West Coast has cemented its hold on a top-four spot with an impressive 53-point win over St Kilda.
The slick Eagles raced to a 37-point lead at quarter-time and were able to keep the resurgent Saints at arm’s length before powering away to the 20.11 (131) to 12.6 (78) win at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
St Kilda launched a stunning comeback to defeat the Western Bulldogs at the same venue a fortnight ago, but they couldn’t overcome a similarly lethargic start against West Coast.
Nic Naitanui was important in the first quarter as Luke Schuey and Matt Priddis got on top around the stoppages, while Josh Kennedy kicked two of his four goals for the day as the Eagles bounded out of the blocks.
The lifeless Saints looked set for a fearful hiding, but Leigh Montagna, with 22 disposals in the first half, sparked an unlikely resurgence that slashed the deficit to just two goals at the main break.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the second quarter, but we knew they wouldn’t go away,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.
“We probably scouted their spirit a little bit. They’re a team who’s young and exciting. They were able to put some real pressure on us in that second quarter and we didn’t stand up to it.”
The gap closed to as little as seven points as the Saints carried their momentum into the third quarter, but the Eagles steadied to kick the last three goals of the term to lead by 31.
On the evidence of their much-improved intensity over the previous two quarters that margin wasn’t beyond St Kilda, but West Coast managed the first goal of the final term, through Fraser McInnes.
Not satisfied to ease to the line, the Eagles took full advantage of their tiring opposition to convincingly claim their fifth win in succession.
Naitanui finished with 37 hitouts but failed to take a mark, while Andrew Gaff (33 possessions) joined Schuey (28) and Priddis (31) in an impressive performance by their onball brigade.
Simpson said it was still too early to tell whether the Eagles are a genuine top-four contender, but he was delighted with the way they finished off the match.
“I thought we responded pretty well in the second half,” he said.
“We put our foot down there at the end, but I thought the game was always tense.”
Jack Steven worked tirelessly for St Kilda to finish with 36 touches and nine clearances, with David Armitage (32) and Montagna (33) also influential.
Jimmy Webster was knocked out of the match with concussion in the second quarter and was joined by Sam Fisher after the veteran suffered a hamstring injury in the third.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson refused to blame his side’s poor finish on the loss of the pair, instead pointing to their poor start as the biggest factor in the loss.
“That’s when the fight starts and we weren’t up for the fight, so that was disappointing,” Richardson said.
“But I was very pleased that the guys were able to turn that around and change the momentum of the game.
“There was certainly a bit to like.”