The West Coast emphatically ended Melbourne’s fairytale September return, with a devastating performance on Saturday at Optus Stadium. In front of a record crowd for a sporting event in Western Australia, the Eagles were ferocious, continually forcing their opponents into error and ending the match as a contest well before half-time.
After becoming the first team to be still goalless at half-time of a final in over 90-years, the Demons produced a much improved effort in the second half. Seven second half goals finally giving their fans something to cheer about after the horror show of the first half.
West Coast have flown under the radar.
Bewilderingly, the majority of the Herald Sun’s expert tipsters picked Melbourne to prevail in this match. Given that the Eagles finished second, and had spent just two weeks outside the top two since round four, this is a staggering lack of respect for a team that has consistently been at the pointy end of the ladder this season. Given the Channel 7 Commentary team’s Friday night declaration of Collingwood as favourites regardless of who they played in the Grand Final, it’s unlikely that anything less than victory in the big one will change this underestimation of the boys from the west.
No Plan B for the Dees.
The Dees headed west with the intention of bringing their frenetic style of play, that had served them so well in the finals, to Optus Stadium. The highest scoring team in the competition in 2018, they had built much of their success on rapid-fire ball movement utilising the shortest possible avenue to goal through the corridor and it was exactly this style they attempted to play on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Dees, without the luxury of contested ball domination and surety of ball use they have become accustomed to, the Eagles greedily feasted on their errors. With no answer to West Coast’s intensity, or an alternative game plan, Melbourne watched their season slip away under a flurry of misguided handballs and players losing their footing.
When firing West Coast’s forwards are unstoppable.
The Eagles are 12-0 this season when both Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling have played together and they reminded everyone why with their performance on Saturday. The pair took more marks inside forward 50 than the entire Melbourne team in the first half in a powerful performance, but they aren’t the only causes of concerns for opposition defences. Mark LeCras, who has kicked 30+ goals in each of his last nine seasons, Willie Rioli and Liam ‘Flyin’ Ryan, with their ability to work up the ground, provide countless headaches too. Did I mention Jamie Cripps? It is one hell of a forward line.
Max Gawn saved his worst for last.
The bearded Melbourne big man had enjoyed an outstanding 2018 season and was widely expected to cause West Coast no end of trouble on Saturday. Unfortunately for him and the Demons, as a result of astute planning and execution by the Eagles, he had negligible influence on the contest. Still a commanding figure at the ruck contest, his hitouts were regularly sharked by West Coast’s runners as he struggled to place them to the advantage of his team. Unable to get loose around the ground he was almost invisible outside of the ruck and had just three possessions to his name at half time. Like his team he would enjoy a better second half, but by then the horse had already bolted.
West Coast have intercept marking options galore.
We have already spent time discussing West Coast’s powerful forward line but they don’t lack for anything down back either. While Shannon Hurn and Jeremy McGovern have been recognised in recent years for their work with All-Australian selection, Tom Barrass showed their are more where they came from with his performance on Saturday. With all three good users of the ball, Collingwood will need to be mindful not to blast wildly forward or they will likely see the ball coming back with interest from the boot of one of these three.
SECOND PRELIMINARY FINAL
WEST COAST 4.8 10.9 15.10 18.13 (121)
MELBOURNE 0.3 0.6 5.9 7.13 (55)
West Coast: Kennedy 4, LeCras 3, Darling 3, Cripps 3, Rioli, Venables, Hutchings, Ryan, Redden
Melbourne: Melksham 2, Hannan, Weideman, Smith, Harmes, Oliver
West Coast: Kennedy, Redden, Cripps, Hurn, McGovern, Sheed, LeCras
Melbourne: Brayshaw, Oliver, Harmes
West Coast: Nil
Umpires: Nicholls, Meredith, Chamberlain
Official crowd: 59,608 at Optus Stadium