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Eagles fly as Melbourne falls short

Travis King  March 10, 2017 9:27 AM

WEST Coast recruit Nathan Vardy has strengthened his claim to lead the Eagles' ruck in round one after impressing in a hard-fought 25-point win over Melbourne at Domain Stadium. 

But under-pressure Demons forward Jack Watts' spot in his side's season-opening clash with St Kilda still seems uncertain after he collected 15 touches in his first JLT Community Series appearance. 

Thursday night's result was largely irrelevant - it was West Coast who held on for a 0.14.11 (95) to 1.9.7 (70) triumph – however there was a lot to like in both sides' final pre-season hit-out.

Simon Goodwin's young Demons side stormed home from 27 points down at the final change, with Clayton Oliver (31 disposals) prolific in midfield alongside veteran campaigner Jordan Lewis (29).

Fringe Dees big man Jake Spencer pushed his case for round one, booting three goals and swapping in the ruck with All Australian star Max Gawn, who dominated hit-outs in a typically aggressive display.

But Eagles coach Adam Simpson would've been thrilled with Vardy's third assured showing in an unfamiliar lead ruck role.

The former Geelong forward was on fire around the ground in the opening quarter and kept Gawn honest in the aerial battle.

Vardy finished with 12 touches and two goals, and with Scott Lycett (knee) and Jonathan Giles (thumb) failing to appear during the pre-season series, he appears is in the box seat to face North Melbourne in round one. 

"We got (Vardy) for a reason. He's a long-term investment for us," Simpson said. 

"We think he's going to fill the void for a little while – along with Giles, Lycett and Drew (Petrie).

"He's coming from a low-base, he hasn't rucked too much before, so a great start point is aggression and follow-up – and that's what both of them (Vardy and Petrie) are doing."

Following a tight first half on Thursday night, the Eagles motored away with a five-goal-to-one third term as their engine room got on top. 

Melbourne closed the margin to 11 points early in the last term, with Jayden Hunt booting a running supergoal, but ran out of steam. 

For West Coast, Sam Mitchell racked up 39 touches in concert with clearance king Matt Priddis (27, one goal). 

Lewis Jetta rounded out a promising pre-season with a lively 12 disposals, while Chris Masten (34) produced a confidence-boosting effort. 

In attack, dual Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy (five goals) and sidekick Mark LeCras (two) tuned-up for the Roos in fine style.

Demons midfielder Dom Tyson (24 disposals) made an encouraging return from a knee injury and young gun Angus Brayshaw was dangerous in attack. 

Emerging star Jesse Hogan battled hard against the Eagles' tall defenders, finishing with two goals. 

Watts, in his first pre-season hit-out after a lacklustre summer on the training track, was handy as a playmaker across half-forward but faded after half-time. 

"I liked Jack's first half, especially. I thought he was terrific, and his intensity and what we've been working on with Jack was very good," Goodwin said.

"He's certainly had a big four weeks; he worked really hard to get back into the team."

Former co-captain Jack Trengove didn't see any action and appears on the outer for a round one encounter with the Saints.

WHAT WE LEARNED

West Coast: Taking on All Australian big man Max Gawn was always going to be a stern test for Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie, but the West Coast recruits took another step towards proving they could compete against Roos star Todd Goldstein in round one. Vardy was outstanding early roaming around the ground – with three inside 50s and a goal in the opening term – and is firming for the season-opener. Petrie won 17 hit-outs and never stopped working. 

Melbourne: Clayton Oliver could be on the cusp of a breakout season. The hard-at-it 19-year-old burst onto the scene in 13 games last year, but has worked his backside off over summer to improve his engine and the results showed on Thursday night. Oliver collected a team-high 31 touches, laid seven tackles and won five clearances while his burst from stoppages also caught the eye. He could be on the verge of something special.

NEW FACES
West Coast: Sam Mitchell was caught holding ball twice in first term, but from there it was all positive. The former Hawthorn champion racked up 39 touches in the middle and across half-back in another mouthwatering display, while Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie continued to compete aggressively in the ruck. 

Melbourne: Jordan Lewis was his usual self, scrounging under the packs to win six clearances and also getting out into space to use his precise left boot in a perfect round-one warm-up. Former Bombers backman Jake Melksham was clean in defence with his 22 touches.

NEXT UP
Melbourne faces bogey side St Kilda – who have won the past 14 clashes - in what shapes as a thrilling round one contest between two sides on the rise at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, March 25. The Eagles will also be at Docklands in the opening round, taking on North Melbourne the next day.

WEST COAST   0.3.5    0.7.5    0.12.8    0.14.11   (95)
MELBOURNE    0.2.2    0.6.3     0.8.5      1.9.7      (70) 

SUPERGOALS
West Coast: Nil
Melbourne: Hunt 

GOALS
West Coast: Kennedy 5, LeCras 2, Darling 2, Vardy 2, Priddis, Gaff, Hill
Melbourne: Spencer 3, Hogan 2, Brayshaw, Jones, Salem, Viney 

BEST 
West Coast: Mitchell, Masten, Gaff, Vardy, Kennedy, Wellingham, LeCras
Melbourne: Oliver, Hunt, Lewis, Spencer, Bugg, Salem 

INJURIES
West Coast: Nil
Melbourne: Nil  

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Haussen, Dalgleish, Kamolins, Adams

Official crowd: 5337 at Domain Stadium