Thursday Night Forecast: West Coast Eagles v Geelong Cats

Cameron Rose Columnist

By , Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    We’ve all been marvelling at the evenness of this AFL season, and one of the noticeable traits that’s becoming evident is how hard it is to identify a “match of the round”.

    This week, there are three such matches that are battling it out for the title, and one of them is most assuredly West Coast versus Geelong as this week’s edition of Thursday night football hits Perth.

    Ryan Buckland wrote yesterday about how many ‘eight-point games’ are coming up in the second half of the season, and they are always tantalising prospects. It’s hard to recall a season where there have been more games each round that feel ‘must see’, and carry so much importance.

    Geelong has been a funny side to get a handle on this year, just as they were last season, with similar trends taking place. They are often at their worst against lower rated sides, but find their best when taking on those in the upper reaches of the ladder.

    The Cats haven’t been overly taxed in the fixture department as it has turned out, yet to play fellow top four powerhouses like GWS and Richmond, and have had a few things go their way at the right time. The jury is still out on their top four credentials.

    Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    West Coast have been a disappointment after letting slip a 6-2 start by losing their last three matches. It hasn’t been a good few weeks for the WA teams.

    The Eagles posted a strong away win against Port, and followed it up with a gritty performance when downing the Dogs, which looked to set their season up nicely, but have then lost games to Essendon, GWS and Gold Coast.

    West Coast have slipped a long way from their grand final standards of 2015. Comparing this year to then, the Eagles are a three goals worse side offensively, and conceding three more goals a game. That’s a six goal slip, which is why they are now deservedly occupying a rung in the middle of the ladder.

    Geelong is obviously being led by Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, and their match-winning capabilities have been frequently on display for all to see. Mitch Duncan is having a fine year on a wing, while Zach Tuohy has fitted in seamlessly to provide run and drive from half-back.

    Those four control a lot of the football for the Cats, and rare would be the foray forward that doesn’t involved at least one of those names. Steven Motlop is always maligned, but also provides a dangerous link between the mids and forwards.

    If these five are allowed to have significant impact, the visitors will get the win.

    Tom Hawkins and Daniel Menzel are proving a formidable inside 50 duo. Hawkins is moving better than he ever has, and is having his best season as a result. He won’t be there tonight, thanks to the MRP’s ridiculous grandstanding, which gives the Eagles a little edge, and will allow Jeremy McGovern to play with even more freedom than he usually does.

    West Coast’s running brigade isn’t as dynamic and balanced as what Geelong has. Luke Shuey is their best mid by a long way, while Andrew Gaff and Matt Priddis do what they do on the outside and inside respectively. Sam Mitchell is providing his usual effectiveness, but hasn’t been shaping games as he did in his Hawthorn days.

    While there’s no Hawkins for the Cats, Josh Kennedy is also missing for the Eagles, having failed to recover from his calf injury. With Kennedy out, the focus is always high on Jack Darling.

    Darling has maintained a remarkably consistent output across his career, but is harshly judged. He has had some poor moments on the big stage, which leads to a reputation that is hard to shake.

    The problem with Darling is that outside his mostly consistent games he has the valleys, but not the peaks. He always throws in a regular single figure possession game, but almost never has matches where he gets 20 touches or more. The last time he topped 20 was 2013. Since the start of 2015, he’s only had more than 16 disposals in a game twice, and they were 17 and 18.

    The Eagles have made a mini-statement at selection, dropping the experienced Sam Butler and Josh Hill. The Hill call is a brave one with Kennedy already out, meaning the Eagles are missing two of their top four goal-kickers this year, as well as having Darling coming off a goalless game.

    West Coast Eagles AFL

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    The emergencies that Adam Simpson has selected are instructive – Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham and Josh Hill. Experience counts for nothing if you aren’t producing what’s required on game day.

    Tom Barrass coming in, along with Eric Mackenzie and Will Schofield being in the side, suggests that Jeremy McGovern may start forward. The Cats don’t have a tall forward line, so he McGovern isn’t required, and he can stretch the Geelong defence.

    So, which team is going to win? Is the overall quality of the Cats enough to negate the West Coast home ground advantage?

    Yes, Geelong are coming off three wins against good opposition (Western Bulldogs, Port and Adelaide), but they were all in the comfort of Simonds Stadium. The Cats don’t need to be reminded how potent home ground advantage can be.

    West Coast’s season is on the line, and they will know their post-bye four week block consists of Geelong, Melbourne, Bulldogs and Port. Eight point game after eight point game. They will have set themselves for this.

    The Cats are chasing a top-four finish, and more than that, top two and a potential home final in Geelong against a GWS or Adelaide.

    The scene is set, and we should expect a classic. If either side doesn’t turn up, they deserve to be lambasted. I just can’t call it, so I’m going out on a limb and picking a draw. We haven’t had one this year, even though there’s been a lot of close games, so I reckon we’re due.

    That’s my Thursday night forecast. What’s yours?

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.