Emerging from their extra-time thriller against Port Adelaide Power last Saturday night, the West Coast Eagles don’t have much time to absorb the emotion of the euphoric victory, having to play away to the GWS Giants this Saturday night.
A lot went wrong for GWS in the qualifying final loss to Adelaide last Thursday, most notably being unable to slow things down after the Crows were quick at breaking away on occasions when the Giants turned the ball over around the attacking 50. And the lack of spark up forward meant they had no chance in mounting a serious comeback.
While the Giants were continually disrupted from settling in defensively against the Crows’ mobile forward line, they should match up better against the Eagles’ tall-forward contingent of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Drew Petrie/Nathan Vardy. The Giants will have co-captain Phil Davis, Adam Tomlinson, Aidan Corr and Nick Haynes to rotate around, with Davis expected to have first crack on Kennedy.
Speculation will continue around the availability of the Eagles’ star ruck Nic Naitanui and his chances of making a shock comeback, just over a year since he suffered an ACL injury on the eve of last year’s finals series. Natanui has been training over the last few weeks, refusing to rule himself out of a return.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson has hinted that Naitanui wouldn’t play a full game if he did return due to a lack of proper match fitness. If he did return, it would give West Coast a huge boost in being able to swap between three genuine ruckman, and provide the opportunity to play an extra tall to really stretch the GWS backline.
The freshness of Natanui returning would no doubt be a boost for the Eagles as they journey into the unknown in terms of backing up after playing extra-time. Meanwhile, the Giants are coming off a nine-day break and have had plenty of time to recover and plan ahead for the weekend.
The dream is still alive! How's the carry on pic.twitter.com/awOUsYdjpD
— Nic Naitanui (@RealNaitanui) September 9, 2017
West Coast will be relying on key defensive pillar Jeremy McGovern to continue on from where he left off last Saturday. McGovern was easily best on ground with 15 marks and protecting the Eagles’ defensive 50 like his life depended on it.
The Eagles were also aided by a mix of young and old – with retiring great Matt Priddis influential in midfield after getting placed in his preferred position starting in the centre and fellow veteran Sam Mitchell getting the ball out to outside players such as Elliot Yeo, Lewis Jetta and particularly Andrew Gaff, who feasted running on the wings of Adelaide Oval.
Another retiree, Drew Petrie, played by far his best game as an Eagle, after combining brilliantly with Vardy to stop the influence of Power ruckman Paddy Ryder, and also threatening up forward taking contested marks and playing as a third tall.
Another factor for West Coast to feel confident about this weekend is that results from recent seasons point favourably for teams that finish outside the top four to progress to the preliminary final.
In six semi-finals since the 2014 Finals Series, on four occasions, four week one winners from the bottom half of the finals group have beaten their top-four opponents. This is very encouraging for both the West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans as they travel away this week to keep their premiership dreams alive.
Saturday night sure promises to be exciting either way, with the Giants having a point to prove and the Eagles attempting to keep their emotional high going.