Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
Critics of the West Coast Eagles have been silenced after a hard fought win over St Kilda. Commentators had declared the Eagles soft, saying their successful season start was because they had only played teams outside the Top Eight. In Round 8, with a forward line decimated through injury, the Eagles stood up and regained their position on top of the table. Not that it was easy, with the Saints mounting a solid challenge interstate.
Nick Riewoldt got the Saints off to a good start with a straight kick and goal on the run. As is becoming the norm, both teams had an extra man on the half back line, which made penetration into the forward arc difficult. The game started at a frantic pace and it was the Eagles who had the most running and tackling pressure. Luke Shuey, who is maintaining an extraordinary run of good form, took a strong mark and kicked accurately from deep on the boundary. From there on it was one-way traffic. The Eagles kicked the next five goals in a row and looked likely to run away with the game. Brad Sheppard was outstanding in producing one of the unheralded “one percenters” (a small act of courage which leads to larger things). As the Saints were bringing the ball out from deep in the back line, he dived onto the clearing kick and smothered it out of bounds. The resulting throw in saw a ruck infringement free kick paid to Dean Cox and he went on to score a goal. When St Kilda's ruckman Rhys Stanley pulled a hamstring and was substituted out of the game, things were looking grim for the visitors. They trailed by 28 points at the end of the first quarter, having kicked a solitary goal.
It turned into a goal fest during the second quarter with Riewoldt again scoring first. Cox quickly got the momentum back for the Eagles. Playing in the forward line, he was putting on a show with strong marking and accurate kicking for goals. His height made it hard for the opposition defenders to get near the ball in marking contests. Jason Gram took advantage of a short boundary throw in and floated a punt kick though the goals to keep the Saints within striking distance. The Eagles had removed their extra back man and were concentrating more on offense at this stage of the game. It worked a treat as they piled on goal after goal. Cox kicked his fourth late in the quarter but there was an even spread of nine goal kickers for the Eagles, showing their depth in attack. St Kilda had scored just enough to stay in the game, however they were in danger of being blown away as the half wound down, trailing by a whopping 49 points.
Coach Scott Watters must have read the riot act during the half time break because the Saints started the second half with more intent than they had previously shown. It was as if a switch had been flipped as they tacked with ferocity and started to pull back the lead the Eagles had built up. With five inside 50 meters to none early in the third quarter, they had goals to Jamie Cripps, Ahmed Saad and David Armitage and their tails in the air. They were winning the ball through the middle and hunting in packs, and the Eagles had only two goals to show for their efforts for the quarter. Cox kicked his fifth and Will Schofield drifted up from the back line to goal and wrest back some degree of control as the quarter ended. The Saints were well and truly up off the canvas, trailing by a manageable 21 points and looking at a final quarter strike to win the game.
West Coast struggled under the final term pressure and it was a real arm wrestle for control. It wasn’t until hallway through the quarter that Patrick McGinnity goaled to take the Eagles out to a more comfortable lead. This seemed to inspire the Saints who realized that the game was on the line and time was running out. Riewoldt kicked his fourth goal, quickly followed by Nick Dal Santo putting a shiver of alarm through the Eagles’ faithful. However the Saints had fired their shot and came up short. Shuey and Nic Naitanui put the sealers on the game with one goal apiece to see the Eagles win by a comfortable 30 points. It seemed that the Eagles thought they had the game won at half time and taken their foot off the gas. Against stronger teams this lack of offense would be bound to backfire and needs to be corrected.
St Kilda finds itself a game outside the Top Eight, while the Eagles are on top with the higher percentage. They will face Fremantle in the Western Derby next week while the Saints will have a tough encounter with the in-form Sydney Swans.
Scoreboard West Coast: 6.2 13.6 15.7 18.13 (121) St Kilda: 1.4 5.5 11.10 13.13 (91) Best Players West Coast: Cox, Shuey, Waters, S Selwood, Darling St Kilda: Jones, Riewoldt, Hayes, Montagna, Dal Santo
Article last changed on Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 9:26 PM EDT