West Coast have celebrated Nic Naitanui’s long-awaited AFL return with a thrilling six-point win over Hawthorn at a cold and wet MCG.
Brad Sheppard kicked a critical point to level the scores late in on Saturday afternoon’s frantic final term and Jamie Cripps booted the winner with just over a minute left to seal a gutsy 11.11 (77) to 9.17 (71) win in front of 31,895 fans.
The Hawks were brave, erasing a game-high 21-point deficit to lead by eight late in the last quarter, but Jack Darling bagged his fifth goal in an eye-catching display to set up the stunning final minutes.
In his first AFL game since rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament in round 17 last year, Naitanui moved well and finished with six possessions and 41 hitouts.
Luke Shuey (39 possessions) and Andrew Gaff (34) were typically busy on the ball, with Shannon Hurn important down back.
Jaeger O’Meara starred for the Hawks with 36 touches, Jarman Impey was influential across half-back and James Frawley kept Josh Kennedy goalless.
The slippery ball didn’t appear to bother Darling in the opening term, the big Eagles’ forward booting all three of his side’s goals as they edged to a two-point lead at the first break.
O’Meara was busy from the outset and continued to rack up possessions but West Coast put a gap on the Hawks, kicking the only three goals of the second quarter in a 10-minute burst that extended their advantage to 20 points at halftime.
The Eagles were a player down in the second half after Mark Hutchings injured a hamstring and his exit coincided with a Hawks resurgence.
James Worpel was instrumental with 11 disposals and a goal in a third quarter during which Hawthorn had twice as many inside 50s as the visitors.
Debutant Oliver Hanrahan gave the Hawks the lead with his first AFL goal, his side up by five points heading into the final term.
West Coast snatched back the lead with the first two goals, but Ricky Henderson and Daniel Howe answered before Adam Simpson’s men willed themselves to a famous win.
The 7AFL Instagram page has been running polls this week to see who the public think is the greatest player from 2010 until now. These polls got me thinking about some of the great individual players this decade such as Garry Ablett, Nathan Fyfe and Trent Cotchin.
Alastair Clarkson’s laser focus on Hawthorn’s next premiership rather than past glory is clearly evident in his decision to hand Changkuoth Jiath an AFL debut instead of granting Jarryd Roughead an AFL goodbye.