Optus Stadium – I still think “the Craypot” or “the Champagne bucket” would’ve been better – will come alive on Thursday as the spluttering, but eternally persistent Eagles take on the equally as rough-running Bombers in the first elimination final.
|R14, 2019||West Coast Eagles14.22 (106)Essendon11.5 (71)||OS|
|R14, 2018||West Coast Eagles6.16 (52)Essendon12.8 (80)||OS|
|R9, 2017||Essendon19.11 (125)West Coast Eagles8.16 (64)||MRVL|
|R15, 2016||West Coast Eagles20.10 (130)Essendon7.10 (52)||DS|
People from outside of Perth may fail to fully realise the fanaticism and “one-eyedness” that comes with 55,000 – odd Eagles members. Their passion, the noise that they conjure, the hubris and the absolute get-the-hell-out-of-my-state disdain they show for rivals – particularly those of the big, Victorian variety – is legendary. Alan Richardson’s comments regarding the “noise of affirmation” were founded on very real perceptions about the noise that a manic blue and gold throng can produce, and it is a credit to them – they are unapologetically monocular, and in an elimination final against Essendon and along with it a chance to swing the scarf, they will be absolutely ruthless – making a hard task for Essendon a lot tougher.
In saying all of the above, the Eagles have never beaten the Bombers in their 5 finals match-ups, the average losing margin being 46 points…but they also have not won a final since Jesus was at CHF. The Bombers will however, welcome back 4 of their stars in Hurley, Fantasia, Stringer and Hooker, which will buoy the confidence of a team that seems to have coughed and spluttered it’s way to the finals dais, copping floggings from the Bulldogs (104 pts) and the Power (59 pts).
It’s a tale of two extremes when it comes to scoring power with these two. At one end there is Kennedy, Darling, Ryan, Cripps and the mercurial Willie Rioli ready to pounce on any opportunity that the Eagles mids may provide. On the other hand, Essendon have struggled for goals in recent weeks, with poor returns against Port, Collingwood, and of course their man-handling loss against a rampant Bulldogs. That being said, on their day, and with a fit and firing Stringer, Fantasia and Tippa the Bombers are capable of finding the goals, so if they are on we can look forward to a good old fashioned shoot-out.
One thing Essendon does do well, is use a turn of speed to give them an advantage in their undermanned forward line, they will need a couple of lesser lights to stand up and be accounted for with some contested i50 marking to capitalise.
Tom Bellchambers has been an absolute soldier for Essendon. Through hard times, through strange times, through bans and through finals droughts – he’s been there, and he’s been serviceable. Nic Naitanui, however, is a different beast. The leaps, the deft tap-work, the get his own clearance and bound over 5 blokes on the way to the forward 50.. he is the ultimate barometer. With the aforementioned noise and a lengthy stint on the sidelines only adding to the furore, look out Tommy.
One feels that if Essendon are to spark, Orazzzziiiioooo needs to have an impact. This will be made hard by the fact he is likely to be blanketed by Brad Sheppard, who has certainly had the wood over him in recent matches.
The big man has had a season to remember, and is a perfect second option for the always dangerous Josh Kennedy. From the outside, he does look to struggle (footsteps, chest marks) in the big games, so he will be looking to quash that stigma.
The don’s skipper comes back into the side and will have something to prove, after his leadership came into question earlier in the season. He will need to be the consummate midfield general on Thursday night if they are to quell the powerful Eagles midfield.
At home, with the noise and with the experience in finals – it’s hard to go past the Eagles. If their midfield is on top early in the game and some of their more mercurial types (Rioli, Ryan) get the crowd fired up, it’s light’s out. West Coast by 33 pts.