IT WAS a game North Melbourne was expected to win, a match it simply had to win.
And despite losing two of their stars, never playing their best footy or looking totally comfortable for much of the contest, the Roos finally completed the assignment and got their 2022 campaign underway.
KANGAROOS v EAGLES Full match coverage and stats
With West Coast going in to the round two clash with a VFL/AFL record 14 changes – 12 of them due to health and safety protocols – all of the pressure was on David Noble's young side, who were a shade disappointing in their round one loss to Hawthorn a week ago.
Perhaps North felt some of that pressure, but that may be unkind to the decimated Eagles, who were mightily brave and kept pushing until the final siren, before eventually suffering a 15-point loss, 10.14 (74) to 8.11 (59).
Willie Rioli (four goals) kicked the opening goal of the game after eight minutes, before Nick Larkey (six goals) booted two majors in the space of five minutes. Tarryn Thomas added North's third goal – a dribbler from inside the centre square – with five minutes remaining until quarter-time, but Rioli's second a minute before the break saw the Eagles trail by just six points.
The Roos were dealt some rotten luck in the second term, losing Luke Davies-Uniacke and Thomas to injury. Davies-Uniacke's head hit the turf during a tackle by Rioli, before Thomas' afternoon was cut short courtesy of a knock to the ribs.
It took 10 minutes for the first goal of the second quarter to be kicked, with Josh Mahony the beneficiary of a 50-metre penalty against Alex Witherden. Larkey gave North some breathing room when he registered his third goal, from right in front, thanks to a costly Witherden turnover. Liam Duggan cut the margin to 15 points, when he kicked just the 10th goal of his career, but Larkey replied soon after with his fourth. Bailey Williams breathed life into the Eagles' cause on the stroke of half-time, after he crumbed a goal from the marking pack he contested.
The plucky Eagles were well and truly up for the fight after the main break. They were the better side for much of the period, but Kayne Turner's two goal-term meant their efforts went largely unrewarded, winning the quarter by just one point.
The game was up for grabs during the final term, with both sides making mistakes and failing to take their chances.
Jack Darling, who had just six disposals on return from his delayed start to the year after failing to fulfil the requirements of the AFL's COVID-19 vaccination protocols, had the opportunity to cut the margin to within two goals at the 19-minute mark but his decision to kick around the corner from a slight angle backfired.
Larkey, the lone key forward to impact the game, finally finished the Eagles off, bagging his sixth major with just three minutes remaining, as Noble and co. breathed a massive sigh of relief.
"We just took it as another game, they've still got some really great players," Larkey told Fox Footy post-game.
"The boys that did fill in from the WAFL did a great job.
"We were going to come out with good intent; it's good to get the job done."
Incredibly, the Eagles made a VFL/AFL record 14 changes – 12 of them due to health and safety protocols - from its round one loss to Gold Coast in Perth last Sunday, while just seven of West Coast's 2018 Grand Final-winning side lined up against the Roos. As if Adam Simpson hadn't endured enough, the Eagles' coach was dealt another blow when conducting a pre-game interview with Fox Footy. Simpson was interrupted with the news that Jackson Nelson was unfit to play after injuring a knee during the warm-up. Nelson was replaced by former Roos Declan Mountford, who, was dressed in civvies, chatting in the lift to Fox Footy's Dermott Brereton, just minutes before the bounce. In another twist, Mountford made his debut for North against West Coast in round one, 2017; the last time these sides met at Docklands.
North's win comes at a cost
The Roos will be sweating on the fitness of young stars Davies-Uniacke and Thomas, who both failed to play out the game after suffering injury during the second quarter. Davies-Uniacke's head hit the Marvel Stadium surface in the early stages of the second quarter, after he was tackled by Rioli. Thomas, meanwhile, came from the field after he copped a leg to the ribs when diving to spoil a kick by Luke Foley. Thomas was seen in the North rooms on an ambulance stretcher.
Rioli makes most of reprieve
After a drama-packed week, which saw him suspended, then cleared by the AFL Tribunal, Rioli was brilliant for the undermanned Eagles, playing a lone hand up forward with four goals. He finished the afternoon with 18 disposals (13 kicks, five handballs, eight score involvements and three clearances), and his class came to the fore.
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.3 6.10 8.11 10.14 (74)
WEST COAST 2.3 4.4 6.6 8.11 (59)
North Melbourne: Larkey 6, Turner 2, Mahony, Thomas
West Coast: Rioli 4, Black, Duggan, Mountford, Williams
North Melbourne: Larkey, Turner, Greenwood, Ziebell, McDonald, Horne-Francis
West Coast: McGovern, Rioli, Shuey, Ryan, Kelly, Naish
North Melbourne: Davies-Uniacke (head knock), Thomas (ribs)
West Coast: Ainsworth (ankle)
North Melbourne: Aiden Bonar (replaced Luke Davies Uniacke)
West Coast: Luke Edwards (replayed Brayden Ainsworth)
Crowd: 14,204 at Marvel Stadium