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Eagles strike early and often to defeat Dogs

WEST COAST 4.2 9.4 13.6 21.8 (134) WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.1 3.1 5.3 11.3 (69)
Goals: West Coast: M LeCras 5 J Darling 4 J Cripps 2 J Kennedy 2 L Shuey 2 A Gaff C Masten M Priddis M Rosa S Selwood S Wellingham. Western Bulldogs: J Macrae 2 L Hunter 2 R Murphy 2 S Crameri 2 S Higgins 2 M Boyd.
Best: West Coast: M Rosa, M LeCras, D Cox, J Darling, S Selwood, M Priddis. Western Bulldogs: D Morris, M Boyd, J Macrae, L Hunter, S Higgins, A Cooney.
Umpires: Stuart Wenn, Robert Findlay, Jason Armstrong.
Official Crowd: 36,752 at Patersons Stadium.

It took just seven seconds for West Coast to stamp its authority over the Western Bulldogs at Patersons Stadium on Sunday.

That's how long it took from the opening bounce of the round one clash for the ball to land in the hands of Eagles forward Jack Darling, who went back and kicked the game's first goal.

The Eagles would have practised that perfect centre bounce and clearance many times over summer, Naitanui leaping high and tapping the ball cleanly to Scott Selwood, who kicked long to the leading forward.

It set the Eagles on their way to a thumping 65-point win over the Dogs.

It's not the start the Bulldogs needed to the 2014 season. After a strong end to 2013 and a solid pre-season, they would have hoped for more.


Their fans would have hoped for even more.

But their offering to the Dogs faithful and the AFL public was well behind that of West Coast.

The Bulldogs' usual brand of contested football was challenged by a side desperate to return to finals football. At half-time the Eagles had earned 89 contested possessions to the Bulldogs 64 and led by 39 points.

In 2013, contested football was something Brendan McCartney could brag his side bought to a game.

Not on Sunday.

The Eagles continued to dominate in that area, with pressure on the Dogs' ball-carriers in all parts of the ground. They finished with 160 contested possessions to the Dogs' 127.

The Western Bulldogs lack of talls was also a problem and could be their Achilles heel again this season.

For most of the game they had Tom Campbell sitting deep in attack, as the only tall marking option, but he failed to have an impact, finishing with seven touches and no goals. He didn’t take a mark.

Liam Jones was left out, but he needs to step up and be another key forward that the Bulldogs so desperately need.

When the Bulldogs did get the ball and run forward, they had no one long to kick to.

With a lack of height in attack, they had to run; they had to handball. But in doing so they put themselves under too much pressure and turned the ball over, continually.

And they rarely made it into their attacking 50m; they fell behind the Eagles 60-37 in that key stat also.

Sides won’t win too many games by giving their forwards such a few opportunities.

It’s rare to see a side use the ball so much by hand, but of the Bulldogs 396 possessions yesterday, 204 were handballs.

The Eagles had no such problems with height in attack. Darling, Dean Cox, Nic Naitanui, Josh Kennedy and Callum Sinclair all rotated through attack.

The Dogs' lack of height was also felt in defence.

This group of Eagles kicked six goals between them, but the damage they inflicted could have been greater and will probably be at stages throughout this season.

Dale Morris did a great job on Kennedy, keeping him to just four touches and one goal to three-quarter-time, but the weight of numbers was too great.

Naitanui and Sinclair dropped uncontested marks inside their attacking 50 early in the contest, marks that they will snaffle up in a couple of weeks with a bit more touch.

It was the perfect start to Adam Simpson's tenure as the Eagles new senior coach.

After an impressive pre-season, which included two wins over Fremantle, he would be relieved to finally have his first premiership points.

The addition of former Hawthorn player Xavier Ellis already looks like it will pay dividends.

He only had 15 touches, but his attack on the ball, particularly early in the game, set the standard of the contest. His spoil early in the first term travelled 30m to Darling, who knocked it cleverly to Cox, who handballed on to Jamie Cripps, who snapped the first of his two goals.

Cripps' second, three minutes later, was just as spectacular. And it would have had a lot of frustrated Eagles supporters smiling.

It started from a long kick from Shannon Hurn out of defence that found Sinclair at half-forward, who then kicked it to a running Cripps.

Hurn missed most of 2013 through injury and is seen as the quarter-back style of player that the Eagles need to return to the top echelon of the AFL ladder.

And after Sunday's performance, they may just be on their way back.