WEST COAST 0.2.3 0.4.8 1.8.12 1.10.16 (85)
ST KILDA 0.1.1 0.3.5 0.3.9 0.7.10 (52)
West Coast will face the Crows in the NAB Cup Grand Final after defeating St Kilda by 33 points at Patersons Stadium in sweltering conditions.
The scoreboard didn’t truly reflect the dominance of the Eagles’ display after St Kilda kicked four goals in the last quarter – well and truly after the result had been decided.
With the temperature at the first bounce hovering around 35 degrees, both sides were always going to be battling fatigue, but it was clear that the Eagles will indeed be a premiership contender this year.
Despite missing several players from their best 22, the Eagles controlled the game from the outset, suffocating the Saints with a zone that may just be the best in the competition.
2011 saw the emergence of the Eagle zone, which led them to a top-four finish, and if tonight is anything to go by, the 2012 version is even better.
The Saints struggled to find an open target, and often missed any that found space, playing perfectly into the Eagles’ gameplan. Turnovers were punished, as the Eagles routinely found teammates in space up forward.
Beau Waters was shutting down most of St Kilda’s attacks, chopping off leads and rebounding strongly as he gathered 20 disposals in a strong display.
The Saints lack height down back, and they may be fortunate that not many teams will be able to exploit this weakness in the same manner the Eagles can.
From the beginning, Dean Cox was too tall, too strong and too good for Tom Simpkin, who battled hard but found it impossible to spoil without impinging on the Eagles ruckman, who finished with 16 disposals and two goals.
Other West Coast forwards had plenty of opportunities to impress, with the ball being moved forward with precision by the slick midfield work of the Eagles, who worked tirelessly on a night when they were expected to fatigue.
Nic Naitanui was often the catalyst for several attacks, imposing himself across the ground with several strong grabs and dominating the ruck from the start, allowing the Eagles to get on top early.
Daniel Kerr was back to his best, collecting 18 disposals in a typical performance, whilst Chris Masten continued to impress, amassing 19 touches of his own.
The match, however, will be remembered for an unfortunate, if somewhat bizarre incident which happened late in the third quarter.
Eric Mackenzie, in order to stop Rhys Stanley from sending the ball deep into attack, threw himself at the ball in an attempt to smother the kick. Mackenzie succeeded, but only as his head bore the brunt of the ball’s force.
Mackenzie was clearly unconscious immediately after impact and medical staff took quite some time to clear him from the ground, hopefully he only misses next week and is right for the start of the AFL season.
Although for many stars it was their first hit-out for the season, new Saints coach Scott Watters will be concerned by skill errors which plagued the side for most of the match.
Take nothing away from the Eagles’ zone, but the inability to hit targets 30 metres away is a massive problem in the era of the forward press, and something that must be rectified if St Kilda plans on having any success in 2012.
The form and work rate of Lenny Hayes will be pleasing to Watters, as will the effort of youngsters Tom Ledger, Jamie Cripps and Simpkin, who continued to battle despite being outmatched by tall timber Cox and Naitanui.
WEST COAST: Darling (SG), Hill (2), Cox (2), McGinnity (2), Rosa, Kerr, S Selwood, Stevens
ST KILDA: Schneider (2), Siposs, Stanley, Ledger, Milne, Montagna
WEST COAST: Kerr, S Selwood, Masten, Cox, Naitanui, Waters
ST KILDA: Montagna, Hayes, Schneider
INJURIES: Mackenzie (Head)
UMPIRES: Margett, Farmer, Jennings, Law