The West Coast Eagles won a Sunday thriller to end their run of losses and halt the Greater Western Sydney Giants’ surge towards the finals. The Giants threw everything they had at the Eagles and it was only their inaccuracy in front of goals that cost them the game. Both teams were missing key personnel in their respective forward areas, but the Eagles manufactured goals when needed, and the Giants were off line at key moments.
The game was played at a fierce pace with both teams moving the ball quickly with handball and long kicks into forward lines. West Coast’s Nic Naitanui dominated the Giants’ journeyman ruckman Dawson Simpson at bouncedowns and throw-ins, allowing the Eagle midfielder’s Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, and Jack Redden to gain an advantage in clearances. However, when the ball was kicked long to the Eagle forwards, the tall Giant defenders Sam Taylor, Adam Corr and Phil Davis spoiled the kicks repeatedly.
The Eagles played Jeremy McGovern in the forward zone but he could only manage two marks (catches) for the game. The Eagles also alternated the returning Nathan Vardy and Scott Lycett up forward. Lycett took six marks but Vardy appeared less than fully fit and failed to take a grab. The Giants’ big forwards had more success in the air. Youngster Harry Himmelberg took seven marks, Rory Lobb took six, and former Bulldog Sam Reid took four.
The Giants were more impressive in the midfield. Many teams use numerous very short handpasses to work the ball out of congestion, frequently passing the ball to a player close to the pack, who is then tackled and forced to handball to a nearby player who is also under pressure. The Giant midfielders such as Dylan Shiel, Josh Kelly, and Stephen Coniglio (with the knowledge that there were always one or two Giants placing themselves about ten meters off the congestion) had the confidence to handball long to clear the ball from packs. This tactic opened the game up and brought their high pace outside players, such as Lachie Whitfield and Nick Haynes, into the game. In contrast, the Eagles’ midfield relied on the individual brilliance of Gaff and Shuey to use their ability to dodge and weave to clear the ball.
In a pulsating first half, the lead changed eight times. Despite the quick movement of the ball through the midfield, the dominance of the defenders meant that scores were low. Tall Giants defender, Adam Tomlinson, spent periods of time in the forward line and was the top goal scorer with three goals for the game. Himmelberg also booted two for the Giants. The Eagles had a host of smaller player kick two goals each; and Jeremy McGovern made the most of his three kicks for the day, by scoring two goals and one point.
The Eagles kicked four goals straight in the third quarter while the Giants were wasteful by kicking four goals and four points. The highlight of the quarter was Naitanui’s first mark for the game, which will be a contender for mark of the year. At the 23-minute mark the Giants built momentum with a goal to Tomlinson, which was followed quickly by Matt De Boer converting from a free kick.
The final quarter began with minor scores to both teams, as the ball ricocheted from end to end. The arm wrestle was broken by Giant midfielder, Josh Kelly, who stepped out of trouble brilliantly to center the ball to Himmelberg, who marked in the goal square and kicked truly. Ten minutes into the quarter, a poor defensive kick by Eagles’ small man, Willie Rioli, gifted a mark to Giants’ midfielder Brent Daniels, who handballed to Lachie Whitfield, who then kicked a long distance goal. Whitfield’s effort put the Giants in front for the first time since halfway through the second quarter. Rioli redeemed himself two minutes later by keeping the ball alive in the forward pocket and then knocking it to Gaff who goaled. A further two minutes later Himmelberg tackled Eagles’ defender Tom Cole to win a free kick and kick another 6 points to put the Giants in front by one.
With the crowd at fever pitch, the Eagles scored two more points before Rioli took a clever mark against Aidan Corr at the 21-minute mark. Rioli’s shot on goal from fifty meters put the Eagles eight points up. A minute later McGovern played the advantage from a free kick to stretch the lead. The Giants attacked twice more but only scored behinds when they could easily have been goals, leaving the Giants two goals short of a desperately needed victory.
Next week the Giants host Richmond at Spotless Stadium in a game the Giants must win to stay in touch with the top eight teams. The Eagles travel to the MCG to tackle the Collingwood Magpies in a crucial battle between second and third on the ladder. With just 7 games remaining, each game rises in importance.
Scores West Coast Eagles 1.2 6.3 10.3 13.8 (86) GWS Giants 2.2 3.8 7.12 10.15(75) Best West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Yeo, Redden, Shuey, Hurn GWS Giants: Coniglio, Ward, Taranto, Whitfield, Kelly
Article last changed on Sunday, July 08, 2018 - 3:48 PM EDT