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Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Domain Stadium Perth, Australia

The West Coast Eagles showed steely resolve to stare down the North Melbourne Kangaroos to claim their first top eight scalp of the season. With only eight teams making the postseason, and the difficulty in making a postseason run going up with every spot down the standings, this match was crucial to both clubs.
Thomas Flies
The high stakes of this game included a bonus that the winner could go as high as fifth spot on the ladder and be virtually guaranteed a finals appearance in September. The losing team would be left vulnerable to the pack of the tightly bunched teams around them and teams outside the top eight.

With Nick Naitanui still injured, backup ruckman Scott Lycett had the unenviable task of competing with All-Australian Ruckman Todd Goldstein. Lycett showed aggression and had his moments, but he was mostly beaten by Goldstein who won an astounding 65 hitouts during the game. His taps gave North's Andrew Swallow and Sam Gibson first use of the ball, particularly at center bounces. Despite this dominance, the home side's midfielders, Matt Priddis and Luke Shuey broke even in the clearances. They sharked their share of Goldstein's work and frequently sent a quick handpass to Andrew Gaff, who played his usual role outside of the packs and moved the ball quickly forward.

The difference between the two teams was in what they did with the ball after it cleared  the stoppages. West Coast's kicking was accurate and they kicked to position to give their big forwards, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling, every chance to mark the ball. No Eagle gave a better demonstration of precise delivery than their captain, Shannon Hurn, who repeatedly drove his team into attack from the halfback line. On a windy and damp day, all of Hurn's kicks hit the intended target. The Kangaroos were considerably less effective with their kicking. This made it more of a gamble for their big forwards Drew Petrie and Ben Brown, when they led to the ball. Despite this, they still took some good marks. Brown in particular, showed some freakish ability in the air and on the ground. Both teams flooded players into their respective back lines which made scoring difficult for both sides. On more than one occasion, defenders moved the ball out of defense to either an empty forward line, or a row of opposition players stationed across the center. West Coast defenders Brad Sheppard and Jeremy McGovern also pulled down some big marks to hold up North Melbourne attacks. At the other end of the ground Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson used good judgement to thwart the Eagles' sorties. The scores remained close for most of the first half, but West Coast was able to establish a lead of three goals just before the main break. Some spite crept into the game and the umpires responded by awarding free kicks when perhaps, at other times, they may have let the game flow more freely. A few undisciplined and careless acts by the North players, gave the Eagles 50 meter penalties and some easy goals. 

For the first twenty minutes of the third quarter the Eagles dominated the midfield and skipped away from the undermanned Roos. A brief shower of rain made the conditions slippery and the Eagles handled the wet ball with more assurance than the visitors. Gaff and Patrick McGinnity scored early and then LeCras kicked another goal at the ten minute mark. In the time-on period, North finally rolled the dice with goals to Trent Drummond and a lively Ben Brown. North had a brief sniff of success. However, Josh Kennedy snuffed their hopes just before the siren with his fourth goal.

In the final quarter, fatigue became a factor for North as injuries had left them with just two fit men on the bench. Their chips were down as the Eagles continued to run to contests. After seven minutes of play, both LeCras and Chris Masten had scored majors (goals) to push the Eagles' lead to 46 points at one stage. North, to their credit did not drop their hand. Brown scored an amazing goal for the Roos while he was being tackled on the boundary in the right forward pocket. Somehow he managed to hook the ball with his right boot to find the opening between the goalposts. Lindsay Thomas, who had been strangely ineffective, sprang to life and aced two goals in quick succession. However, West Coast then mercilessly re-applied their midfield pressure to stare down North who were unable to score again. At the 27 minute mark, Jamie Cripps kicked his third goal for the Eagles but by then, the game was well and truly done.

North came into the game undermanned and suffered additional injuries during the afternoon. In their gamble to physically challenge the Eagles, they sometimes crossed the line into undisciplined play; and the scoreboard consequences were costly.  They now face four consecutive games against sides that sit below them on the ladder. This may give them the chance to find their best form before they meet Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong in the last three games of the regular season. If they lose one of the next four, they may be in peril of missing the finals. West Coast also have a relatively friendly draw until they meet the Giants, Hawthorn and Adelaide in the last three games but have two trips to the MCG where wins have been scarce in recent seasons. The Eagles will continue to move up the ladder. Their challenge will be to produce their 'A' game in the weeks before the finals.

Scores

West Coast Eagles:         3.2 9.4 13.7 16.8 (104)
North Melbourne Kangaroos: 2.3 6.4  8.4 11.6  (72)

Best

West Coast Eagles:         Shuey, Priddis, Hurn, Kennedy, McGovern
North Melbourne Kangaroos: Gibson, Ziebell, Goldstein, Brown, Swallow 

Article last changed on Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 12:07 PM EDT


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