AFL 1 year ago

Round 19 Preview: Fremantle vs. West Coast

Fremantle and West Coast meet in the 44th Western Derby in what has been a low key build up compared to previous years. The Dockers season has been over since very early on in the year, while the Eagles will make finals, but on current form are unlikely to challenge too seriously for the premiership.

With the two sides on opposite ends of the ladder, there is little anticipation of the game, although the Dockers won’t throw the season away, with senior players still playing and the team intent on winning games before the season ends. No doubt they would enjoy upsetting West Coast as they look towards the finals. Will Schofield becomes a life member with the Eagles in playing game 150.

The Form

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West Coast have been ordinary for the past month, and were finally made to pay with a 19 point loss to Collingwood last week. Their ability to grind out wins against lower placed opposition has papered a number of issues that were finally exposed against the Magpies. Many Eagles have failed to improve or have even declined on their 2015 seasons, with the likes of Mark Le Cras, Chris Masten and Will Schofield the main personnel identified.

Since winning a block of three games from Round 10 – 12, the Dockers have fallen back to their form from the start of the season, culminating in a 90 point thrashing at the hands of Sydney last week, in Matthew Pavlich’s 350th game. Lachie Neale continues to be the shining light at the Dockers, with many of the other senior players either inconsistent with form or sidelined through injury. Many of the Fremantle youngsters have been exposed in 2016 as the Dockers are looking towards the future.

The Recent History

The Eagles are looking to make it three wins in a row, having won the meeting earlier in the year, and the second derby in 2015. In Round 3, the Eagles won by 33 points, but were made to work, with the Dockers closing to within 1 point at one stage in the final quarter. The Eagles ultimately ran away with the contest booting the final five goals of the game. Andrew Gaff collected the Ross Glendinning medal for best afield, while Matt Priddis and Luke Shuey both had 31 disposals. Lachie Neale and Nat Fyfe both had 26 disposals to lead the Dockers.

Overall, the Eagles lead the count 23-20, but the Dockers closed the deficit to 1, following seven consecutive victories from 2012 to 2015. West Coast have won the past two to give themselves some breathing space in the head-to-head.

The Teams

The Eagles again make four changes, welcoming back a host of important players. Nic Naitanui is the big inclusion, with West Coast crying out for his return, on the back of abysmal numbers regarding clearances. Elliot Yeo comes in after being a late withdrawal last week, with Jackson Nelson and Jack Redden also both returning. The Eagles were smashed at the stoppages last week, so Yeo and Redden will provide important reinforcements in this area.

Eric Mackenzie is the big omission from last week, with the 2014 club champion dropped for a second time this season. Mackenzie just hasn’t been able to work his way into the new structure and looks he may struggle to regain his spot again. Malcolm Karpany is omitted following his debut game last week, while Sam Butler and Liam Duggan couldn’t be considered, with the pair suffering from a groin and calf injury, respectively.

Simon Tunbridge retains his spot, despite just eight possessions and no goals against the Magpies, while the likes of Masten and Le Cras could consider themselves lucky that players who are performing at East Perth haven’t come in and taken their spot. The Royals had the bye last weekend, meaning the likes of Ellis, McGinnity and Lamb were unable to push for senior selection.

The Dockers made four changes, bringing in Aaron Sandilands for his first game since Round 3, when he was crunched by Naitanui resulting in rib and lung injuries. Hayden Ballantyne returns from a fractured cheekbone, while Michael Apeness and Ethan Hughes are rewarded for strong form at Peel Thunder.

Zac Dawson will serve the first week of a three week suspension for a crude hit on Jake Lloyd. Matt de Boer, Matt Taberner and Cameron Sutcliffe were all dropped. Apeness booted five goals for the Thunder and replaces Taberner, as the Dockers continue to work out who will be the successor to Matthew Pavlich, once he retires at season’s end.

The Talking Points

How vital will the ruck battle be?

Simply, it could shape who wins. Both teams bring back their premier ruckman and whoever can get on top in this battle and provide the first ball to the respective midfielders will go a long way to winning. Minus Naitanui, the Eagles have struggled in contested possessions and clearances. West Coast have lost the clearance count in every game they have played in his absence.

In 2016, with Nic Naitanui in the side, the Eagles have ranked #1 in hit-outs difference and hit-outs to advantage, #5 in clearance differences and #6 in contested possessions difference. But in the six games without him, the Eagles drop to 18th, 17th, 18th and 15th in those areas. Although the Eagles have maintained their scoring proficiency from clearances, which has been the best avenue in 2016, the drop in advantage they have enjoyed through the first half of the season has impacted on the Eagles control of the ball forward of centre, and the ball they have conceded in the defensive half. Opposition sides have had more chances to score, with higher numbers of inside-50’s.

Sandilands also provides the Fremantle midfielders with first use, with his height and size, and has often troubled Naitanui in past games, by being able to stop Naitanui from running and jumping at ball-ups. Sandilands was probably best on ground in Round 3, before he was put of the game. The Dockers were controlling the clearances up until Sandilands’ injury and held the lead, but once the big ruckman went down, the Eagles got back into the contest.

Does Simpson need to be more inventive with the side?

Commentary during the week centred around Adam Simpson’s resistance to move players around the ground. Many players that have been out of form, or have failed to improve on last year, have generally been left in their positions with no real switching of players during games.

It certainly appears that Simpson could be more inventive with the positions of his players. Suggestions during the week included Wellingham being moved to the midfield, along with Hurn and Darling, Josh Hill moved to half-back, Le Cras to stay as a permanent forward and Gaff to attend more centre bounces. All moves have merit, and even just the movement of players from quarter to quarter may be a proactive strategy to mix up structures and force opposition sides to counter positional changes.

Jeremy McGovern is another one that could benefit the side, with stints in the forward line. Tom Barrass has shown that he could fill the intercepting role that McGovern excels in, allowing Mitch Brown to return to the side where he belongs as a lockdown key defender.

The Result?

The Dockers have shown a knack of winning games they aren’t necessarily favourites in and this could be a perfect opportunity to disrupt the finals plans of their cross town rivals. Both teams will be keen to bounce back from disappointing performances in Round 19, but the Eagles have a lot more to play for, and should win.

West Coast by 17.

Will Schofield is the 4th player to play his 150th game in a Western Derby, following Mitchell White, Ben Cousins and Matthew Rosa. (@WCEHistory)

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