West-Coast-Eagles

After a lightning fast start, West Coast were on top at quarter time in the derby. The now famous ‘Weagles Web’ was in play, applying pressure and suffocating Fremantle’s ball movement. Not only were they defensively disciplined, but offensively they found holes in the team defence of Fremantle. Through careful and considered ball movement in the defensive half, they were able to slingshot and run the ball through the middle at an electric pace, minimising the time the Fremantle defence had to stick to their structure and zone. Against a defensive minded side like Fremantle, once a lead is built, it’s difficult to lose due to their questionable attacking movement and lack of options forward. After quarter time – the match became about protecting and conserving that lead, which West Coast managed to do.

Ruck dominance not enough

Given the absence of Nic Naitanui, Aaron Sandilands and Callum Sinclair played the lead ruck role, supported by Jon Griffin and Scott Lycett. Before the game, one would have thought that if the West Coast rucks could come close to breaking even, their chances of winning would have dramatically increased.

But they didn’t. They were mauled. Lycett looked a shadow of himself, playing more forward than usual and being quiet all day. Sinclair was also well beaten by Sandilands, who was brilliant all day. Not only did Sandilands dominate the hitouts (51, compared to 17 combined for the Eagles) but he also excelled on the inside, winning the hard ball and gaining clearances across the ground. Combine this with seven one percenters and it’s clear that Sandilands clearly won that battle, resulting in Fremantle winning the clearances 46 to 34.

Outside run and spread splendid

Winning the clearances was where it ended for Fremantle. While David Mundy and Nat Fyfe were statistically, their influence was limited to the centre. Heatmaps for both indicated most of their influence was around the centre circle, with subsequent involvements around the ground predominantly in stoppage and contested situation. Both capable of hurting a team outside, their influence in that regard was limited, as was the influence of Michael Barlow who was subbed after a quiet first half and Danyle Pearce, who usually provides outside run. Only Stephen Hill provided any run and carry through the midfield all day.

While Fremantle struggled to transition their inside ball winning to outside run and spread, West Coast excelled. Matt Priddis, a player who usually excels on the inside, was even able to transition and spread better than Mundy and Fyfe. Despite a tag, Luke Shuey was excellent both inside and out and Matt Rosa and Andrew Gaff were excellent in traffic and outside the contest, often slingshotting attacks from half back with their run and kicking.

Fremantle had 20 more disposals for the day as well as seven more marks and eight more inside 50s. Despite that, West Coast spent 43% of the match in possession compared to Fremantle with only 39%. They controlled the game when in possession, and gained far more territory through running the ball which doesn’t show up in disposal counts but does show up when looking at time in possession.

Compounding this, West Coast had 14 bounces for the game. Fremantle had two. Such was the intensity pressure from West Coast and Fremantle’s inability to find space outside, they were only limited to two bounces all game. Meanwhile West Coast often found themselves in space and had plenty of opportunities to bounce.

The half-back slingshot

When in possession, West Coast spent 63% of the game in their defensive half, 8% more than Fremantle. For a side that, to the eye, looked to be dashing along the wings while Fremantle lumbered, it’s a surprising stat. A look at the match heat maps sees West Coast’s possession heavily centred around half back, compared to Fremantle within the centre square.

That’s because West Coast didn’t take it forward until there was space. Players like Shannon Hurn, Matt Rosa, Brad Sheppard and Andrew Gaff excelled in this regard, often waiting until an opportunity arose before slingshotting it off half back. Once space was found, West Coast ran hard, providing constant options to take the ball in board through the corridor. Sheppard, despite playing taller than he’d have liked, was integral to this, with his defensive effort, ball use and ability to neutralise Fremantle’s attacks exceptional.

Because they moved the ball so quickly through the middle third, they didn’t actually spend much time within it as opposed to Fremantle, who tended to move slowly and get caught up in that third due to the defensive strategy of the Eagles.

Fremantle’s defence thrives in congestion; long have they excelled when their defenders are able to zone off and intercept. Moving the ball quickly through the middle of the ground negated that. It left Fremantle’s defence scrambling and created one on one contests for West Coast’s forwards. It’s no shock that Josh Hill won the medal. He’s the kind of player who often excels on the fast break. West Coast’s lighning ball movement allowed him the space he thrives in.

Votes

3: Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle)
2: Josh Hill (West Coast)
1: Brad Shepppard (West Coast)