Chris Kowald reporting fro AFANA from Optus Stadium, Perth
West Coast defeated a gallant Geelong in a game that will be remembered for its extraordinary changes in momentum and fortune. An epic game against Hawthorn, a six-day break and a trip on the road, seemed to have taken its toll on the Geelong midfielders. West Coast started with purpose with repeated pushes forward. After three entries into the attacking zone, Nic Naitanui scrambled the first goal from short range.
The Cats seemed lethargic early, as sloppy ball use led to turnovers. Consequently, the Geelong defense was placed under extreme pressure for the first fifteen minutes but resolutely repelled most Eagle attacks. Despite this strong defense, the Eagles’ small men, Dom Sheed and Liam Ryan were able to nip in to space kick majors. Midway through the quarter Geelong settled into their natural game and moved the ball quickly towards goal. Geelong’s ruckman Esava Ratugolea, like his West Coast opponent, Nic Naitanui, is of Fijian descent and at times showed similar qualities in his play. Naitanui had the better of Ratugolea in the ruck but at the 16-minute mark the younger man lifted Geelong with a goal, his second in three games. Late turnovers by Geelong led to quick West Coast counterattacks, with long kicks to both Jack Redden and Jack Darling. Redden marked and converted at the 25-minute mark and then Marc LeCras manufactured a goal at the 30-minute mark.
In the second quarter, the normally free-flowing Geelong switched tactics and slowed the tempo of the game to limit damage and perhaps conserve energy. They meticulously moved the ball across field and picked loose players to work the ball into attack. Geelong’s young ruckman, Ratugolea, again came under notice by taking strong marks around the ground. The Eagles final line of defense stood firm, preventing any goals. Midfielders Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed and Luke Shuey collected plenty of possessions for the Eagles and half-way through the quarter the Eagles broke the shackles for three damaging minutes. Firstly, with a quick rebound from defense to allow Liam Ryan to run free and goal. Then at the next center bounce, Naitanui tapped to Shuey who ran out of the center and kicked long to score a long goal. A minute later a clever shot from half forward by, Andrew Gaff, increased the lead. The Cats failed to score a goal for the quarter despite eleven attacking entries.
The game turned dramatically in the third quarter. Geelong coach Chris Scott restructured the set-up at bouncedowns so that Gary Ablett started behind the ball in a defensive position. Ablett used his experience at the clearances to set up attacks. The Cats restarted their running game and exposed the Eagles with their use of the center corridor and long kicking. Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Zach Tuohy were at their damaging best. The small men for the Cats took their opportunities up forward, with Sam Menegola, Lachie Fogarty, Tuohy and Daniel Menzel all kicking goals. Then Tom Hawkins made his presence felt with two goals towards the end of the quarter. The Eagles’ attacking entries gave them just two additional points as the Geelong defense dominated and Geelong hit the lead.
Three minutes into the final quarter the Cats were left with just one interchange player, as Ablett injured a hamstring and headed to the bench to sit with Cameron Guthrie and Nakia Cockatoo-Collins, who were injured in the second and third terms respectively. For the first seven minutes the Cats attacked, only to score behinds (worth one point each). The Eagles sensed blood and applied more pressure in the midfield, which led to LeCras scoring at the 8-minute mark. Geelong though, still dominated at the stoppages and the mobile Ratugolea kicked his second goal two minutes later. After nineteen minutes of frenzied play, the game took its final dramatic twist, as the exhausted Cats ran out of gas. Darling took big marks and kicked two goals and then Liam Ryan added one in quick succession. The gates burst open and the home team feasted on the Cats with late goals to Dom Sheed, LeCras and Sheed again. Geelong forward, Tom Hawkins, marked just before the final siren. His shot after the siren was accurate; and showed that Cats may live again.
Scores West Coast Eagles: 4.6 7.9 7.11 14.11 (95) Geelong Cats: 2.2 2.7 8.10 11.14 (80) Best West Coast Eagles: Naitanui, Gaff, Sheed, Shuey, Hurn, Waterman Geelong Cats: Dangerfield, Menegola, Tuohy, S Selwood, Ablett
Article last changed on Monday, April 09, 2018 - 4:28 PM EDT