West Coast’s resilience to score a last-gasp six-point win over Hawthorn or Nic Naitanui’s successful AFL return after a year on the sidelines?
It was difficult to tell which aspect of Saturday’s thrilling 11.11 (77) to 9.17 (71) win at a cold and wet MCG pleased Eagles coach Adam Simpson more.
Having trailed by eight points in an enthralling final-term arm wrestle, the Eagles willed themselves across the line, Jamie Cripps’ third goal with just over a minute left proving decisive.
The Hawks were brave, erasing a game-high 22-point deficit in the second quarter to get their noses in front late, 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 in limited game time and finished with six possessions and 41 hitouts.
“I think the AFL community is happy to see Nic Nat play,” Simpson said.
“He’s such a great person and to see him get rewarded for all that hard work … it doesn’t happen all the time.
“To get him back playing and happy and smiling and joking around in the change rooms before the game … we’ve just missed that so it’s really good for us that he’s back.
“… I think there’s intensity and then there’s ‘Nic intensity’. I reckon we saw that once or twice today.
“In the last quarter at the first bounce or two, we just saw that intensity that no one can match and we’ve missed that.”
Luke Shuey (39 possessions) and Andrew Gaff (34) were typically busy on the ball, with Shannon Hurn important down back in the win that tightened West Coast’s (10-4) hold on a top-four spot.
Jaeger O’Meara starred for the Hawks with 36 touches and 13 clearances, Jarman Impey was influential across half-back and James Frawley kept Josh Kennedy goalless.
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.
Alastair Clarkson lamented the inaccuracy in front of goal in that dominant third term after the Hawks slipped further out of finals contention with a 5-9 record.
“We’re disappointed because we thought the effort was there,” Clarkson said.
“It was tough conditions for both sides and both teams had a crack.
“It was close all day really … it’s just unfortunate there has to be a loser and we’re it.
“It would’ve been a good scalp to get.
“I reckon they’d be pretty relieved to get four (premiership) points to progress their season and our season is looking like were just hanging on.”