The three most successful teams of the last fifteen years, Hawthorn, Geelong, and Sydney, are finished – at least in the short term. In fact, all three will miss the finals in 2019.
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West Coast have gone a game clear on top of the AFL ladder with a nailbiting 15-point win over Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium.
The Eagles were made to fight for everything in a see-sawing encounter on Sunday afternoon but did enough to outclass the Hawks for a 11.9 (75) to 9.6 (60) victory.
It is the Eagles’ ninth consecutive win and their first over Hawthorn in Melbourne since 2006, taking them a game clear of reigning premiers Richmond.
Scores were level at halftime and the game was well and truly up for grabs in the fourth quarter as the Eagles went to the final break up by a goal.
In the end, it was the Eagles’ big names who stood tall when the game was on the line.
Nic Naitanui was the first to hit the scoreboard in the final quarter, soaring for a huge pack mark and calmly slotting his shot at goal.
Dual Coleman Medallist Josh Kennedy then earned a free kick and slotted his third major to extend the Eagles’ lead to a game-high 19 points.
“I felt like our leaders and Nic stood up for the small period there and really helped get ascendancy,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.
“It was a difficult, scrappy game at times but to win in that manner and to stand up when it counted, I’m really proud of our players.”
Off-contract star Andrew Gaff delivered a complete performance in the midfield, gathering 35 disposals, seven clearances, 12 marks and a goal.
Liam Shiels (29 disposals) and Jaeger O’Meara (three goals) led the way for Hawthorn.
“They’ve been playing high-quality football, so to keep them to 11 goals we thought was a pretty good effort,” Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have the polish with our own ball use.”
In-form spearhead Jack Darling went goalless but the Eagles still had plenty of firepower with youngsters Willie Rioli (two goals) and Jake Waterman (one) both important contributors.
Rioli delivered one of the highlights of the game when he took a spectacular mark on the half-back flank, then helped set up a Mark LeCras goal with a silky-smooth pass.
But the Eagles livewire could face match review scrutiny for an incident involving umpire Ray Chamberlain late in the first quarter.
Rioli gave away a 50m penalty for dropping his knees into the back of a prone Blake Hardwick, then gave Chamberlain a friendly pat on the backside while running back to his mark.
The AFL has taken a dim view on even the most innocuous umpire contact. Geelong’s Tom Hawkins and Carlton’s Ed Curnow were both referred directly to the tribunal and copped one-week bans for umpire contact earlier this month.
West Coast have a six-day break before hosting St Kilda at Optus Stadium on Saturday night.