Sport

Ducking and diving on free-kicks

WEST Coast has perfected two things in 2012 - winning games and winning free-kicks.

The Eagles may be perched atop the ladder after six rounds as the only undefeated side, but it's being the clear leader on the 'frees for' table which is drawing more attention.

The umpires have blown their whistles 157 times in West Coast's favour this season - 15 (almost an entire game's worth to most clubs) more than the next best, Port Adelaide.

The Eagles are averaging 26 a game, which, to put it into further perspective, is about four or five more per match than the teams ranked No.1 in that department in recent seasons, and eight more a game than they were awarded in their 2006 premiership year.

Umpires are getting more and more trigger happy by the season as they crack down on this and that, but, still, West Coast is averaging just 16 'frees against', and clearly getting the rub of the green from the men in white.

And a lot of it has to do with the Eagles' ability to implement the 'duck-and-shrug' when being tackled, which involves them dropping to their knees and raising their elbows so as to force the tackler's arms to make high contact, and voila, draw a free - more than a third of their overall frees are for high contact

Geelong star Joel Selwood actually perfected the technique, but must have given his brothers at West Coast, Scott and Adam, a few pointers in the backyard at the family home over the summer holidays.

It's caught on over in the West to the point Eagles Luke Shuey and Ashton Hams, in particular, have gotten it down to a fine art.

Shuey leads the competition for both overall frees (19) - ahead of Joel Selwood (18) and Hams (15) - and high-contact frees (16) - followed by Hams (11) and Joel Selwood (9).

First Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson, then North Melbourne's Brad Scott (after his side returned from Perth with a 15-29 free-kick count) questioned West Coast's tactics.

For a lot of general footy fans it is proving as unpopular as the infamous dive and has led to the Eagles being christened the 'West Coast Duckers'.

Of course, coach John Worsfold doesn't know what all the fuss is about: "Our players have an extraordinary appetite to go and win the hard ball."

They do and they do it well even if they are stretching the boundaries of fair play.

While Scott was off discussing the issue with AFL umpires boss Jeff Gieshen during the week, his assistant coach Darren Crocker summed up the situation best: "As much as it was frustrating on our part, our guys need to learn to tackle with the right technique."

Pretty simple. With the AFL not about to intervene, the tactic is most likely here to stay.

 

Hill on the rise

DESPITE some iffy frees in its favour, West Coast should be applauded for being undefeated - two years after collecting the wooden spoon. A lot of it has to do with their recruiting.

Josh Hill is one example. His talent had never been in question just his commitment.

After debuting for the Western Bulldogs in 2007, he showcased his potential in 2009 when he booted 33 goals in 23 games. But after falling out with then coach Rodney Eade, he tried to get to Hawthorn in the 2010, but the Hawks and Dogs couldn't agree on a trade.

Unhappy, he was forced to go through the motions in 2011, resulting in 5 goals in 12 games.

It probably couldn't have worked out any better for him, with the Dogs happy to see the back of him at the end of the 2011 season, and Hill heading back home to WA.

He has been fortunate the Eagles have been hit by injuries to half-forwards Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski to be given an opportunity, and in turn, the Eagles fortunate they have Hill to cover for them.

With 15, he is the club's leading goalkicker and sixth overall in the competition.

Topics:  afl, west coast eagles



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