After clearly producing its best performance of the season with a convincing win against Hawthorn, the mood in West Coast’s rooms post-match was unusually subdued.
It was a stirring victory against the three-time premiers, but the joy of a consummate team performance had been deflated by an incident late in the third quarter in which athletic ruckman Nic Naitanui went to ground clutching his right knee.
Naitanui had willed himself to get to a contest near the boundary 20m from the West Coast Eagles race. Most big blokes wouldn’t have had the ability to get to that contest, let alone push themselves to get there.
Big Nic did and he effected the spoil. But he was off-balance when he arrived and that meant he lacked control on the landing, which saw him off kilter when he hit the ground. His knee buckled and the flexibility tests upon his arrival at the bench were far from encouraging.
Scans the next day revealed the pessimism was warranted and that Naitanui would require a full anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.
It was a shame that such a brilliant team performance – probably the best victory since the 2015 qualifying final against the same opponent – would be tempered by such devastating news. West Coast would still be in the finals frame, but capitalising on an opportunity had become immeasurably tougher in the pending absence of their most influential player.
The determination of Naitanui to push his body to the brink epitomised the attitude of his teammates from the outset.
It was as if they wanted to make a collective statement. Dismissed by most media analysts as a team simply making up the numbers in the finals series, they wanted to prove they could make an impact at the sharp end of the season.
It was evident from the way they attacked the contest from the opening bounce. Their pressure was sublime and they spooked the Hawks with their ferocity, by locking the ball in their forward half and playing the game on their terms.
So much heat did the Eagles apply in their attacking half that Hawthorn was reticent to move the ball through the corridor for fear of turning it over and being burnt the other way. Subsequently, they were forced wide and went away from their brave brand of football.
Forward Josh Kennedy, wingman Lewis Jetta – who earned a recall on the back of solid WAFL form – and Mark Hutchings revelled in the contest. Kennedy kicked three goals in the opening term, Jetta laid several strong tackles and kicked the ball precisely while Hutchings clamped down on Hawks’ star Sam Mitchell.
In addition, Andrew Gaff was outstanding with 38 possessions, Matt Priddis was sublime at the stoppages and Jeremy McGovern was supreme in defence.
Friday, August 19 – Domain Stadium
West Coast Eagles 5.3 9.4 12.13 13.14 (92)
Hawthorn 2.1 4.2 7.2 10.7 (67)
West Coast Eagles – Kennedy 5; Darling 3; LeCras 2; Yeo, Jetta, Shuey.
Hawthorn – Gunston, Sicily, Burgoyne 2; Whitecross, Lewis, Breust, Puopolo.