With only two rounds remaining in the 2020 home-and-away series there is still plenty of drama to play out.
Although a short season in the number of rounds played, the competition has felt long, firstly because of the break after Round 1 and then because of the consistent day-after-day nature of the rounds.
This week is no exception, and it gets underway with a battle between St Kilda, still trying to shore up their finals place and make a statement that they will be competitive finalists, and West Coast Eagles, who despite being hit with a big injury list will be hell-bent on winning and keeping alive their double-chance hopes.
Played at the Gabba, surprisingly it will be officiated by three umpires, none of whom are in the top ten umpires currently in the game and including one, Hayden Gavine, who is yet to make the top 100 umpires of all time, as is the norm. However, both the two other umpires, Brendan Hosking and Craig Fleer, have had finals experience and no doubt will be up to the task of refereeing this crucial encounter.
Also surprising is the fact that the two coaches who jointly bought up 300 games of AFL coaching between them last round have never coached against each other, so the only clue to the outcome of their first meeting is the superior win-loss ratio of West Coast’s Adam Simpson over St Kilda’s Brett Ratten.
Both teams have big inclusions to their teams this week. For St Kilda, Tim Membrey, Max King and Nick Hind return. Membrey, who last year was locked in a battle with Josh Bruce to be the leading current-day top 100 goalscorer at the club, this year has had the field to himself with the defection of Bruce to the Bulldogs. But he hasn’t made the most of it, scoring only 16 goals in 14 games. Still, that has been enough to take him to within two goals of the total that the famous Dave McNamara scored in his illustrious career with the Saints.
Born in 1887 at the quaintly named town of Boosey, McNamara has claims to being the longest kick in league football, with one of his kicks being measured at 93 yards – or 85 metres – in 1923. After a successful career at St Kilda as a player and captain, McNamara continued on as a coach and then an administrator, and he also became famous as a horse trainer.
Max King is in his first year of AFL and has kicked 19 goals in 14 games, while Nick Hind in his second year has also been a handy goalscorer for the Saints.
For the Eagles, despite the number of injured and the inclusion of Hamish Brayshaw for his first game, big names Shannon Hurn and Nic Naitanui will also be returning. Shannon Hurn captained the Eagles for 120 games before being replaced by Luke Shuey at the end of 2019. He is currently the second most prolific game player for the Eagles, having past Glen Jakovich and Darren Glass this season, and will not quite – even with the advantage of finals – match Dean Cox’s 290 games by the end of the year.
Nic Naitanui’s wonderful athleticism makes him an extremely valuable player for the Eagles in this game. Jack Petruccelle has had limited opportunities this year and will be hoping for a big game and a number of goals to lift him from the cusp of membership of the Eagles top 100 goalscorers.