Nic Naitanui made a powerful return to AFL football – but not a triumphant one.
The returning ruck star threatened to take over West Coast’s MCG clash with Richmond in the third term as the Eagles narrowed a 34 point half-time gap to as little as 11 points.
But in the end, powerful run off half-back from Daniel Rioli and off the wings from Kamdyn McIntosh and Marlion Pickett were enough to make this a comfortable 20.8 (128) to 13.15 (93) Richmond win.
Rioli had nine score involvements and a goal to go with his 28 disposals. Pickett started the game on fire and was solid throughout for 25 disposals, two goals and seven score involvements, and McIntosh kicked two goals to go with his nine score involvements.
It meant plenty of chances for Richmond’s forwards. It also meant that Naitanui’s centre-square dominance was not going to be enough.
Naitanui (26 hit-outs , six clearances and a goal) enabled and enhanced a superb Tim Kelly game (40 disposals, two goals, nine clearances and 10 inside-50s) and one of Luke Shuey’s best games in two years (26 disposals with 11 clearances).
Jamie Cripps ran relentlessly for 24 disposals three goals and nine score involvements as the Eagles senior players stepped up, but there are still holes in an improving team’s game.
The Eagles, at the end of the day, were very good at generating play from stoppages and scored freely, but they are still short of the mark defending opposition ball movement.
It meant that Tom Barrass played an excellent game on Tom Lynch but Richmond still gave Lynch enough chances to kick two goals, while Shai Bolton and Liam Baker both overcame slow starts to impact the game and kick two goals each and Jack Riewoldt bobbed up to kick three.
Both teams had to cope with significant personnel losses mid match. Elliot Yeo suffered a significant hamstring injury in the third quarter, just minutes before Dustin Martin’s game ended with hamstring awareness. Martin’s departure signalled a swing in the game after he had racked up 17 disposals and eight score involvements in a dominant first half.
Going short to go forward
When the Tigers had gutted the Eagles by 109 points at Optus Stadium in round seven, Adam Simpson’s side had tried to be bold with ball movement early in the game and coughed it up so often they were out of the match by half time.
This time they opted to go shorter and more carefully, trying to make Richmond interceptor Nick Vlastuin more accountable by getting Jake Waterman to lead up on him. Waterman had six first-quarter disposals and was involved in several attacking chains but as the promising opening quarter progressed the Eagles fell into the trap of bombing the ball forward more and being intercepted.
Hugo Ralphsmith and Pickett were the key beneficiaries of the transition game that resulted with nine and 11 first-quarter touches respectively.
Tigers put the foot down
West Coast’s ball movement might have improved since round seven but their ability to defend an opponent’s ball movement still needs work. Richmond swept the ball from end to end far too easily in the second term to kick seven goals to three and open a 34-point break at half time.
Bolton, who had barely touched it in the first term, kicked two goals for the quarter, although one was after a free against Jamaine Jones who didn’t have anything even remotely resembling prior opportunity.
Martin had nine disposals for the term and went to half time with a whopping eight score involvements and five inside-50s.
Rioli got running off half back with 15 disposals and a goal as well as a pass to Maurice Rioli Jr for a goal. Kelly, Cripps and Naitanui kicked nice goals for the Eagles and Kelly had had 17 disposals at the break, but too often, Richmond’s forward handball found players in space under no pressure.
Dream comes Trew
Naitanui had been solid in the first half but ran roughshod over the Tigers centre square stoppage crew in the third term to spark a mini revival.
His tap work set Luke Shuey and Tim Kelly in motion and the other major beneficiary of it all was first gamer Zane Trew, who enjoyed a huge quarter, going to three quarter time with 11 disposals, two clearances, six score involvements and his first goal in AFL football.
Naitanui blotted his copybook late in the term when he threw Ivan Soldo to the ground in a wrestle to cough up a goal to Liam Baker but West Coast’s dominant 6.5 quarter had gotten them as close as 11 points and still within 18 points at the last change.
The Eagles had built a 19-12 dominance at centre square stoppages by the last change and were so on top in the centre that they posed a genuine threat before falling away late.