a knee scare as Deledio limped of the ground. The Tigers fought hard but Hill managed another goal for the Eagles as a failed goal attempt by Andrew Gaff fortuitously landed in his lap. At the 26 minute mark the Eagles held a 25 point lead, but once again a late charge from Richmond had the experts declaring this one as not over just yet. After missing a simple shot on goal, Tiger forward Jack Riewoldt redeemed himself by taking a screaming mark over Beau Waters and kicking a sensational goal. Forward foil Miller then bobbed up for another before the siren and at half time it was a 14 point lead to the disciplined Eagles. Veteran Daniel Kerr and the underrated Matt Priddis, in conjunction with the class of ruck star Natanui, were the main reason for the solid half time lead.
There was great news after the break as both Kennedy and Deledio returned to the field for their respective teams after injury scares. The second half started out as an arm wrestle with neither side being able to take control. Kennedy, Miller and Cotchin all missed early chances at goal and it wasn’t until the seven minute mark of the quarter that a goal line scrap was won by Jackson who converted the all-important first goal for the Tigers. Deledio’s return, combined with the hard work of Tuck and Cotchin, gave Richmond the lead in the possession count as the third quarter wore on. Young Tiger draftee Brandon Ellis kicked his first goal in League footy and the crowd was up and about as the Tigers reduced the West Coast lead to just one point. Richmond had now scored the last four goals of the match and their momentum was looking good. Of course West Coast didn’t get to top spot by laying down when the going gets tough, and the threat of losing the lead seemed to spark them back into action. The massive Lynch marked 20 meters out from goal, lined up and kicked the goal to steady the West Coast ship. A bad miss from Martin after some sensational Deledio play narrowed the margin before Vickery kicked his second to tie the scores at the 20 minute mark. A couple of misses for West Coast and another running miss from the inaccurate Martin ended the scoring for the quarter. At three-quarter time, West Coast led 12.11 to 12.9 and the Etihad Stadium crowd had a great finish to look forward to.
The first act of the final quarter personified the determination of both teams. A high entry into the West Coast forward zone saw Richmond’s young backman Matt Dea running back with the flight of the ball. Without hesitation he launched himself at the ball where there was an equally committed Jack Darling coming in the other direction, the resultant sickening collision seeing blood pouring from Dea’s face. At the six minute mark Riewoldt converted for the Tigers before a controversial call on a Martin goal attempt was ruled touched off the boot. As players tired, the game developed into an even tougher scrap, neither side prepared to give the other space around the ground. A fast break from West Coast saw the ball delivered forward for a one on one contest between Josh Hill and Alex Rance. As Hill dropped the mark, Rance lost his footing and grabbed Hill’s arm giving the umpire no choice but to award a free kick to Hill. The resultant goal gave West Coast back the lead and just two minutes later the omnipresent Priddis fed out a beautiful handball to Chris Masten who goaled again for the Eagles. Richmond desperately needed to score the next goal to stay in the contest and that’s exactly what they did. Miller brought the scores back to a one point difference before another Martin miss tied the scores at the 19 minute mark. With the game in the balance it was again Priddis who found Scott Selwood within goal scoring range. He finished well to give the Eagles back their six point buffer. If the Tigers were to win a big one they needed to stand up now. Bachar Houli ran the ball through the middle for Richmond and delivered a pass onto the chest of Riewoldt just 25 meters out. His shot for goal was off the mark and the margin was just five points. Richmond pressed to stifle the West Coast kick in and won the ball back through Deledio who shot on goal but missed again! The Tigers had their chances but a couple of bad turnovers and an inexplicable free kick against Robbie Nahas for abusing the umpire cost them dearly. At the 29 minute mark West Coast cleared the ball from the Tiger back line, Beau Waters took a screamer and after burning down as much of the remaining clock as possible, launched a kick to Lynch who delivered into the danger zone in front of the West Coast goal. Some nifty in close work led to a Darling snap for an Eagles' goal and with time ticking down it was all over. In the face of a great Tiger challenge the Eagles had prevailed.
In the wash-up of the game, it was simply poise under pressure that won the day for the Eagles. Richmond had numerous chances to win the game, however they failed to execute under pressure when the game was on the line. Tigers' coach Damien Hardwick was left to lament what could have been with narrow losses to Collingwood, Geelong and now West Coast. John Worsfold on the other hand would have been well pleased with his players endeavor and discipline on the day. Losing Mitch Brown very early in the piece and having Josh Kennedy at less than full fitness in the second half were big obstacles to overcome, but the Eagles passed another test with flying colors.
Five weeks into the season, Richmond take a precarious 1-4 record to Adelaide next week where they will take on the much improved Port Adelaide. If the Tigers are to play any part in Finals action for the first time since 2001, they simply must win. With a sparkling 5-0 record and top spot on the Premiership Ladder, West Coast takes on the plucky North Melbourne at Patersons Stadium.
Scoreboard: West Coast 5.3 11.6 12.11 16.11 (107) Richmond 4.2 9.4 12.9 14.13 (97) Best Players: West Coast: Kerr, Priddis, Gaff, Darling, Glass, S Selwood, Naitanui Richmond: Cotchin, Martin, Deledio, Grigg, Foley, Maric, Rance
Article last changed on Thursday, May 03, 2012 - 8:22 PM EDT