In the final game for round one of 2020, the West Coast Eagles showed why they would be considered one of the favorites to win the competition this year. (Ed. note: the AFL has suspended the season until at least May 31st.) The home team enjoyed the warm day (88º F. ), but it was their team structure and discipline which cooked the visitors. Melbourne started the game determined to show they are a better team than results from last year suggested. However, it was their delivery into their attacking zone that demonstrated they had learned nothing over the summer break. By quarter time, the Eagles were up five-zero in goals and it was already clear that Melbourne lack the structure of the home side.
Former captain Todd Viney, and Christian Petracca, had plenty of the midfield balls and set up more forward entries than the Eagles' midfielders made. The Eagles were clinically efficient whenever they got hands on the leather. Melbourne played a spare man in defense, in an attempt to counter the clearance dominance of Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, and Tim Kelly at center bouncedowns. To an extent this worked, but it also allowed West Coast to also have their own spare man in their defense. When that spare man in the Eagles’ back line is one of the best intercept markers in the league, Jeremy McGovern, Melbourne should have avoided kicking the ball long into attack. They didn't and the Eagles’ defense feasted on loose balls. With monotonous regularity, the Eagle defensive system marked (caught) the ball on one side of the defense and transferred it across goals to be spat back into their own attack line. The Eagles maintained their zone defense structure for most of the game and only played man on man when Melbourne managed a quick turnover which didn’t give the Eagle defenders time to setup.
Eagles’ sharp shooter Josh Kennedy was held scoreless by the close checking of Melbourne defender Stephen May and the other Eagle in attack, Jack Darling, was also contained by the combined efforts of Melbourne defenders Oscar McDonald and James Harmes. However, the Eagles small attackers Liam Ryan, Dom Sheed, and Brendon Ah Chee broke free to share seven goals between them.
Melbourne captain Max Gawn had a rare occasion of being beaten in the ruck as his direct opponent, Nic Naitanui, jumped over him to win tap outs. Like his teammates, Gawn fought hard, but the skills of Naitanui beat him in the air and on the ground. Tim Kelly, was serviceable in his debut for the Eagles but it was Gaff and Shuey who carried the midfield. Gaff’s immediate opponent, former Fremantle Docker Ed Langdon, had plenty of possessions but was let down by poor decision making and poor kicking. When he should have kicked short to a forward making a lead, he kicked long, and when he did kick short it was to a man under pressure. His story encapsulated Melbourne’s day. Plenty of effort, but lacking in game day smarts.
The Demons draftee Kysaiah Pickett, made an encouraging debut and booted two goals. Melbourne full forward Tom McDonald was on the end of some pretty ordinary delivery and did well to manufacture two goals. However, after quarter time Melbourne were playing catch-up. The four behinds (worth a point each) that Melbourne booted in the first quarter should have been goals (worth 6 points each). The Eagles took full advantage of their shots and then moved into cruise control. Despite a commendable effort the Demons couldn’t bridge the gap.
The AFL is unsure when the next game will be played. This leaves Melbourne plenty of time to review their structures and bring their new players (of which they had five in this game) into the game plan. The Eagles have no such problem, with Brendon Ah Chee fitting in for the suspended Willie Rioli and former Cat, Tim Kelly, adding another dimension to an already very strong midfield.
Scores West Coast: 5.1 7.3 11.6 12.6 (78) Melbourne: 0.4 3.6 5.9 7.0 (51) Best West Coast: Naitanui, Gaff, Shuey, Sheed, Hurn Melbourne: Viney, Petracca, May, Brayshaw, Langdon
Article last changed on Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 11:23 AM EDT