Sport AFL AFL: Eagle Nic Naitanui in fine form as season goes into recess

AFL: Eagle Nic Naitanui in fine form as season goes into recess

West Coast Eagles leave the ground winners, but when will they return? Photo: AAP
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West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui put on a dominant display to inspire his team to a 27-point win over Melbourne at a sombre Optus Stadium.

The Eagles booted five unanswered goals in the opening quarter of Sunday’s clash on the way to a 12.6 (78) to 7.9 (51) triumph.

The game was played just two hours after news broke that the AFL would go on hold until at least June because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It meant the game in Perth would be the last taste of AFL action for at least 10 weeks.

Before the match, prized Eagles recruit Tim Kelly said the players felt a sense of numbness as the severity of the situation hit home.

Goal celebrations were notably muted during the game, with players knowing a Round 1 win might not end up counting for anything.

Nonetheless, Naitanui produced an enormous display, tallying 13 disposals, 23 hitouts, six clearances and two score assists to beat Max Gawn in the crucial ruck battle.

Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey and Dom Sheed were prominent through the midfield, while goalsneak Liam Ryan booted 3.3.

Melbourne midfielder Jack Viney, who lost the captaincy in February, was his team’s shining light.

The 25-year-old tallied 34 disposals, seven clearances and a goal, while former Docker Ed Langdon finished with 31 possessions.

In Melbourne, Hawthorn cruised to a 28-point victory over Brisbane as the AFL announced mid-game that the season would be halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite AFL boss Gillon McLachlan revealing that competition had been suspended until June, the teams returned to the MCG field after halftime as the Hawks prevailed 14.6 (90) to 9.8 (62).

Hawthorn’s Shaun Burgoyne tackles Brisbane Lion Alex Witherden. Photo: AAP

Both clubs attempted to shield their players from news of the league’s postponement until after the game.

Despite the Lions taking a two-point lead into quarter-time, the Hawks were in control for most of the match held behind closed doors.

A three-goal blitz at the start of the second quarter allowed Hawthorn to break away and the Lions never recovered.

The Hawks’ accuracy around goal paid off, while their opponents cost themselves with poor kicking.

Brisbane threatened early in the last quarter, but Alastair Clarkson’s side finished strongly with the final three goals to end a four-game losing run against the Lions.

Hawks star Shaun Burgoyne, in his 20th AFL season, shone brightly with three goals and created golden opportunities for teammates.

Chad Wingard played one of his best games for Hawthorn after crossing from Port Adelaide during the 2018 trade period, finishing with 20 disposals and three goals.

Clarkson said his team did their best to focus on the match despite the surreal circumstances they found themselves in.

“It didn’t implicate my mood, one way or another in the coaches box,” he told reporters.

“There was still a game of footy. If we miss a tackle, I would get angry. If we laid a tackle or kicked a goal, I’d be happy.”

A bright spot for Brisbane was the debut of draftee Deven Robertson, a late inclusion for former Hawthorn defender Grant Birchall, who missed with a tight hamstring.

“I know I found my mind drifting at different times during the week to the ‘what ifs’ and the maybes, not really certain what would happen,” Lions coach Chris Fagan told reporters.

“It’s a very difficult situation we all find ourselves in … we just have to get together as a society to overcome this.”