Dynamic Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui booted a goal in the last second to break GWS hearts at Spotless Stadium and deliver a telling blow to the Giants’ premiership credentials.
This had been billed as a ruck battle between Naitanui and Shane Mumford, but for a moment it looked like Giants backup Rory Lobb had stolen the show before Naitanui’s late dagger.
Lobb had kicked a goal barely two minutes prior, his fourth of the game, which looked to have secured GWS a 15th win of the season and the club’s first ever over West Coast.
But it wasn’t to be as Naitanui roved a late throw-in before steering the ball through the goals to move West Coast level on points with GWS and four other clubs.
It remains to be seen whether Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to West Coast is merely a speed bump to the Giants’ premiership credentials, or something more terminal.
This was the Giants first game against a top-eight team in two months, and their first at Spotless Stadium in four weeks. They lost their last clash here, against Collingwood.
|Goals and Behinds||Lobb (4.2), Patton (2.1), Griffen (2.0), Smith (2.0), Cameron (1.4), Greene (1.1), Johnson (1.1), Scully (1.0), Coniglio (0.1), Kelly (0.1), Ward (0.1)||Kennedy (3.3), LeCras (2.4), Priddis (2.1), Naitanui (2.0), Shuey (2.0), Hutchings (1.0), Sheed (1.0), Sheppard (1.0), Cripps (0.1), Hill (0.1), Masten (0.1)|
Both teams were sluggish in warming to the task, with almost 10 minutes elapsing before Jonathon Patton slotted the first goal of the game.
It came from a superb scoring chain starting in the Giants’ defensive 50 and including three contested grabs by Rory Lobb, Callan Ward then Patton.
There’s a perception the Giants earn their goals by tearing through opponents with superior run, and razor-sharp ball movement. That’s certainly not an inaccurate observation, but it does often overlook the Giants’ proficiency at the grunt work, be it digging the ball out of congestion or contesting it successfully in the air.
Mind you, there is no better exponent of slick ball movement in the AFL than GWS at their best.
Two examples in the second quarter, which the Giants started two goals in front, demonstrated this perfectly.
Early on Toby Greene grubbered the ball almost 50m up the wing to Jeremy Cameron who handballed it back to Greene before the Sherrin found Ryan Griffen through Steve Johnson. Griffen went back and slotted the goal.
Later in the quarter with GWS struggling to regain a foothold, Greene and Johnson were involved again up the right wing with Matt Kennedy also chiming in. On this occasion Greene missed everything and the scoreboard wasn’t affected, but the build-up play again was breathtaking.
The problem here was there were far too many skill errors, and West Coast are a team more than capable of making you pay.
In between those two highlights, West Coast dominated the second quarter and had Coleman Medal favourite Josh Kennedy been kicking straight the Eagles would have almost certainly stolen the lead. But he wasn’t and GWS recalibrated just enough to take a five-point advantage into the main break.
The half-time siren was music to coach Leon Cameron’s ears, and he would have taken just as much joy from Jamie Cripps’s slightly wayward shot right on the buzzer that would have levelled the scores.
It gave Cameron a chance to settle his young troops, and reiterate the game plan.
That took a little while to have any effect with West Coast wresting the lead early in the third quarter and skipping out to a seven-point lead at one stage before GWS piled on five unanswered goals.
It looked like the home side had done enough to wrap up victory but the Eagles kept coming, kicking six in the last quarter to secure the win with the last play of the game.
This season keeps getting more and more interesting.
Rory Lobb 9 (GWS)
Nic Naitanui 8 (West Coast)
Toby Greene 8 (GWS)
Luke Shuey 8 (West Coast)
Jonathon Patton 7 (GWS)