Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
With 16 consecutive winning games at Patersons Stadium, the West Coast Eagles were favorites to win against the Carlton Blues. This was the 600th game for West Coast since entering the competition in 1987. Carlton has been on a slide going down as they struggle to win with key players out injured. The Eagles were coming off a bye and were well rested ahead of the game played in wet and wintry conditions.
Carlton’s big ruckman, Matthew Kreuzer got them off to a flying start with a clever snap on goal from deep in the pocket on his left foot. The Eagles looked rattled by the quick conversion but soon came back to even up the game. With their forward press working superbly, most of the game was soon being played at West Coast’s end. Luke Shuey was everywhere and drilled a crisp foot pass to Quinten Lynch for the first Eagles’ goal of the quarter. Daniel Kerr kicked their next with the help of a 50 meter penalty and this was followed up by a trademark Will Schofield 55 meter punt for their third. It was Carlton’s turn to feel the pressure and squeezed they were. Their main possession winners from previous weeks had hardly touched the ball and all of their players struggled to take marks when needed. Their only means of attack was to try and kick the ball over the press and have their speedsters in Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett beat their opponents in a foot race. Andrew Walker kicked a timely goal for the Blues as the quarter wound down when, against the flow, he read the ball off the back of the pack and kicked accurately. The Blues trailed by six points at the end of the quarter.
While they were dominating possession, the Eagles could not kick the ball accurately on goals and would have put the game to bed early in the match had they done so. Carlton had no drive through the middle and Blues' players were applying very little tackling pressure. It looked as though they were done for when West Coast regained their accuracy through a Jack Darling goal. Ashton Hams made the most of a dreadful kick-in by the Blues, scoring another for the Eagles who began to take command of the game. Carlton, although starved of the ball, were much more accurate with their chances. When Garlett and Dennis Armfield steadied the Blues’ ship with goals, they were in a much better frame of mind and began playing the game at their own pace. Andrew Carrazzo was instrumental in setting up the latter goal and his return from a horror run with a shoulder injury gave the Blues some added pace and intensity. The two late goals gave the Blues momentum as the half ended and they were buoyant as they left the ground for the long break, trailing by a manageable 14 points. The Eagles’ tally of 12 behinds told the tale of what might have been if they had converted some of them into majors.
When the third quarter got underway it was clear that the Blues had analyzed their tactics and with the help of some spirited tackling, they brought the game right up to the Eagles. This time they were the team that had the ball in their forward half and they peppered the goals in a mirror image of the first half. Kreuzer and Lachie Henderson kicked their fifth and sixth goals to tie the game up. With West Coast’s last scoring shots at two goals and 11 behinds, they were in danger of being blown out of the water at this point in the game. Their one-man highlight reel, Nic Naitanui tried to inject some of his magic when he kicked what will be known as the “point of the century”. In the ruck contest in the middle of the ground Naitanui knocked the ball to himself, handballed it over the top to himself, tapped the ball over an opponent’s head to himself, then ran to the 50 meter line and kicked a monster drop punt. The crowd was on its feet cheering him on but the ball drifted offline at the last moment for a point. It would have been one of the best goals ever kicked if it had gone through straight. It wasn’t enough to spark his team however as Zac Tuohy, an imported Irish football player, boomed a 55 meter kick through for the Blues’ next goal. The Eagles limped to the siren trailing by three points after Dean Cox kicked their only goal for the quarter late in the piece. They also substituted Lynch for Tom Swift in the hope of injecting some run into their game.
There must have been some spice in the third quarter address by coach John Worsfold because the Eagles came out after the break with a fire lit under them. Darling was the catalyst as he kicked their next two goals to give them some breathing space. His run and chase and his determined pressure to hold the ball into the attacking zone were a delight to watch. Alarm bells were ringing at Carlton and they made their substitution with Andrew Collins coming on for Chris Yarran. When Cox kicked West Coast’s next with the aid of a much-discussed 50 meter penalty resulting from a Chris Judd bump on a passing Eagles player, the game looked out of reach for the visitors. Judd, Captain of the 2006 West Coast Premiership team and a former hometown favorite hero, found himself booed by the crowd with every possession and took his frustration out at the wrong time. Naitanui was throwing everything into his game and his hard ball get and subsequent goal to Jacob Brennan put the sealer on the match. To their credit, Carlton fought it out to the end and kicked the last two goals to bring the margin to within 10 points. Had the game gone longer they may well have pinched the victory.
West Coast move back to sit on top of the Ladder equal with Collingwood on points but ahead on percentage. These two teams play each other next round in what may well be a Grand Final preview. Carlton is in ninth position with 24 points, behind St Kilda and ahead of Richmond and Fremantle on percentage. With a much-needed bye next round they will have a rest and time to consider how their season has hit the skids after its highly-vaunted beginning.
Scoreboard West Coast: 3.3 5.12 6.17 10.19 (79) Carlton: 2.3 4.4 8.8 10.9 (69) Best Players West Coast: Naitanui, S Selwood, Shuey, Priddus, Glass, Darling Carlton: Carrazzo, Kreuzer, Duigan Robinson, Henderson
Article last changed on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 3:03 AM EDT