Fremantle copped the full brunt of a Nic Naitanui masterclass, but it’s the rest of the AFL competition that will now be quaking in their boots as West Coast’s premiership defence gains pace.
The Eagles moved a game clear in second spot with their 91-point shellacking of arch-rivals Fremantle on Saturday night.
West Coast conceded just two goals for the match, with the intercept prowess of Jeremy McGovern, Brad Sheppard, Shannon Hurn, and Tom Barrass proving crucial.
But it’s the hot form of Naitanui that will have opposition observers on edge.
Naitanui put on a clearance masterclass in the 19.8 (122) to 2.19 (31) win, with his hot form helping the Eagles to boot 12 straight goals at one stage.
His work at ground level was just as crucial.
Naitanui, playing just 52 per cent of game time in his second match back from his second knee reconstruction, finished with 14 disposals, 23 hit outs, six clearances, and a game-high three score assists.
“We have missed Nic,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.
“We had him for 17 weeks last year and it was really unfortunate he wasn’t there at the back end of the season. We are a better team with him in it.
“There is some mental scarring when you do two knees so dealing with that – it is a credit to Nic that he can let himself go and carry what he has been carrying being 114 or 115kg in the most combative position on the ground and he is probably the best at it.
“He has held up his end of the bargain.”
Naitanui’s progress will receive another test when he comes up against All-Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy in Friday night’s blockbuster against Collingwood in Perth.
With Geelong losing two of their past three games and Collingwood hitting a worrying form slump, West Coast are now the form team of the competition.
Simpson is confident his players will be able to handle the growing hype surrounding their premiership defence.
“We have been going all right for a while,” Simpson said with a wry smile when asked about his team sneaking up on the rest of the field.
“I think our boys know how to handle expectations, Being part of our club, there’s always expectations. There was the first day I got here.
“The resilience that the players have brought in the last two or three years, that’s probably been the pleasing thing for us as a coaching group.
“We don’t do a lot of change with strategy or tactics, we let our players work through it.
“They’re at that mature age … they’ve been through some experiences where they know what to do at the right time.”
West Coast forward Josh Kennedy, who missed the win over Fremantle with the flu, is set to return against the Magpies.
ROUND 16 IN A NUTSHELL:
THEY SAID IT: “I want to apologise to our members and fans who turned up to watch because that was nowhere near good enough from all of us.” – Adelaide coach Don Pyke after arch-rivals Port Adelaide booted nine unanswered goals on Saturday night to hand them an embarrassing 57-point flogging.
STATS THAT MATTER: Richmond set up their 92-point win over Gold Coast with an astonishing 16.7 (103) to 3.1 (19) halftime lead. It was their third-highest score at the midway point, just short of their 1931 record of 17.9 (111) against North Melbourne.
MAN OF THE ROUND: Robbie Gray won a record fifth Showdown Medal with a typically brilliant display against the Crows, tallying 35 possessions and 10 clearances. Honourable mention to Nic Naitanui, who helped to inspire West Coast’s 91-point belting of Fremantle in limited game time.
KEY MOMENT: Carlton had all the momentum, leading by a point late in their MCG clash with Melbourne and having scored the only five goals of the final term. A third win under caretaker David Teague was within reach, but Jayden Hunt saved the Demons with a set-shot goal from just on 50m with 90 seconds left.
TALKING POINT: Are the Cats suddenly looking a little wobbly? Chris Scott’s men had an air of invincibility about them during an eight-game winning streak, but the ladder leaders have suffered two losses in three weeks after the Bulldogs stunned them by 16 points on Saturday night at Marvel Stadium.
TRIBUNAL WATCH: North Melbourne’s Ben Cunnington appeared to go out of his way to punch St Kilda’s Jade Gresham in the stomach in the third quarter of the Roos’ win in Hobart. Former Carlton skipper Marc Murphy will face scrutiny for a second-quarter striking incident in Sunday’s game at the MCG involving Melbourne counterpart Jack Viney. Hawthorn’s Daniel Howe was handed a $2000 fine for kneeing Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury in the head.
KEY INJURIES: Dyson Heppell (Ess, foot), Nat Fyfe (shoulder), Will Powell (GC, knee), Travis Boak (PA, back), Jordan Gallucci (Adel, concussion), Daniel Talia (Adel, ankle), Jake Kolodjashnij (Geel, concussion), Max Gawn (Mel, ankle), Marty Hore (Melb, collarbone), Tom McDonald (Mel, ankle), Jacob Weitering (Carl, concussion).
WHAT’S NEXT: Collingwood face a tough task to rebound from a poor loss when they travel to take on West Coast on Friday night in to Perth. The Hawks host struggling Fremantle on Saturday afternoon in Launceston, with Geelong welcoming St Kilda to GMHBA Stadium that night. Richmond’s clash with GWS at the MCG on Sunday should be a belter.