Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
At the end of the last round, Sydney Swans found themselves on top of the AFL Ladder by what looked like a feat of legerdemain. Throughout the season the Swans have quietly crept up the table under the radar of their opponents and must now be seen as serious Grand Final contenders. The West Coast Eagles were below them in second position prior to the round but needed to win this important match up to stay in touch for the all-important double chance in the Finals.
West Coast started as favorites at their home ground and got off to a cracking start. Neophyte Murray Newman burst through a pack and snapped a left foot goal - his third in only his third game. The Eagles applied ferocious forward pressure and kept the ball locked into their forward zone. Under these conditions, sooner or later a defensive player is going to make a mistake. Brad Sheppard was the beneficiary of just such an error when he was awarded a free kick directly in front of goals to post the Eagles’ second. Another free kick and a 50 meter penalty saw Scott Selwood post the Eagles’ third in a row, much to the home crowd’s delight. West Coast was dictating the game’s fast pace and Sydney players could not get their hands on the ball to make an impact. Swans' coach John Longmire could see the writing on the wall so he moved some key players into the middle. Almost instantly Sydney began to shut down the Eagles by dominating the ruck and clearance contests. They stopped the Eagles cold and piled on the next four goals to stamp their authority on the game. Lewis Jetta kicked their first when he sprinted through the middle of the ground to thump a 52 meter punt straight through the goal posts. It was perfect football - ruck tap to the rover, pass to the player sprinting past, a couple of bounces on the run and finish with a goal. Sydney’s Craig Bird and Josh Kennedy were getting their share of possessions and firing up their team mates. Sam Reid kicked the Swans’ next when he benefited from a free kick to score from 30 meters out. Within the space of a few minutes the Eagles were playing “rope-a-dope” as the assault hit them. Jarrad McVeigh, the master around the stoppages, threw the next jab when he goaled after a boundary throw-in. Jack Darling steadied the ship for the Eagles with an important goal, but when Reid kicked another for Sydney on the siren, the alarm bells were sounding. The Swans took a four point lead into the first break and were looking better than their opponents on the big ground at Patersons.
It was an arm wrestle early in the second quarter but the Swans took the advantage with a fast break style of play to beat the Eagles’ press. Jetta took the ball off a West Coast fumble to score his second goal. Sydney scored the next two as well with Lewis Roberts-Thomson marking in the forward line from a superb drill pass on the chest from Nick Malceski. Adam Goodes, who had been quiet so far in the match, used his childhood soccer skills to dribble the ball along the ground after another fast attack by the Swans. The goal hemorrhage was stemmed as the Eagles decided enough was enough and fought their way back with the next three goals in a row. It took 16 minutes to do it but Dean Cox kicked their first for the second quarter after he was awarded a free kick for being held in front of goals. Darling took a strong mark in the square for another goal to bring the margin back. When Chris Masten sprinted away from a turnover, bounced three times and kicked their next, the Eagles were back in the game. Unfortunately they couldn’t maintain the rage. Big Canadian recruit Mike Pike showed some of his touch-finding rugby league skills when he steered a dribbler through from the boundary. Jude Bolton was the beneficiary of another surge through the center and his goal gave Sydney a 15 point lead as the half ended.
A 50 meter penalty to substitute Andrejs Everitt gave Sydney a gift goal as the third term started. Everitt was activated over the break after Roberts-Thompson took a hard hit to the head in a contested ball in the first half and was ferried to hospital. It was the beginning of the end for the Eagles. They managed to score only a solitary goal when Nic Naitanui marked in the square. It was his first real contribution to the game as his ruck work had been negated by Pike for most of the afternoon. The Swans were workman-like in their destruction of the Eagles. It was nothing flashy, just the basics executed with precision. The Eagles were starved of possession and when they did get the ball, it was taken back off them in pickpocket style. Bird did exactly that to Shannon Hurn when Hurn thought the ball had crossed the boundary line deep in the forward pocket for the Swans. The ball was still in play and Bird grabbed it and slammed it on his boot. The ball went a mile high and four meters long. Unfortunately for the Eagles, it crossed the goal line in its travels right between the big sticks. Jetta tightened the screws late in the quarter with his third goal and the Swans pulled away from the Eagles to take a 20 point lead. The Eagles made their substitution, removing Darling for Koby Stevens. Darling must have been injured because the obvious player to be taken off the field would have been Tom Swift. He was having such a bad day that even his own teammates seemed reluctant to kick him the ball. In one glaring example, Hurn was returning the ball to play after a point. Swift was 25 meters in the clear down the central corridor but Hurn elected to ignore him and kick long to a contest instead. It was obvious that even the Sydney players were not bothering to man up on Swift as they knew he was not going to get the ball.
West Coast started the final term with a sense of urgency and renewed vigor. Masten got them on the board early when he converted after taking a mark in the goal square. They were attacking with purpose but Ted Richards was magnificent in the last line of defense for Sydney, turning back all attacks by taking strong, contested marks deep in the back line. His work gave his forwards the confidence to launch a counter-attack of their own and it effectively ended any fight the Eagles had. Bolton proceeded to take the opposition apart with two goals as the Swans persisted with the successful fast break style against the Eagles’ defense. The Swans’ engine room was working at full steam delivering the ball inside 50 meters with great regularity. Kennedy, Reid and Jetta put the final nails in the Eagles’ coffin when they scored goals late in the game to blow the margin right out. Masten popped up for his cameo third goal late in the game but the damage had been well and truly done on the scoreboard and to the Eagles’ position on the ladder.
West Coast slide down to fifth position on the Ladder after the loss, while the Swans fly high on top. It was their sixth consecutive win over the Eagles and they will have the wood on them if they meet in the Finals. Sydney will play some tough teams in the run home but should secure a double chance for some home ground games in the Finals series. West Coast will be lucky to make the Top Four, but fifth position will at least secure them a home ground playoff game.
Scoreboard West Coast: 4.3 7.7 8.8 10.9 (69) Sydney: 5.1 10.4 13.8 18.13 (121) Best Players West Coast: Selwood, Gaff, Brennan, Masten, Kerr, Sydney: O’Keefe, Hanneberry, Jack, Grundy, McVeigh
Article last changed on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 9:49 AM EDT