AFL footy is back in the country with West Coast taking on Port Adelaide at Bendigo Bank Stadium in Mandurah today.
While the sponsored name reflects that of a modern, high-tech arena, Rushton Park (as it is commonly known) is quite the opposite.
As the AFL continues to expand its foray into regional towns across the country, Mandurah prepares to host its third pre-season game ever (two of those being NAB Challenge matches, a format which has since been abolished).
But of course – there’s a game happening too.
West Coast, one of three undefeated sides in the NAB Cup, sit $3.00 favourites to win the competition and are also tipped to defeat Port Adelaide this afternoon. But with the Power suddenly having found some winning form, defeating Carlton before pushing their neighbours Adelaide to the very end, it won’t be an easy task for the team from the west.
The Eagles seemed to have no ill-effects a fortnight ago up forward despite being without the fire-power of Mark LeCras. No recognised goal kickers got on the score sheet, but it was the youngsters and crumbers who stood up to be counted.
Livewire Gerrick Weedon kicked three goals for the afternoon and looks like a promising prospect for this season. “The Weed” played only one game in 2011 but will be looking for increased game time and more opportunities this season, his third year in the system.
Amazingly, West Coast will again be without many of its star players but still have a very good chance of staying undefeated.
Meanwhile, Port Adelaide showed plenty of bite in its first match of the pre-season last week. Former Eagle Brad Ebert looked comfortable at his new home in Alberton, slotting into the midfield with ease and setting up target man John Butcher on several occasions. However, Ebert will be rested this week as Port look to blood rookies such as Nathan Blee and Ben Newton.
Butcher, who Port supporters praised as the saviour their side needed last year, will have a dramatically increased workload as the Power plan to move their way back up the ladder. If Port want any chance of progressing into the Grand Final, then Butcher will need to be on his game and kicking goals.
Daniel Kerr (WCE) – Kerr makes his 2012 debut after missing last week through injury and his output in the middle will be appreciated. The star on-baller is still yet to return to peak fitness with coach John Worsfold mentioning mid-week that he will nurse Kerr through two and a half quarters.
Hamish Hartlett (Port) – This man is all class when firing fit and winning the ball. There was a reason why he was rated so highly when he was drafted four years ago and this is the season where Hartlett will be looking to come into his own.
His leadership has been recognised with the 21-year-old being promoted to the leadership group for this season and given the captaincy for today’s match. With the talent stocks at Port Adelaide not in high numbers, Hartlett has plenty of opportunities to shine.
Watch out for: the ruck duel
Raw ruckman Jarrad Redden was solid in Port’s opener last week, but he’ll have a tough day at the office against experienced big man Dean Cox.
Cox is missing his partner in crime in Nic Naitanui, but has Scott Lycett as back-up if need be. Daniel Stewart will likely be sharing the load with Redden for the Power, who are slightly depleted in the ruck stocks after losing Matthew Lobbe to a hip injury, while new recruit Brent Renouf has not been selected.
Jackson Trengove is also not making the trip over to Western Australia despite being named in the 29-man squad. The Eagles have the experience in this department and should win out, but pundits will be interested to see how the young Power handle the pressure.
West Coast too strong in this one at “home” and will win by 28 points.