Doing just enough to close out a tricky North Melbourne side, the Eagles have put themselves in contention for a fourth-place finish.
The West Coast know how costly a last-minute slip-up can be, still wreathing from the pain of their final round loss to Hawthorn last year, which cost them the fourth place spot, and ultimately saw their season come to a crashing holt shortly after, suffering a brutal loss to Geelong in the first elimination final.
However, the West Coast did not repeat last years woes and did just enough to grind out a win against North Melbourne, beating the Roos 4.10 (34) to 7.7 (49) to put the Eagles in contention for the double-chance.
The win shoots the Eagles up into third place and the team will now travel back home and watch on from Perth with hopes that the Crows and the Swans can take points from the Tigers and the Cats this weekend.
But it wasn’t plain sailing and in greasy conditions, the Eagles struggled to defend against a gutsy North side who troubled the Eagles throughout the match. The Eagles were slow to react in defence, didn’t follow up on loose balls, and did not score for the entirety of the first quarter. “North certainly had the hop on us” said Adam Simpson, who came in after the game looking frustrated yet relieved at the win.
One slight worry for the Eagles came in the second quarter when all-time leading goalkicker Josh Kennedy landed awkwardly on his ankle after going up for a contested mark and spent the remainder of the game on the bench with an ice pack on his foot. But with 14 days off until the first finals weekend, it’s likely that Kennedy could make it back in time to start, moving freely on his ankle after the match.
Although the display not being the best, there were some great individual performances tonight once again from Liam Ryan, Oscar Allen, and Andrew Gaff. Plus Luke Foley made his first appearance for the West Coast and a good run out as the Eagles’ 8th debutant of the year.
But the Roos’ took it to the Eagles early on, they were physical and defended well to bat back the Eagles bombs and clear their lines.
North’s strong defensive work paid off, recovering the ball in their 50, powering forward to chip over the Eagles midfield to Shaun Higgins who got the first blood.
They struck again shortly after through Nick Larkey, pulling in an almost uncontested mark against the Eagles defenders who were slow to react to his movements.
North played the Eagles at their own game, getting numbers to the contest, preventing the Eagles from moving the ball, and slowed them down in midfield at the start of the second.
But the Eagles needed to sharpen up if they were to have any possibility of getting the double-chance.
And they did, moving the ball upfield, putting pressure on the Roos inside the 50, with Rotham putting in a high bomb up to the right flank which was collected by Jack Darling, who managed to curl a ripper of a wormburner across the face of the goalposts into the goal.
The footy looked as though it skimmed past the post on the way in but the score review showed a slight gap between the ball and the post and the goal stood.
The Roos struggled to soak up the oncoming pressure with Liam Ryan collecting the ball at the top of the pitch, working some magic footwork to put himself goal side of Roos’ defender Luke McDonald, which gave him enough time to get a bullet of a kick away to Braydon Ainsworth, who got the first goal of his Eagles career.
But the Eagles started to look sharper towards the end of the Second, keeping hold of the ball in the middle of the park, firing the ball forward into the 50 to Liam Ryan who took advantage of the loose ball and scored from a very tight angle bringing the Eagles into the lead by a point.
The Brisbane dew made conditions even slippier towards the end of the half, but the Eagles did well to come back to walk in one point ahead at half time.
Howver they were slow again to find their groove in the second half, with Nelson holding the ball and losing a free-kick inside his 50, which luckily North couldn’t convert. And with 10 behinds on the scorecard, the Kangaroos will rue their missed opportunities, some of which were from very convertible positions.
Liam Ryan was outstanding all game and we saw his full playbook tonight, with his elusive footwork, brilliant playmaking skills, and his aerial abilities, as he rose high to take a monster of a grab from Jack Darling, but couldn’t convert the kick. In just three seasons of AFL footy, he is becoming the complete player.
Oscar Allen worked hard to force a mistake from the Roos defence, making a superb tackle on McDonald inside the 50 and earnt a free-kick to get their first of the second half.
Cameron Zurhaar then bullied the Eagles defenders to grab a great mark and slot the ball through to keep north just a point behind the Eagles.
But the Eagles again were quiet and let the Roos back in, with Goldstein failing to capitalise from what was an easy free-kick, after some poor defending from the Eagles. But with a man down the Roos were able to find Jack Ziebell on the flank who put the ball over for a behind bringing the scores level at 28 all at the end of the 3rd quarter.
The final quarter started cagey again with both teams failing to keep hold of a greasy football, but the Eagles capitalised on North Melbourne’s ill-discipline with Will Schofield marching forward on a 100-metre penalty that was paid after being pushed by North’s Sam Durdin. Schoey pelted the ball forwards to Oscar Allen who was taken out in the air, winning another free and getting his second of the night.
Pumped up Allen, then notched his third from open play, with a big kick upfield from Bailey Williams, which was eventually recovered by Allen, who converted from open play and got his third of the night.
Liam Ryan then capitalised on some poor North defending infront of goal, intercepting a handball from the North backs, losing his marker and snapping for his second of the night.
With 6 minutes to go, the Eagles still had a lot to do to put the game to bed, and North showed they weren’t going down without a fight, with Jed Anderson scoring a big goal from open play.
Ultimately the Eagles just did enough to close North out and win the game, to put pressure on the Tigers and the Cats who play on Saturday and Sunday.
“We needed to do what we could tonight, and we have, all be it not being perfect, but we’ve done our bit and hopefully get a bit of luck in the next couple of days.”Andrew Gaff, speaking after the game.
Fingers crossed the West Coast can get a strike of luck in the next couple of days.
West Coast Eagles: Allen (3.0); Ryan (2.1); Ainsworth (1.1); Darling (1.0); Petruccelle (0.2); Ah Chee (0.1).
North Melbourne FC: Anderson (1.0); Higgins (1.0); Larkey (1.0); Zurhar (1.0); Murphy (0.2); Ziebell (0.2); Durdin (0.1); Goldstein (0.1); Hall (0.1); Simpkin (0.1).
Our Eagles MOTM: Liam Ryan.
Stand-Out Players: Liam Duggan; Oscar Allen; Andrew Gaff.
Injuries: Josh Kennedy (Ankle).