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Veteran Steve Johnson stars as GWS Giants smash West Coast Eagles

16 September 2017 12:26 PM
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Steve Johnson booted GWS into a second straight preliminary final on Saturday, orchestrating a 67-point win over West Coast and issuing a timely reminder that he can still bring his best football in September.

Bournemouth's chances at a first win were looking doubtful after Solly March's header goal after the break. However, the cherries hit back with two quick goals to nab their first win of the season.

It was a tale of two stars at the MCG as Patrick Dangerfield sparked Geelong to a 59-point semi-final romp against Sydney on a night that saw Buddy Franklin kept goalless.

Geelong Cats coach Chris Scott has praised Rhys Stanley's ability to step in late for the sick Tom Lonergan.

A week after being dropped for last weekend's qualifying final defeat to Adelaide and playing in a scratch match against the Crows reserves, the 34-year-old kicked six second-half goals in his 292nd career game, providing an answer to his side's recent attacking woes.

"In that second half I found myself trying to get a little bit deeper just so the ball wasn't passing me and at least I'd give myself every chance to be involved in the play," Johnson said.

"I probably got on the end of one through a stoppage then the next one came. I was really able to score on the back of some pretty good ball movement.

"I'm sure it's not going to be that easy to kick goals next week but I'm really pleased that my running ability seemed to pick up as the game went on as well.

"It was a little bit like the practice match I played in last week, the first half I wasn't really getting near it but in the second half my body started to kick in again. That's a little bit how i felt tonight."

The Tigers await at the MCG next weekend, and a crowd of almost 100,000 which is 40,000 more than this fledgling football club has ever entertained, and all of a sudden the Richmond grand final fairytale is on a collision course with a significant speed bump.

They'll provide a much sterner test than what a tired West Coast dished up at Spotless Stadium in front of 14,865 fans on Saturday, but this high-flying GWS side will also give the Tigers a stiffer assignment than what Geelong did last weekend.

West Coast copped one of the best versions of the Giants fans have witnessed this season, and this was without key men Jeremy Cameron and Shane Mumford.

This was a complete performance. Ball movement was slick and crisp, and the Eagles were repeatedly sliced to ribbons through the middle of the ground.

But GWS were also unsociable away from the football, their tackling pressure was fierce, and West Coast simply weren't allowed to execute the expansive game plan that usually comes to the fore on the vast expanses of Subiaco.

Crucially for coach Leon Cameron he was served by 22 contributors, and several players were able to work their way into form.

Johnson had the crowd on its feet several times throughout his virtuoso third quarter, turning back the clock and exposing his desire to win a fourth AFL flag before he retires at the end of this season.

"He's obviously clearly a special player, for him to do that in a semi-final at 33, 34 years old is quite unique," Giants coach Leon Cameron said.

"To kick six goals and have his 10, 11 possessions is a pretty good performance from a guy playing his last couple of games.

"What really hurt him was going out of the team. He was the first to admit that he thought his performances weren't up to scratch.

"He had a really good hit out last Friday against the Crows twos and steeled himself up to play some good footy tonight."

Johnson was unsociable as only he can be. On the stroke of half-time he sought out Drew Petrie to enquire about the raised forearm which had floored GWS youngster Lachie Whitfield only moments before.A half-time scuffle ensued, but the hit on Whitfield, who slowly pulled himself back up to his wobbly feet, only seemed to fire up the classy wingman.

Whitfield played one of his best games of the season just a few days after recommiting to the club, and was particularly influential in a blistering third quarter.

Brett Deledio won a final at long last, at the fifth time of asking, and now squares off against his old club for a place in the grand final. He finished with a well-taken running goal.

Jonathon Patton provided a strong marking target all night as the sole tall forward. Inaccurate kicking didn't allow him to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, but he finished with two goals and 10 marks, frequently impacting the contest. A mouth-watering showdown with Alex Rance now awaits.

Down back GWS were very rigid. Phil Davis stifled Drew Petrie, Adam Tomlinson took care of Jack Darling and Aidan Corr wore Josh Kennedy like the black glove he drapes over his left hand.

Rory Lobb also validated Cameron's decision to inject him, and not Dawson Simpson, into the ruck and he had the better of Eagles big man Nathan Vardy.

Co-captain Callan Ward had another influential game around the contest, while fellow engine-roomers Stephen Coniglio and Dylan Shiel were also brilliant.

All said the Giants had 10 more clearances, 12 more inside 50s and most crucially, 23 more tackles.

"The pressure was pretty good, most coaches are always going to angle in on that," Cameron said.

"We tackled really well, the game was an end to end game it was pretty open.

"We had probably nearly 80 tackles. Last week we had 112 tackles. We tackled really well last week against the Crows and we tackled really well against the Eagles today.

"We pounced on that pressure and obviously scored off the back of it. The challenge is can we produce that sort of pressure against probably the elite pressure side in the competition."

​The one negative of the evening was what appeared to be a knee injury to backman Nick Haynes in the third quarter. He played on for a few moments before leaving the field, but reappeared for the fourth term and seemed to be moving around freely enough.

​West Coast were clearly an exhausted football club after last weekend's after-the-siren, extra-time win against Port Adelaide to earn a shot at the Giants. Saturday marked the end of three great AFL careers too – Brownlow Medal winning pair Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis, and ex-Kangaroo Drew Petrie.

"They were exceptional tonight and we got nowhere near," Eagles coach Adam Simpson said.

"We had to play perfect footy tonight. The moment we turned the ball over we just got exposed."

Nothing should be taken away from GWS who all of a sudden have a sense of timing about them, and who now travel to the MCG free of the burden that Richmond will carry to try and appease their success-starved and ravenously hungry fanbase.

The Giants have won less games this season than last, but they are now again just four quarters of football from a grand final.

And for the first time in their short history, they've progressed further than the Sydney Swans who were bundled out by Geelong on Friday night.

GWS is still capable of giving this AFL premiership an almighty shake.

Source: theage.com.au

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16 September 2017 12:27 PM

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