A towering performance from West Coast ruckman Dean Cox has helped his team to a memorable two-point win over North Melbourne in their first match ever at Bellerive’s Blundstone Arena.
Cox kicked three goals and was dominant at both ends of the ground in a pulsating final term where he even added the match-winning goal in a vital 12.14 (86) to 13.6 (84) victory.
Surprisingly, although he had played a starring role in the win, West Coast midfielder Matt Priddis was awarded the Brent Crosswell Medal for best afield.
A setback for the Eagles was the pre-game withdrawal of vice-captain Beau Waters because of a knee injury.
Coach John Worsfold indicated after the match there was no guarantee Waters would be available for the clash with Sydney at Patersons Stadium tomorrow week.
The early signs were ominous when Cox out-marked Luke Delaney in the goal-square after only a minute of play and registered the first goal of the match.
But it was to be a rare show of direct play on the wide, but short ground as North gradually took control with their confident brand of running football.
The Kangaroos had looked a little unsure with how they would rebound from defence early in the quarter, but once they settled into their pattern they produced some outstanding passages of play.
They kicked the last four goals of the first quarter and then the first four of the second to at one stage launch away to a 35-point lead. That came back to 27 points at half time, but only after Jack Darling registered the Eagles only goal for the quarter with a set shot on the siren.
Liam Anthony, Brent Harvey, Ryan Bastinac and captain Andrew Swallow were constantly winning possession through the middle of the ground with their hard running and spread, while Daniel Wells was often clinical with his kicking to set up scoring opportunities.
Robbie Tarrant was also providing a solid target up forward and Lindsay Thomas kicked beautifully for three first-half goals.
Daniel Kerr, playing his 200th game watched by members of his family, was the Eagles’ stand-out for the first two quarters and even though Matt Priddis, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff were winning plenty of possession, they lacked any genuine forward system and were often pushed wide where they did not shape as a scoring threat.
West Coast then picked up in the third quarter where Darling left them in the second, with Quinten Lynch and Chris Masten booting goals in the first two minutes after the restart.
Eagles ruckman Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui started to assert a genuine dominance over Todd Goldstein during the term and their team, with Matt Rosa providing some influential run, suddenly looked capable of a turnaround win that had previously seemed highly unlikely.
A thumping bump from Jacob Brennan on Goldstein midway through the term reflected the hardness of his team’s charge and they, at one stage, got the deficit back down to nine points.
But North orchestrated some resolute defence for the remainder of the term to extend their lead back out to 15 points with a quarter to play. Both teams struggled to score in the opening minutes, but it was West Coast who were able to pin their opponents in their defensive half for long periods.
They got the margin back inside one straight kick, but Lynch, Cox and Kerr all missed chances to put their team in front, leaving the scene open for some heroics from Harvey.
After a decisive run down the wing from Wells, who had intercepted at half-back, he delivered to his former skipper, who came up with an astonishing check-side goal from the pocket under pressure to give his team a seven-point buffer.
But the Eagles refused to lie down and when Josh Hill finally nailed a long set shot, the scores were tied at the 19-minute mark for the first time since the first quarter.
West Coast went to the lead on a running Priddis behind, before Tarrant slotted truly from a set shot on the boundary to take back the lead. Cox then replied immediately to put his team in front by the most narrow margin possible in what was a stunning final term.
In the end, with another behind from Schofield, it was enough to record a memorable win.