STAND-in skipper Josh Kelly has inspired an undermanned Greater Western Sydney to a stunning 16-point victory at Giants Stadium as West Coast's worries on the road continue.
The Giants move into the top eight with their fifth win in seven matches, with this 13.15 (93) to 11.11 (77) victory the bravest of the lot.
GIANTS v EAGLES Full match coverage and stats
They could have gone into the match wondering where the goals would come from with Toby Greene and Jesse Hogan joining a lengthy injury list, but tall forwards Jeremy Finlayson (three goals) and Zach Sproule (two), as well as ruckman Matt Flynn (two), made sure the Giants had enough targets inside 50.
In his first game as GWS captain, Kelly led from the front with 25 disposals (13 contested), seven clearances, seven inside 50s and a game-high eight tackles. The Giants followed their skipper and looked more desperate throughout, ending the game with 78 tackles to the Eagles’ 46.
The Giants’ in-form midfield group of Tom Green (27 disposals, two goals), Tim Taranto (26 touches), Jacob Hopper (28) and Callan Ward (29) were again influential, supported by Shane Mumford and Flynn in their first game rucking together.
The GWS defence was able to limit the influence of the Eagles’ triple tall threat, as Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy and Oscar Allen were kept to one goal each, leaving small forwards Jack Petruccelle and Jamie Cripps to step up with two apiece.
It was a rollercoaster contest for the first three quarters, as the lead changed 13 times, and the result was still in the balance until speedster Bobby Hill kicked consecutive goals to hand the Giants a game-high lead of 16 points with three minutes remaining.
Star ruckman Nic Naitanui battled hard, especially after half-time, having his usual influence arounds stoppages with a game-high eight clearances, 13 contested possessions and six tackles, to go with 34 hitouts.
Tim Kelly also battled hard in the contest to be one of the Eagles’ best, gathering 22 disposals (15 contested), eight clearances, eight inside 50s and kicking a goal, while Andrew Gaff (28 disposals) and Jack Redden (22 touches, one goal) were also useful.
The Eagles went into the match leading the competition for marks, while the Giants were ranked 17th, but the home team was able to beat West Coast at its own game as they looked to hold onto the ball and be more patient with entries inside 50.
The Giants ended the match with more marks (121-71), disposals (404-303), inside 50s (50-45) and, most importantly, 16 more points on the scoreboard.
The loss is the Eagles' fourth on the road this season, their only win away from home coming against lowly Hawthorn at the MCG in round eight.
Disappointing day for decorated defender
It was third-time lucky for West Coast veteran Shannon Hurn, as he finally ran out for his record-breaking 291st match in blue and gold. The Eagles’ former captain has been sidelined since round four by repeated calf strains that twice postponed celebrations for passing Dean Cox's games record, but on his return the decorated defender did it in style. Hurn started slowly with only two disposals in the first term, but soon looked as unflappable as ever, gathering 21 disposals, five rebound 50s and 323 metres gained. On a disappointing day for his team, the 33-year-old showed he’s still a critical player for the Eagles as he pushes for his 10th finals campaign with the club he led to glory in 2018.
Lucky off-break for Finlayson
Jeremy Finlayson got on the end of a fast Giants transition around the wing to mark 40m out next to the boundary line on the better side for a left footer. It was a surprise when the 25-year-old went to play on quickly as his options were closed down, and when the umpire called play-on the Giants forward hurriedly threw the ball onto his boot to send it sailing high towards the goal square. Josh Rotham held Zach Sproule away from the drop of the ball only to see it take a sharp right turn as it bounced backwards and at 60 degrees for an unlikely goal.
Kelly Gang shootout a draw but Josh takes the points
Tim and Josh Kelly had both starred in the past few weeks: the Eagles’ Kelly averaging 33 disposals and 10 clearances as his team won three in a row, his Giants’ namesake gathering 28 touches a game and kicking four goals in the same period. Josh ran out as Greater Western Sydney’s captain for the first time and lined up next to Tim at the first few centre bounces, with the West Coast midfielder starting the stronger. The Giants stand-in skipper stepped up when needed in the third term to gather 10 disposals, as the pair were two of the more influential players on the ground. Tim edged out Josh for contested ball (15-13), clearances (8-7), inside 50s (8-7) and kicked a goal, while Josh gathered more disposals (25-22), tackles (8-3) and ultimately the four points.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 4.2 7.8 10.13 13.15 (93)
WEST COAST 3.4 7.7 10.9 11.11 (77)
Greater Western Sydney: Finlayson 3, Flynn 2, Green 2, Hill 2, Sproule 2, Lloyd, Whitfield
West Coast: Cripps 2, Petruccelle 2, Allen, Darling, Kennedy, Kelly, Redden, Waterman, Williams
Greater Western Sydney: Kelly, Green, Hopper, Taylor, Finlayson, Taranto, Flynn
West Coast: Naitanui, Kelly, Redden, Gaff, Petruccelle, Sheed
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
West Coast: Witherden (groin) replaced in selected side by Nelson
Greater Western Sydney: O'Halloran (unused)
West Coast: Jones (unused)
Crowd: 9,046 at Giants Stadium