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West Coast Eagles

JLT2: Clinical Eagles defeat Dockers

MANDURAH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10 : Lewis Jetta of the Eagles celebrates the win the fans during the 2019 JLT Community Series match between the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles at Ruston Park on March 09, 2019 in Mandurah, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media)
West Coast cruised to a comfortable 51-point win over Fremantle at David Grays Arena

The build-up focused on Andrew Brayshaw and Andrew Gaff crossing paths on a football field again, but Fremantle and West Coast had bigger issues after picking up injury concerns during the Eagles' crushing 51-point victory in Mandurah on Sunday. 

In the final JLT Community Series hitout before round one, Freo lost emerging forward Brennan Cox to a left hamstring injury, potentially opening the door for dumped tall Matt Taberner or Cam McCarthy to return against North Melbourne.

Meanwhile, the Eagles could be sweating on gun defender Brad Sheppard's fitness after a corked right knee but will be pleased with the 16.13 (109) to 8.10 (58) result.

Sheppard was brought from the field in the first term after a collision with Fremantle giant Rory Lobb but started back on the ground in the second quarter after passing a concussion test.

However the half-back, who missed last year's premiership with a serious left hamstring injury, lasted only minutes before again coming from the ground, taking off his boots and icing his leg.

Sheppard has 13 days to recover ahead of round one in Brisbane but, ironically, his setback could again provide an avenue for experienced backman Will Schofield to return to the line-up after copping a corked quad in an intraclub on February 22. 

Schofield famously returned in the preliminary final last year after Sheppard hurt his hamstring and played a key role in the Grand Final triumph.

After booting three goals against Collingwood on Monday, Cox was seemingly ahead in the race for the third tall spot alongside boom recruits Jesse Hogan (19 disposals, one goal) and Rory Lobb (nine).

Taberner and McCarthy (one goal) both played in a curtain-raising WAFL practice match for Peel on Sunday, although neither had a major influence and Taberner sat out the second half.

The Dockers also played it safe with wingman Bradley Hill, who had his left calf strapped after seemingly copping a corkie and didn't appear after half-time.

Fremantle has had injury woes during the pre-season series, also losing Griffin Logue and Sam Switkowksi to hamstring strains.

Both clubs were keen to play down Brayshaw and Gaff's on-field meeting after last year's wild Western Derby, and after a brief handshake before the first bounce there were no signs of any ill feeling.

Brayshaw was again among Freo's best, picking up 22 disposals and five clearances, while Gaff (15, five) was serviceable in his last game before his suspension ends in round three.

On this showing, the Eagles will be confident of covering Gaff through the engine room.

The Dockers were in control with the aid of a breeze in the early going and led by nine points at quarter-time, however West Coast's midfield soon took over.

Led by Grand Final heroes Dom Sheed (40 disposals, eight clearances, one goal) and Luke Shuey (17, nine), the Eagles sliced Freo up through the centre.

West Coast dominated stoppages (55-27 clearances) but, arguably more importantly, centre clearances (18-5) given the new 6-6-6 starting position rules, although Freo was missing superstar Nat Fyfe, Connor Blakely and ruckman Aaron Sandilands.

Hogan spent some time in midfield as a big-bodied option and impressed with a hard-working effort, including his first goal in purple, while fellow recruit Reece Conca (26, five clearances) found plenty of it.

Fremantle led by 21 points nearing quarter-time but conceded 11 goals to one thereafter in a one-sided affair.

West Coast small forward Willie Rioli was the star up front, drilling four majors, but the Eagles shared the spoils with 11 goalkickers getting in on the action.

WHAT WE LEARNED

Fremantle: It's no surprise the Dockers aren't the same clearance side without superstar Nat Fyfe bullying opponents, but they can't simply rely on the skipper to solve their problems stemming from stoppages on Sunday. Fremantle commanded hitouts but its midfield group was monstered by the Eagles at ground level. It's dangerous reading too much into a practice game – and the Dockers had a slight clearance edge on Collingwood in the first JLT match – but they would want to be slicker come round one.

West Coast: The Eagles might be young in their front half, although they should get spearhead Josh Kennedy and potentially Jamie Cripps back in round one or two, but they haven't had any issues hitting the scoreboard this pre-season. West Coast hasn't relied on one player, either. Jack Darling bagged five against the Cats in JLT1 and had plenty of support from Oscar Allen that day (three), while livewire Willie Rioli (four) was the star among 11 goalkickers on Sunday.

NEW FACES

Fremantle: In his first game in purple, ex-Richmond utility Reece Conca lit up the first half with 18 touches, slotting in seamlessly through midfield and defence. Star forward Jesse Hogan worked hard after a quiet club debut against Collingwood, attacking the footy in the air and building towards round one. Rory Lobb was quieter after sharing ruck duties with Sean Darcy, speedster Travis Colyer was useful without being prolific, while Brett Bewley only played the second half and might be up against it to debut in round one. 

West Coast: Former Sun and Saint Tom Hickey looks likely to partner Nathan Vardy for the season opener after another reasonable display, highlighted by a quick-thinking snapped goal in the first term when he took advantage of the new ruck rule and grabbed the ball from a throw-in and kicked West Coast's second. 

FANTASY WATCH

Darcy Tucker (MID, $431,000). Has been recast as a run-with midfielder, taking over from Bailey Banfield. Tucker will be around the footy a lot and should rack up some handy points given his willingness to tackle.

NEXT UP

The Dockers have two weeks to prepare to host North Melbourne at Optus Stadium in round one, while West Coast will kick off its premiership defence in Brisbane in 13 days' time.

FREMANTLE 5.3 6.6 7.6 8.10 (58)

WEST COAST 4.0 7.4 13.8 16.13 (109)

GOALS

Fremantle: Banfield 2, Giro, Tucker, Cox, Matera, Hogan, Ballantyne

West Coast: Rioli 4, Allen 2, Petruccelle 2, Hickey, Ryan, Venables, Shuey, Masten, Sheed, Darling, Vardy

BEST 

Fremantle: Brayshaw, Conca, Mundy, Hogan

West Coast: Rioli, Sheed, Hurn, Jetta, Duggan, Redden

INJURIES

Fremantle: Cox (hamstring), Hill (calf)

West Coast: Sheppard (knee)

 Reports: Nil

Umpires: Margetts, Hay, Dalgleish

 

Official crowd: 8047 at Rushton Park, Mandurah