Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
West Coast remains the only unbeaten team at the end of Round 6 after overcoming a gutsy challenge from a determined North Melbourne side. Just before the game it was announced that Eagles’ excitement machine Nic Naitanui had withdrawn and this sent a ripple of unease through supporters. He was replaced by second gamer, Scott Lycett. Kangaroos ruckman Todd Goldstein was also missing so each team would be exposed in the ruck competitions. In a first for the Eagles, Jacob Brennan (son of club great and Premiership player and vice-captain Michael Brennan) was playing his making his debut, the first father/son combination in Eagles’ history.
With their much-favored forward press in top gear, the Eagles made it difficult for the Kangaroos to move the ball forward with any penetration. However when they did manage to burst through the lines, they did so with astonishing speed. Drew Petrie found himself on the end of some lightning foot passes after some poor decision making by Matt Rosa. He bolted into the goals and kicked accurately to give the Kangaroos the first score. The Eagles earned the next couple of goals from their intense forward pressure and tackling. Josh Hill took a strong mark in front of goals for their first and a sloppy kick-in from the Kangaroos saw Chris Masten adding their second just minutes later.
Brent Harvey evened the goal score after a clever kick deep in the pocket on the run, but most of the game was being played in the Eagles’ forward half. Accurate kicking by the Kangaroos was keeping them in the game. Quinten Lynch scored next for the Eagles after a classic rundown of Jack Ziebell who tried to take the press on by himself. North Melbourne had dodged a bullet so far as the Eagles were converting very poorly from their shots on goal. However it seemed that every time the Kangaroos burst inside their own 50 meter arc they kicked truly. They scored the next two goals, one to Jamie MacMillan and the next to Ben Cunnington to take the lead just before the end of the first quarter. When Luke Shuey was awarded a free kick for a high tackle in front of goals, his conversion gave the Eagles a four point lead at the change.
North Melbourne came out hard in the second quarter scoring the first three goals. MacMillan intercepted from a turnover and ran straight in to kick a goal. Daniel Wells scored their next with a cracking run and bounce over 70 meters to have the home side reeling on the ropes. Lindsay Thomas made the most of a Daniel Kerr mistake and the Kangaroos had scored all of their seven goals from Eagles’ turnovers. Meanwhile down the other end the Eagles were botching their attempts on goal, kicking point after point. It was a strange affair as most of the game was being played at West Coast’s end but the Kangaroos would bound through the press and score with regularity. Towards the end of the first half, the Eagles fought their way back into the contest when Hill took a great lead-up mark to convert. This was followed by a trademark Shannon Hurn goal as he drifted up from the back line to launch a long 50 meter kick that went straight over the goal umpire’s hat. Finally a quick goal snap out of a ruck contest by Scott Selwood had the game back on an even keel. The Eagles went into the main break ahead by eight points.
Michael Firrito was playing a cracking game at full back and his heroics were keeping the Eagles from running away with the game. In attack however the Kangaroos were playing a rugby style game with everyone behind the ball passing it backwards to set up running players to receive. The tactic paid off occasionally, none better than when Harvey received a crisp Andrew Swallow handball to break through the defensive lines and score the first goal of the third quarter. However the Eagles put their foot to the metal and when Lycett took a strong mark to goal from 20 meters in front followed by a Jack Darling goal, the 16 point margin looked like the end for the Kangaroos. North players were having none of it and stunned everyone by kicking the next three goals to steal the lead. It was as if West Coast had eased off the pressure, thinking they had done enough. Goals to the Kangaroos from a 50 meter penalty for mouthing off at the umpire, strong marks and long bombs to the forward line had them rewriting the equation.
Hurn showed true leadership qualities when he gathered the ball from 50 meters out and took the responsibility to slot a much-needed goal for West Coast. This woke up his teammates and Hill followed up quickly, swooping like a hungry seagull on a ball knocked clear of the pack and sending it through the goal posts. When Rosa goaled for the Eagles, they had dominated the latter part of the quarter and held a 19 point lead. This was cut back to 13 points when Cunnington executed a clever banana kick to goal as the term drew to a close.
It was a tough contest and anyone’s game at this point. North Melbourne always perform well at Patersons Stadium and there was a sense that they were on a roll. West Coast decided to put this one to bed and rattled off the first three goals of the quarter, giving them the last six goals out of seven scored. Both teams had activated their substitutes to bring some fresh legs into the game but it was clear that the rest of the players were tired and errors were creeping into their disposals. Still North Melbourne would not give the game up. They bounced back as the final minutes ticked down with three more goals and it wasn’t until Shuey took a strong mark and subsequent goal that the game was sealed for the home side. In the end the Eagles were comfortable 15 point winners but they had to play out the whole game to get there. Eagle Josh Hill won the Glen Jackovich medal for best on ground.
Next week the Eagles travel to Melbourne for a tough encounter with Essendon while North Melbourne will face the under-performing Western Bulldogs.
See Dave Woodley's photos of the action at: http://www.afana.com/drupal5/category/image_galleries/2012_season/home_and_away_games/round_6_west_coast_v_north_melbourne/14-211
Scoreboard West Coast: 4.4 7.10 12.15 17.18 (120) North Melbourne: 4.0 7.2 12.2 15.5 (95) Best Players West Coast: Hill, Hurn, Cox, Waters, S Selwood, Glass North Melbourne: Firrito, Bastinac, Adams, Harvey, Wells, Cunnington
Article last changed on Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 6:15 AM EDT