Preliminary final: Local heroes step into the western cauldron

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Jake Melksham and Michael Hibberd compete for the ball at training on Wednesday. 

By TAS MAVRIDIS

Melbourne travel across the Nullarbor to face West Coast at the cauldron that is Optus Stadium.

Preliminary Final: West Coast vs Melbourne

Saturday, September 22, 3pm at Optus Stadium

The Eagles are playing in their first preliminary final since 2015,eeks as they vie for a spot in a grand final for the first time since 2000.

Talking points

The two Js

Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy loom as the two key men for the Eagles. So far this season, the Eagles haven’t lost if both their spearhead forwards played in the same game. The Dees won against West Coast in Perth not too long ago, however these two men were absent. As a result, the preliminary final will see Melbourne alter the way they set up in defence. However, Melbourne’s high-pressure game and ability to dominate the midfield has the potential to minimise the impact of the two Eagles forwards.

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Andrew Gaff signs autographs following  training session  earlier this month. The home ground advantage will be substantial. 

Home state advantage

West Coast have played three preliminary finals in Perth and have a perfect record of three wins. Despite the Eagles now playing at the new Optus Stadium, the atmosphere of the crowd and the weather could play a significant role. With forecasts sitting in the mid-20s, Melbourne will have to battle through warmer temperatures compared to the conditions they have faced in the first two weeks of finals.

Making the most of chances

Melbourne have had periods of dominance in both finals yet have been guilty of wasting opportunities in front of goal. With both Geelong and then Hawthorn failing to capitalise on this, Melbourne will have to avoid making the same mistake as West Coast could take advantage of this weakness.

Players to Watch

Scott Lycett (WCE): Coming up against All Australian ruckman Max Gawn, Lycett will have a difficult job to nullify the impact of the Melbourne big man. If Lycett can limit Gawn’s ability to feed the ball to his midfield, West Coast will have a good chance of overturning the round 22 result that saw the Demons dominate the clearances 43-29. 

Tom McDonald (MELB): With four goals in the semi-final win over Hawthorn, McDonald looms as the forward the Eagles will have to be most wary of. With Jesse Hogan out for the season, McDonald and Sam Weideman have chipped in with goals in the previous two finals.

Prediction: Melbourne by 11 points