AFL 2 years ago

Round 22 Preview: West Coast vs. Hawthorn

The Eagles and Hawks clash on a Friday night in Perth, as spots in the top four continue to heat up. Hawthorn sit a game clear at the top of the ladder, but a loss to West Coast could leave them vulnerable to dropping out of the top four. A Hawthorn should ensure that they claim the minor premiership.

West Coast have plenty to do to get into the top four, and even a win this week and next week may not be enough due to the likelihood that Sydney, Geelong and the Giants will sweep their remaining two games. Even so, the Eagles would at least want to secure a home elimination final for the first week, and a victory against the Hawks gives them the best opportunity.

The Form

The Eagles are one of the form teams in the competition with seven wins from their past eight starts, including a last gasp win against the Giants last week. The victory against the Giants is their most impressive of those wins, with only the faltering North Melbourne in the top eight. However, the win against the Giants, as well as the second half against the Dockers the week before showed signs of their best football, and would give hope that they can still have an impact in this year’s finals series.

Luke Shuey continues his fine season, collecting another set of maximum votes in the coaches award, with some pundits even considering the Eagle as an outsider for the Brownlow. Andrew Gaff has rebounded from a quiet period during the middle of the season, and Matthew Priddis is ever industrial. Dom Sheed managed 15 disposals, 5 tackles and a goal against the Giants, as he continues to build match fitness.

The Hawks rebounded from their shock loss to Melbourne a fortnight ago, to demolish the Kangaroos. Hawthorn kicked the first seven goals of the game and had North Melbourne’s measure for the remainder of the contest. Sam Mitchell tallied 37 disposals in a return to his early season form, while Isaac Smith and Brad Hill provided plenty of run on the wings. Hill, in particular, has been in career-best form, which has coincided with the revelation that Hill is seeking a move back to Western Australia.

The Recent History

The Hawks have had the upper hand in recent times, winning the past two games by 46 points. Unfortunately for Eagles fans, the first of those games was the 2015 Grand Final, with the chance for redemption in Round 2 of this year not faring much better. Josh Gibson was impenetrable in the Grand Final rematch, collecting 44 disposals and 9 marks.

Prior to the Grand Final, the Eagles demolished the Hawks in the Qualifying Final, leading by 50 points at three-quarter time, before easing back to a 32 point win. In the only home-and-away clash for 2015, the Hawks got over the line by 14 points at Subiaco, after the Eagles twice led by nearly four goals. The Hawks have dominated proceedings in recent times, having won seven of the past eight games between the two sides.

The Teams

The Eagles have made two forced changes with young players Simon Tunbridge and Tom Barrass unavailable for selection due to suspension and injury respectively. Tunbridge is unlikely to appear again in 2016, and may have played his final game with West Coast, after receiving a three-game suspension relating to two incidents involving Giant Adam Kennedy. Barrass is suffering from shin soreness and has been given time to recover for the finals.

Lewis Jetta receives yet another chance to impress at his new club, while Jackson Nelson has also been recalled to provide an option down back. Interestingly, neither Eric Mackenzie or Mitch Brown were considered to replace Barrass, although Mackenzie has been named as an emergency, leaving the door open for a possible late change. The Hawks have got both James Sicily and Tim O’Briren named as emergencies, so a change from them may lead to a change from West Coast.

The Hawks have gone in unchanged, following their crushing win over the Kangaroos, resisting for now to bring back Sicily, who missed last week through suspension. The Hawks may stick with a smaller mobile forward line, who could test the Eagles. The Eagles defensive mechanisms allow the likes of Paul Puopolo, Luke Bruest and Cyril Rioli to operate in space, and only Sam Butler could be deemed as a genuine lockdown defender. Cyril Rioli has arguably been best on ground in the past two clashes between the sides and will once again be a threat.

The Talking Points

Does Jetta deserve another chance?

The Eagles are clearly hopeful that by giving Jetta another chance, he might be able to hit some form coming into finals. Jetta looms as a possible x-factor in the Eagles finals campaign, considering that he has been unable to hit his stride so far in 2016. A match up against either Brad Hill or Isaac Smith on the wings of Subiaco, could allow Jetta to be at his attacking best.

Jetta was the leading possession winner at East Perth in their loss to Subiaco last week, with 24, and followed tallies of 23 and 16 in East Perth’s prior two games. Jetta hasn’t been setting the world on fire in the WAFL, but has been consistent with what the Eagles match committee have requested from him, and Jetta has one last opportunity in 2016 to prove that his recruitment can be a success.

Should Sam Mitchell get a tag?

The Eagles have refused to tag Sam Mitchell in many of the recent encounters, and time and again, the midfield dynamo has devastated West Coast. In four matches across the past two seasons, Mitchell has recorded possession counts of 37, 34, 35 and 36. The Eagles aren’t alone in choosing not to run with the former Hawks captain, due to the perception that many of his possessions aren’t damaging enough.

However, the stats show that when Mitchell struggles to get his hands on the ball, the Hawks struggle to win. The Hawks have lost in 30% of games where Mitchell has had less than 28 disposals, and being able to shut Mitchell out of the game, places extra pressure on the likes of Smith, Shiels and Hartung through the middle. With Jack Redden still sidelined, Mark Hutchings appears as the only option for West Coast, if they choose to tag Mitchell.

Can West Coast’s midfield start hitting the scoreboard?

One area of weakness identified with the Eagles in comparison to many other teams around them is the lack of goals scored by the midfield. However, that all changed against the Giants, with the Eagles enjoying a vast spread of goalkickers. Forwards Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps and Josh Hill all failed to hit the scoreboard last week, meaning that the midfielders were expected to step up. Matt Priddis, Nic Naitanui and Luke Shuey all booted two goals, while Dom Sheed, Mark Hutchings and half-back Brad Sheppard also kicked a goal each.

While Josh Kennedy has maintained his stellar 2015 season, to once again lead the Coleman with 70 goals from 20 games, too much of the scoring for West Coast has been reliant on Kennedy and Darling. Luke Shuey leads the bona fide midfielders with just 11 goals for the year, and is the only midfielder in double digits. Andrew Gaff (7), Jack Redden (5), Chris Masten (4), Matt Priddis (4), Lewis Jetta (4) and Liam Duggan (2) all average less than 0.5 goals a game, so there is certainly scope for West Coast to improve their potency in front of goal.

The Result?

A game that could genuinely go either way. Ladder position suggests that the Hawks should be favourites, but plenty are jumping on West Coast at home. Both teams have plenty to play for, but the Eagles season is on the line, and if they can play their absolute best, they should get over a Hawks side that still shows signs of inconsistency.

West Coast by 13.

West Coast and Hawthorn have met on a Friday night in Perth on five prior occasions. West Coast have won every time. (WCE_History)

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