Main content

Five key questions: Eagles v Tigers

Are the Eagles the real deal? - AFL,West Coast Eagles,Richmond Tigers
Are the Eagles the real deal?

TOP SPOT will be at stake when the AFL's form teams West Coast and Richmond clash in an Optus Stadium blockbuster to close out round nine.

The Tigers head west brimming with confidence after a six-game winning streak, which has cemented the reigning premiers' standing as the team to beat in 2018.

But the Eagles have put together a seven-match unbeaten run and, against all expectations, are being touted as a premiership threat.

Can West Coast prove its flag credentials, or will Richmond deliver a reality check?

AFL.com.au has delved into the five key questions ahead of Sunday's showdown. 

WEST COAST REBOOTED Why the Eagles are flying high

Is West Coast the real deal?
If the Eagles knock over Richmond it will be difficult to deny Adam Simpson's outfit is a genuine contender. The Eagles have answered every challenge since going down to the Swans in round one, defeating finals hopefuls Geelong, Port Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney along the way. There is obviously a long way to go in 2018, but West Coast boasts arguably the AFL's greatest home ground advantage, a potent forward line (AFL No.2 points for), experienced defence (No.5 points against) and dominant ruck combination (No.1 hit-outs). There is a youthful vibrancy about the new-look West Coast and, like Richmond before them, the second tier Eagles are playing roles to perfection to support their stars in a system that is stacking up so far. 

Will the Eagles tag Dusty?
Ben Jacobs proved the Richmond superstar can be handcuffed last round, limiting Martin to just 16 touches as North Melbourne pushed the Tigers all the way in a 10-point loss at Etihad Stadium. Jacobs is probably the best tagger in the game, but the Eagles do have run-with specialist Mark Hutchings up their sleeve. Whether Hutchings has the power to go with the Brownlow medallist, especially when he pushes forward, is questionable, with Martin six centimetres taller and six kilograms heavier. Elliot Yeo shapes as the perfect match-up around clearances or one-out inside 50, and has done the job before keeping an eye on the AFL's elite, including Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe. Could Hutchings be better suited to a role on Richmond skipper Trent Cotchin after his stellar 37-disposal, one-goal game? 

MATCH PREVIEW West Coast v Richmond

Should Alex Rance go to Jack Darling?
Damien Hardwick has some tough decisions to make. Darling is clearly the Eagles' in-form forward, showing hands of steel (AFL No.1 contested marks) and finishing off his work (third for goals with 22), but dual Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy (15 goals) is due for a big game and looms large as a match-winner. Lock-down defender David Astbury often goes to the opposition's most dangerous forward, leaving Rance to back himself to balance attack and defence in a supporting role, but which Eagle should Astbury pick up? At 195cm, he is also the tallest of Richmond's three key defenders, including Dylan Grimes, so Astbury might be needed when Scott Lycett and Nic Naitanui rest forward. How much impact the Eagles talls have will be pivotal to the outcome. 

 

Will Richmond be exposed in the ruck?
Despite speculation he could be sidelined by a sore wrist, Richmond has named Toby Nankervis for the toughest ruck task in football against West Coast's tag-team Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett. The Eagles' combo has ignited a workmanlike midfield, and West Coast has boosted its clearance and contested ball numbers, while the Eagles are back dominating the territory battle. Interestingly, the Tigers haven't picked makeshift ruckman Shaun Grigg, so duties relieving in-form Nankervis could fall to Josh Caddy. Naitanui promised he and Lycett would try to work over whoever they face and, assuming Nankervis plays, the Richmond big man has a mammoth job ahead quelling their influence on the game. 

Can the Tigers perform out of their MCG comfort zone?
Richmond has won a club record 13-straight games at the home of football and would take some beating at the 'G come finals, but Hardwick's men looked vulnerable at Etihad Stadium last Sunday and their only loss for the season was a six-goal defeat on the road to Adelaide in round two. The way Richmond (AFL No.1 for fewest points against) defends its wide home ground with frantic pressure and surges the ball forward at pace (AFL No.1 scoring) should be transferrable to the similarly-sized Optus Stadium, but the Tigers will be walking into as hostile an environment as they will encounter all year. No interstate team has won in Perth since round one, although Richmond had success at Subiaco Oval in recent years, winning five of the last six games.