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HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEMS by Whispering Jack

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The two sides facing off against each other this Saturday night in the west have a number of things in common if their most recent games are any guide. In Round 13, they both beat highly fancied opposition teams using relentless pressure applied throughout their respective contests. Their players swarmed around opponents and worked together, corralling them and tackling strongly to force submission. At the end of their games, the West Coast Eagles were back on the winning list with a victory over third placed Geelong while Melbourne had thrashed the reigning premier.

This week the teams, which each hold 7:5 win-loss records, meet at Domain Stadium in a vital clash. The winner will be within close range of a coveted top four placing and possibly even inside that group, depending on other results. The importance of the game will therefore add to the pressure cooker atmosphere for both sides.

The home team is the starting favourite. Not many can remember the last time that Melbourne won a game on this side of the continent and most of its recent visits have been unmitigated disasters. The record shows that it has lost 16 consecutive games in Perth with the last victory recorded there in 2004. 

The Demons are coming off the second of three successive six-day breaks and have lost one of their skippers, the seemingly invincible Nathan Jones, whose presence in the team contributes greatly to the enormous grunt that has caused observers to describe them as one of the toughest sides in the competition. The odds seem to be stacked against the visitors.

On the other hand, last week's breakthrough game against the Bulldogs was something else. It indicated that this Melbourne team is different to everything we've come to expect from the red and blue over the past decade. We've expected losses at Etihad, we've expected defeats after strong performances like the one it produced on the Queens Birthday and we've expected the team to come home from Perth empty-handed for so long that we can't comprehend any other result.

However, the Eagles' dominance at Domain Stadium can no longer be taken as a given. Certainly, they beat the Cats there at their last encounter but their form before that was shaky. They lost there to a badly depleted GWS, just scraped home against the out-of-form Western Bulldogs and in between, crashed away from home to Essendon and Gold Coast.  

The Demons' last two visits to Perth have been interesting. They did everything but win their Round 18 encounter in slippery conditions against an accurate West Coast that had the rub of the green with some very fortunate umpiring decisions in the close final quarter. They traveled there again in the pre-season and were highly competitive in their JLT game but sagged in the heat at the end of the game. 

But the team is building and recently has made a practice out of breaking hoodoos. This week, they will be up for yet another challenge made more difficult by the added obstacle of the six day break and the necessity of making changes to the way the team lines up on a ground way different in dimension to that of Etihad and with a more hostile crowd egging on their home town heroes. The pressure will be high.

THE GAME

West Coast v Melbourne at Domain Stadium, Saturday 24 June, 2017 at 7.40pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall West Coast 33 wins Melbourne 15 wins

At Domain Stadium West Coast 15 wins Melbourne 5 wins

Past five meetings West Coast 5 wins Melbourne 0 wins

The Coaches Simpson 0 wins Goodwin 0 wins

MEDIA

TV - Fox Footy Channel, Channel 7 live at 7.30pm

RADIO - SEN

THE BETTING

West Coast to win - $1.42 Melbourne to win - $2.90

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

West Coast 10.6.66 defeated Melbourne 8.12.60 Round 18, 2016 at Domain Stadium

West Coast survived a major scare from an inaccurate Melbourne in the game played in slippery conditions at Domain Stadium. The Demons led by six points at three-quarter time but the Eagles booted two unanswered goals in the final term to run out winners by a single goal.

THE TEAMS

WEST COAST EAGLES

B:  Shannon Hurn, Eric Mackenzie, Will Schofield 
HB: Thomas Cole, Tom Barrass, Brad Sheppard 
C: Andrew Gaff, Matt Priddis, Elliot Yeo 
HF: Lewis Jetta, Jack Darling, Dom Sheed 
F: Liam Duggan, Jeremy McGovern, Drew Petrie 
FOLL: Nathan Vardy, Sam Mitchell, Luke Shuey 
I/C: Jamie Cripps, Josh Hill,  Mark Hutchings, Malcolm Karpany 
EMG: Chris Masten, Jack Redden,   Sharrod Wellingham  

IN: Josh Hill, Malcolm Karpany

OUT: Mark LeCras (hip), Jackson Nelson (hamstring)

MELBOURNE 

B: Neville Jetta, Oscar McDonald, Michael Hibberd 
HB: Jayden Hunt, Sam Frost, Jordan Lewis
C: Jake Melksham, Clayton Oliver, Christian Salem
HF: Christian Petracca, Cam Pedersen, James Harmes
F: Jeff Garlett, Tom McDonald, Mitch Hannan
FOLL:  Max Gawn, Bernie Vince, Jack Viney
I/C: Tomas Bugg, Alex Neal-Bullen, Billy Stretch, Dom Tyson
EMG:  Ben Kennedy, Josh Wagner, Sam Weideman

IN: Max Gawn, Billy Stretch

OUT: Nathan Jones (quadriceps), Jack Watts (hamstring)

You have to go back all the way to 2006 when Melbourne had a better win-loss ratio at the equivalent stage of the season and even then it was only marginally better at 8:4. The Demons were the best performed Victorian team in the competition at the end of that year but it wasn't enough to see them in a preliminary final. They have reached this stage thanks to a rare vein of consistent form - at least for an  AFL team 2017 style. With three consecutive wins another on Saturday night in Perth against the West Coast Eagles would just about earn them the title of "the real deal".

The stumbling block, aside from the necessity of interstate travel six days after their last game against the Bulldogs, is the loss of two vital in-form players in skipper Nathan Jones and Jack Watts who has produced some stellar performances up forward with the occasional pinch hit in the ruck in the absence of All Australian ruckman Max Gawn who returns this week after almost three month's absence. 

But the Demons have no cause for complaint with respect to injuries because West Coast has been hit equally hard by injury and some poor form from key players has added to the Eagles' plight. Nick Naitanui has yet to recover from his ACL injury while his back up, Scott Lycet, dislocated a shoulder earlier this year in his comeback game from a knee injury and is struggling in the WAFL. Forwards Josh Kennedy and Mark Le Cras, who always manage to get among the goals against Melbourne, are also both out injured. Compounding the injury woes is the fact that the form of Chris Masten, Jack Redden and Sharrod Wellingham has been poor so that they are struggling to get back in the team. Notwithstanding, the Eagles were good enough to dispose of the Cats on their home turf so they can't be taken lightly.

Melbourne's fast flowing style and it's pressure game was impressive last week but it must now repeat the dose on the longer ground in Perth. If it can navigate its way around that arena and come up with  another major scalp, it will emerge with the world at its feet. 

I think this Demon team can do that and revive those heady days of 2006. 

Melbourne by 10 points.

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