Nic Nat rules supreme … the Eagles ruckman was dominant as West Coast beat Richmond in Perth. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
It was billed as a possible grand final preview — four months early — as West Coast took on Richmond in the match of the round.
But no-one outside the most optimistic Eagles fan could have seen the extent of what happened in the West, as the Eagles triumphed by 47 points.
So what does it all mean? How much does home advantage count for?
Is this a one-off, or does it give the rest of the league a guide to beating the Tigers?
Let’s look at what we’ve learned from West Coast — Richmond.
It all starts in the middle for West Coast
The return from injury of Nic Naitanui always loomed as a huge bonus for the Eagles in season 2018.
Eagles flying high again
- Rd 1 – Loss to Sydney by 29 (Perth)
- Rd 2 – Win over Western Bulldogs by 51 (A)
- Rd 3 – Win over Geelong by 15 (Perth)
- Rd 4 – Win over Gold Coast by 80 (Perth)
- Rd 5 – Win over Carlton by 10 (A)
- Rd 6 – Win over Fremantle by 8 (Perth)
- Rd 7 – Win over Port Adelaide by 42 (Perth)
- Rd 8 – Win over GWS by 25 (A)
- Rd 9 – Win over Richmond by 47 (Perth)
No game and no team is a one-man affair, but it has to be said that Nic Nat has been pivotal in West Coast’s ripping start to the season.
His almost unbeatable tap-work, his physical presence and tackling, and his general play makes him hard to combat. But Naitanui on his own would not have been enough to tip the balance against Richmond.
The Eagles’ work in the middle was excellent, in particular Elliott Yeo — who managed 29 disposals and 10 clearances, despite apparently wrenching his knee in the first quarter and ending the game limping with his leg strapped.
The home side got the ball out of the middle and moved it quickly against the Tigers. They may not have had a ton of forward entries, but they made them count.
One of the big plusses against the Tigers was that when Naitanui went off for a breather, Scott Lycett proved not to be the weak link in the ruck.
It has to be said, Richmond’s choice of smaller second rucks to back up Toby Nankervis was not a success, but you can only beat what’s in front of you.
Tigers charge hits a big roadblock
Richmond’s run of wins came to a crashing halt against West Coast at Perth Stadium. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
For most of the last 18 weeks of football, the Richmond Tigers have been the benchmark in the AFL.
From the round 17 win over the Brisbane Lions last season to last week’s win over North Melbourne (including two losses in those 18 matches), the average result was the Tigers finishing 28 points better than their opponents.
Richmond FC tweet: Outplayed by the Eagles today. Richmond 12.11 (83) defeated by West Coast 20.10 (130) #AFLEaglesTigers #gotiges
Teams playing Richmond have become almost used to losing — the big exception being Adelaide’s 36-point victory in round two — but the effect has been that Damien Hardwick’s men have grown in reputation and confidence.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon at Perth Stadium, and aside from one quarter of football, the Tigers were well and truly trumped by Adam Simpson’s side.
Jack Riewoldt kicked five goals, Dustin Martin had 26 touches and eight clearances, but in a team containing 19 of the players who won the flag at the MCG last September, the Tigers had few winners on the day.
The Richmond that dominated finals stopped its opponents from getting on the scoreboard — but West Coast managed 30 scoring shots from just 45 inside 50s.
Every team can have an off day, and Richmond still has far too much talent to start jumping off them, but this loss will definitely provide plenty of food for thought at Tigerland.
Jack the Darling of the forward scene
The Eagles’ Jack Darling (R) is only three goals behind Ben Brown in the race for the Coleman Medal. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
Time was, the stuttering run-up of star forward Josh Kennedy was the sound that gave opposition defences nightmares when they faced West Coast.
Kennedy has won two of the last three Coleman Medals, and although he missed the start of this season recovering from ankle surgery, he’s well and truly back now.
But Jack Darling is still the most important man up front for the Eagles in 2018, and he proved it again against the Tigers.
Richmond have a habit of shutting down key forwards, but Darling continued to do what he has done this season — take contested marks and kick goals — giving Alex Rance a bath in the process. If it wasn’t for a last quarter error, the big Eagle would have ended the game with seven goals. As it was, 6.2 was quite a tidy return.
In related news, West Coast’s ability to move the ball meant that when it did go inside 50, as often as not there was an Eagles tall on the end of it.
It wasn’t just Darling — Kennedy had four grabs inside the arc and Scott Lycett had one. But it wasn’t just the talls getting in on the act, either, with Jamie Cripps bagging three and Mark LeCras, Andrew Gaff and Jack Redden also taking a mark in the forward line.
When a team takes 19 marks inside 50, unless they’ve left their kicking boots at home, the four points are likely to be heading their way.
Don’t go pencilling Eagles into GF just yet
All right, Eagles fans — yes, this is a big win for your club, and yes, they are the real deal. But it is still only another step on a long road to a possible premiership.
West Coast is now 8-1 and a game clear at the top, and for the moment the number one headache for opposition coaches will now be trying to find a solution to the Eagles’ gamestyle, rather than the Tigers.
But just take a deep breath for a second.
Next week the Eagles will face an angry Hawthorn outfit — fresh from a stunning loss to Brisbane — at Docklands, and nothing is guaranteed from that. A win in round 11 against the Saints should see West Coast into the bye, but the next four after that are the Swans in Sydney, Essendon at home, the Crows at Adelaide Oval and GWS in Perth.
Win those four, and the case that the Eagles are going to be tough to keep out of late September will be harder to argue against.
The X-factor in all this may well be West Coast’s hi-tech new home deck of Perth Stadium. If Eagles fans sense a return to the glory days, and home games turn into a series of lockouts with 60,000 on the door, then West Coast will have an intimidating atmosphere as well as a strong team with which to greet visiting sides.
That won’t win a flag — beating the Tigers or someone else at the MCG will be needed for that — but it could set up home advantage for the finals. Let’s wait and see.