The West Coast convincingly defeated Carlton at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday to claim their second away win of the season.
Putting up a measured and professional performance against David Teague’s wilting Carlton side, the West Coast secured their first win at the SCG in 22 years.
Despite suffering a couple of injuries to key players, the win keeps the Eagles tied with Richmond on 7th place and still within a hunt for a place in the top four. Here’s our round-up of the main takeaways from the match.
Liam Ryan – Airborne Again
Returning from his recent injury lay-off, high flyer Liam Ryan had one of the games of his career but was actually a doubt to play before the match.
In his post-match press conference, Adam Simpson stated that Ryan had “soreness on the flight over, during the captains run, and before the match.”
But that wasn’t going to stop the All-Australian forward from turning out on Sunday afternoon, and Simpson praised the forwards’ tenacity to stand up while the West Coast were missing key goal kickers, Oscar Allen and Josh Kennedy.
“He was really important for us, and we’re really proud of him,” the Eagles head coach said.
“For him to stand up in the big moments is really important for us.”
Kicking a career-high four goals to keep the pressure on Carlton, Ryan led the West Coast forward and was a nuisance in the Carlton defensive lines, taking nine marks, four turnovers, and having a hand in eight scores. But once again, he proved he’s not just an out-and-out goalscorer, showing off his brilliant vision and hot stepping feet to set his teammates up throughout the game.
He capped off his brilliant performance, taking yet another mark of the year contender, sitting on the head of Carlton defender, Liam Stocker, to take what will be his tenth nomination for the award.
Nic Naitanui – A Captain’s Performance
While Ryan stole the headlines, All-Australian ruckman Nic Naitanui was our man of the match.
Captaining the side for the first time in his career, having been named as part of the West Coast’s leadership group at the start of 2021, Naitanui covered multiple roles for the Eagles on Sunday. While providing the West Coast with a platform of attack from the stoppage, he astutely dropped back at times to lend a hand in defence to fill in for the injured Brad Sheppard.
As always, his work at the stoppage was unparalleled, especially when winning the stoppage higher up the field, pressing Carlton back into their goal square. Amassing 33 hit-outs, with 16 of those going to advantage, the 2020 John Worsfold medalist continued to assert his dominance on the ground, too, making nine clearances while launching four scores for the West Coast.
Smothering a kick inside the Carlton 50, Naitanui showed off his exceptional work rate to recover the ball off the floor and set Andrew Gaff up for a goal. His ground ball play is massively underrated, while his strength in defence to assist Tom Barrass at the back, to record three spoils shows his exceptional leadership qualities and elite work rate.
Four Quarters Of Dominance
It was the performance Adam Simpson has been waiting for all season. Yes, the Eagles have won some big games at the start of 2021, notably against Port Adelaide and Collingwood, but this might be their most composed and professional showing this season. And it came at a crucial time.
With a tough run of games coming up, with a list of injuries, and after a tough loss to the bombers last week, four points against Carlton was a huge coup to keep the West Coast ahead of Richmond and still within a shot of fourth place.
Although the best part of this win was the Eagles dominance over all four quarters, particularly their work rate to close out the match in the final quarter. For a moment, it looked like the Eagles were about to fall back into their poor habit of fading out of another match, with Eddie Betts skirting through to score just after three-quarter-time.
But the Eagles collected themselves and bounced back, with midfielders Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed, Elliott Yeo, and Jack Redden all stood up to drag the Eagles higher upfield and pressure on Carlton back towards their goal square, keeping them to just one goal in the final quarter.
Redden and Yeo were the Eagles leading pressure appliers, making 28 and 20 pressure acts, respectively, allowing Gaff and Sheed to launch attacks higher up the field.
It’s that added pressure over four quarters the West Coast have lacked this season, and hopefully, they’ll carry that performance into the next round against Richmond.
Young Eagles Flourish Away From Home
Five players in the West Coast weren’t born the last time the Eagles won at the SCG. And despite their leaders standing up on Sunday, it was the kids who impressed the most.
Snagging a terrific goal, much to the delight of his teammates, 19-year-old midfielder Luke Edwards had his dream debut. Having impressed in the WAFL this season, Edwards didn’t look out of place in the pace of the game, showing his brilliant footballing awareness to help lump more pressure onto the Blues in the second half.
Likewise, fellow midfielder Luke Foley came off the bench to add to the Eagles pressure high upfield, alongside Xavier O’Neill, who made his tenth appearance for the West Coast at the weekend.
Impact player Jamaine Jones came on for the injured Brad Sheppard and used his lightning pace to boot a brace of goals that helped steady the Eagles before halftime. While key defender Harry Edwards continued to show his composure at the back in Jeremy McGovern’s absence.
The future is certainly looking bright for the Eagles.
Injuries Continue To Be A Problem
With Brad Sheppard going down with a nasty concussion, Liam Ryan looking a bit tender on his feet, and Dom Sheed taking a big whack on the shoulder from Sam Walsh, injuries continue to be a concern at the Mineral Resources Park this week.
Sheppard’s concussion means he won’t feature for two weeks per the AFL’s concussion protocols and will miss out on next week’s rescheduled match against Richmond, while Liam Ryan should be fit to play next week.
But there is good news for the West Coast, with Adam Simpson confirming in his post-match press conference that Oscar Allen and Josh Kennedy will both be fit to play against the Tigers next weekend.
“The problem we have at the minute is we get two back next week, and then we lose two, and it would have been good to have the bye,” Simpson said on injuries.
“But we honestly think we’ve had it really good as a club this year. A lot of teams have dealt with far worse than us.”