From The Notebook, Round 5

On the agenda for Round 5:

– West Coast’s efficiency and what it says about them
– How Josh Kelly’s game-winning goal came to be
– Fremantle’s adjustments from first half to second

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The value of West Coast’s efficiency

Through five rounds, West Coast’s season has largely gone to script on the surface, save for the second half fadeout against St Kilda. Three wins from three at home and losing a coin flip game against the Western Bulldogs.

The fascinating thing about the Eagles is how most of their (publicly available) underlying numbers are middling to below average, yet they make up for it with brutal efficiency inside 50.

West Coast in 2021Total/PercentageAFL Rank
Contested Possession Differential-1512th
Uncontested Possession Differential-2812th
Inside 50 Differential-411th
Goals Conceded Per Inside 50 %24.79%16th
Goals Scored Per Inside 50 %30.34%1st
Expected Score (via Stats Insider)*+64.401st
*through Round 4

Comparing West Coast’s forward line to Collingwood’s is less of an apples to apples comparison and more aeroplane to paper plane, but the efficiency story was much the same on Friday night. The Eagles had eight fewer inside 50s (42-50) for five more goals (16-11).

The thing is, if your team has a forward line featuring the likes of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen, you’d expect your goal scoring rate and expected score to be better than average given that’s what those forwards are.

Last year West Coast were again right up the top in both goal scoring rate and expected score, which makes this a feature of their play and not an anomaly. The trend to keep an eye on is how long their all-star forward line can make up for other areas of the field, and whether it’s enough to propel them into the top tier of teams in the competition.

Breaking down Josh Kelly’s game winning goal

While the value of ruckmen can sometimes be debated, Kelly’s game winning goal for the Giants demonstrated how much Sydney missed Tom Hickey after he hobbled off with a knee injury.

When teams are defending against stoppages close to goal in the dying stages, the general strategy is to keep the ball at feet and away from space. A repeat stoppage or a rushed kick away are usually the two goals for the team defending. Sydney set up well to start:

Then, in the blink of an eye, there’s a 1-2-3 combination which leads to disaster for the Swans and ecstasy for the Giants.

Firstly, as Justin McInerney rolls around to one side of the stoppage, Jake Lloyd follows and nudges the youngster further towards the back of the setup:

Sam Reid, deputising in the ruck after Hickey’s injury, misreads the situation and instead of tapping it to ground, nudges it into the most dangerous space on the ground:

Which leaves Kelly, who’s been in the perfect vantage point to watch all this unfold. He reads the Reid tap before anyone else, and knows he’s got the perfect runaway to gather and snap:

The split second difference between Kelly’s reaction and everyone else is all that’s needed to decide the game and give the Giants a second consecutive win.

Behind the goals vision. Tells you the entire story.

Fremantle’s offensive composure

Hopefully it’s not speaking out of turn to say Fremantle’s offence has been several levels below their defence since Justin Longmuir took the reins; partly by design and partly due to personnel.

They were 16th in points scored last year, and had only kicked 8.10 and 9.10 in their first two away games this year.

At half time against Adelaide, the Dockers had 25 inside 50s for a grand return of 3.5 and a 12-point deficit. Most of their entries looked like this, low percentage with Crows numbers behind the ball easily dealing with it:

Which is what made Fremantle’s second half all the more impressive. They’re not yet at the stage where their Plan A is enough to beat teams when it’s on, so they adapted after the main break, looked to lower their eyes and take what the defence was giving them – even if it wasn’t necessarily in an A+ location for shot quality. Coupled with an advantage around the contest, the results spoke for themselves:

v Adelaide, Round 5Inside 50sScore
1st Half253.5.23
2nd Half299.7.61

Where the first half entries tended to be high and slow, the second half was short and sharp like this absolute bullet of a kick from Colyer:

Or this from Walters to the leading Schultz, where it would have been quite easy to pop it on Lobb’s head instead:

Even this example from Schultz to Taberner in the pocket, knowing any hesitation would have meant Adelaide numbers dropping back to clog up the 50:

It’s a promising step forward for Fremantle’s forward half. We know their defensive structure is almost always going to be there, which makes any incremental improvements at the other end of the ground more valuable for them than most other teams. West Coast in Round 7 looms as their next major challenge.

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