March 1, 2019 9:40 PM
STAR West Coast forward Josh Kennedy’s potential round one replacement Oscar Allen boosted his selection chances as the Eagles’ inexperienced attack overpowered Geelong in a 34-point victory on Friday night.
Without dual Coleman medallist Kennedy (foot), Jamie Cripps (toe) and Mark LeCras (retired) – who combined for 113 goals last year – the Eagles turned to youth and were rewarded with some promising performances.
Allen, who showed signs at both ends in two games last year, booted three goals, including a couple either side of half-time as the reigning premiers edged out to a 15-point break.
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Despite missing gun spearhead Tom Hawkins, the inaccurate Cats surged back and, inspired by lively small Brandan Parfitt (three goals), hit the front before the final change.
But the home side drilled five unanswered goals either side of three-quarter time and cruised to a 15.9 (99) to 8.17 (65) triumph in their JLT Community Series opener at Leederville Oval.
Led by imposing forward Jack Darling (five goals), the Eagles looked dangerous in the air and on the ground in attack, with livewire smalls Liam Ryan (two), Willie Rioli, Jack Petruccelle and Jarrod Cameron combining for five majors.
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At the other end, spring-heeled Geelong full-forward Esava Ratugolea kicked 0.3 but made an encouraging comeback from the broken leg which ended his 2018 in round 10, flying for marks and fighting an engrossing battle with Tom Barrass.
Barrass was one of several premiership players who got through unscathed after injury worries, with Norm Smith medallist Luke Shuey picking up where he left off and notching a game-high 17 disposals to half-time before being put on ice.
Dual club champion Elliot Yeo (23 disposals) and star backman Jeremy McGovern (nine) also appeared to get through without any worries as they build towards Brisbane in round one.
Prolific wingman Andrew Gaff (27) was applauded by the blue and gold faithful in his first game since his season-ending punch on Andy Brayshaw in last year’s round 20 Western Derby.
Grand Final hero Dom Sheed was best afield, racking up 39 touches and snapping a quick-thinking major.
Brownlow medallist Patrick Dangerfield (29, one goal) did his best to turn the tide after West Coast took a two-goal lead into half-time and appears primed for a big 2019 after being hampered by a back issue last season.
Dangerfield was strongly supported by Mitch Duncan (29) and Charlie Constable (26), while Tom Stewart was rock-solid in defence.
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Claremont product Jordan Clark’s confident performance down back would arguably have pleased coach Chris Scott most from the contest, with the Cats’ top draftee providing excellent rebound from 21 touches in his first appearance.
Clark, taken with pick 15 in last year’s NAB AFL Draft, appears a lock for Geelong’s blockbuster season opener against Collingwood at the MCG after an assured display.
Friday’s contest was a free-flowing affair under the AFL’s new rules, although there was some confusion over starting positions at centre bounces.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson questioned the umpires’ coaches at quarter-time after Geelong was warned then gave away a free kick when the full-forward left the goalsquare too early.
But the Eagles gave away a free kick of their own when skipper Shannon Hurn was caught out of position coming off the bench, suggesting clubs have some practice to do ahead of round one.
WHAT WE LEARNED
West Coast: Without dual Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy (foot), small forward Jamie Cripps (toe) and Mark LeCras (retired), the Eagles’ forward setup was very different to the Grand Final, but they were still dangerous. Jack Darling tore the contest apart, emerging tall Oscar Allen pushed his claims for round one, while Liam Ryan, Willie Rioli and Jarrod Cameron were threatening at ground level. Kennedy should be fit for round one against Brisbane, but Allen is probably just ahead of Jake Waterman and Jarrod Brander if the Eagles play three talls in the season opener.
Geelong: The Cats’ premiership hopes took a hit last year when Esava Ratugolea went down in round 10, leaving too much of a burden on spearhead Tom Hawkins, so coach Chris Scott would have been encouraged by what he saw from the returning big man on Friday. Ratugolea fought an engrossing battle with Eagles full-back Tom Barrass, and attacked the ball in the air and crashed packs with disregard for his previously broken leg. Ratugolea sprayed a couple of shots in the third quarter that could’ve made his night a very good one, but his seven-disposal, three-mark, three-behind return suggested the 197cm tall’s best won’t be far away.
West Coast: Small forward Jarrod Cameron was a surprise inclusion after foot and quad problems during pre-season and while he didn’t have a huge impact he buzzed around and created pressure. A clean pick-up and snap, which fell short, in the second term was a sign of his quality and he drilled a set shot in the third term. Ex-Saints and Suns ruckman Tom Hickey didn’t touch the ball much around the ground but offered a strong contest to remain right in the mix for round one.
Geelong: Claremont product Jordan Clark rocketed up the draft board late last year after impressing at senior WAFL level and the young gun looked assured while offering plenty of rebound from half-back in his first game. Speedy former Swan Gary Rohan played mainly forward and did some handy things, including a scything run through midfield in the second term, while ex-Dogs small Luke Dahlhaus never really got going. Mature ruck Darcy Fort competed and former VFL star Tom Atkins was quiet.
Jordan Clark (DEF, $242,000): The WA youngster has turned heads at Geelong and with his pace, precise kicking and calm head, Clark should be in the round one line-up to face Collingwood and is a low-priced fantasy option. He had 78 Fantasy points against the Eagles.
The Eagles head down to Mandurah next Sunday for a pre-season Western Derby against Fremantle, while the Cats return home to GMHBA Stadium to host Essendon off a six-day break.
WEST COAST 4.3 6.6 9.6 15.9 (99)
GEELONG 3.5 4.6 7.13 8.17 (65)
West Coast: Darling 5, Allen 3, Ryan 2, Vardy, Rioli, Cameron, Petruccelle, Sheed
Geelong: Parfitt 3, Z. Guthrie, Selwood, Miers, Narkle, Dangerfield
West Coast: Sheed, Darling, Shuey, Hurn, Allen, Gaff
Geelong: Parfitt, Dangerfield, Stewart, Duncan, Clark, Constable
West Coast: Nil
Umpires: Dalgleish, Power, Dore, Williamson
Official crowd: 6028 at Leederville Oval