Scott Lycett v Max Gawn
Scott Lycett’s battle with Melbourne goliath Max Gawn is undoubtedly one of the key match-ups of the preliminary final. Gawn was adjudged best on ground the last time the Eagles met the Demons in round 22, but the stats show Lycett put up a good fight against the 2018 all-Australian ruckmen. Melbourne only won two more clearances and generated just four more inside 50s from the centre bounce four weeks ago. As a duo Lycett and Vardy won 35 hitouts to Gawn’s 41. The AFLCA Player of the Year was dominant in the air with five marks, but Lycett was dynamic at ground level, sticking seven tackles – only three less than star onballers Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo. If Lycett can win his fair share of hitouts and get in dangerous areas while resting up forward it will go a long way to helping West Coast advance to the Grand Final.
Scott Lycett and Max Gawn will again lock horns on Saturday
Elliot Yeo v James Harmes
Melbourne tagger James Harmes went to Luke Shuey in round 22, but most experts believe he’ll line up on the 2017 John Worsfold medallist on Saturday. Fortunately, Yeo is well-equipped to handle a tag if Harmes goes to him at the opening bounce. Having run with the likes of Brownlow medallists Nat Fyfe and Patrick Dangerfield in the past, the 24-year-old knows the tricks of the trade and should be able to manage whatever is thrown his way at Optus Stadium. He will also go into the contest full of confidence following his best performance of the year against Collingwood in the qualifying final, where he amassed 36 disposals, 24 contested possessions, nine tackles, eight intercepts and six marks. If Yeo can handle Harmes’ tag and free up West Coast’s other midfielders to go about their business, it might just put the home side on the front foot.
Mark Hutchings v Clayton Oliver
Speaking of taggers, West Coast’s go-to guy Mark Hutchings will be expected to keep one of Melbourne’s midfielders – probably Clayton Oliver – in check. The dependable role player did a fantastic job on the influential Demon in round 22, limiting him to just 23 disposals – six less than his season average. Better yet, Hutchings managed to win his own ball 14 times and boot two goals in the process. If he can do a similar job this weekend it could help West Coast get on top in the crucial midfield battle.
Mark Hutchings will play a crucial role against the Demons
Jeremy McGovern v Jake Melksham
Not many defensive players get tags, but Melbourne followed Port Adelaide’s lead by sending a small, mobile forward to McGovern in round 22 to quell his influence. Melksham played that role well and kept the three-time all-Australian to a season-low three intercepts and just one contested mark. However, McGovern learned from the experience and returned to top form in the qualifying final against Collingwood, reeling in 12 intercepts and nine marks while being marked by Magpie Chris Mayne. Melksham did damage both ways the last time the teams met, kicking four goals for the visitors. McGovern will need to work with his fellow defenders to limit the 27-year-old’s impact this time around.
Jack Darling v Sam Frost
Saturday’s preliminary final seems like the perfect time for Jack Darling to shine on the big stage. The 26-year-old was arguably the league’s most dangerous forward earlier this season and has been showing glimpses of his best form towards the latter half of the year. He squared off against Oscar McDonald – who ultimately ended his day early with a heavy tackle – in round 22, but will likely go to war with Frost on Saturday. Frost has been a consistent performer for the Demons this year, but he’ll have his hands full with the athletic Darling, who ranks second in the AFL for average contested marks and seventh for average marks inside 50 this year. The outcome of this battle could very well determine the result of the match.
Jack Darling was instrumental against Collingwood in the qualifying final