Ugly scenes: 'Ban scumbag for life'

 

The opening game of the AFL finals series was marred by ugly scenes as two stars were reported and a fan was captured throwing a drink on a player.

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West Coast charged into the second week of the AFL finals with a 55-point thumping of Essendon in a match that was overshadowed by a third quarter fracas.

The action spilled dangerously close to the crowd when Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui violently objected to having his hair pulled by Zach Merrett.

Merrett was attempting to wrestle his much larger foe over the boundary line but grabbed a dreadlock in the process.

Ex-Geelong midfielder Cameron Ling said Naitanui was asking for trouble with his long locks.

"Someone gives you a tiny tug of your hair you can throw a bloke into the fence can you? I wouldn't have thought so," Ling said in commentary for Channel 7.

"It's not a good look," Garry Lyon added on Fox Footy.

Nic Naitanui of the Eagles starts a melee with Kyle Langford of the Bombers during the First Elimination Final between the West Coast Eagles and the Essendon Bombers in Week 1 of the AFL Finals Series at Optus Stadium in Perth, Thursday, September 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Nic Naitanui of the Eagles starts a melee with Kyle Langford of the Bombers during the First Elimination Final between the West Coast Eagles and the Essendon Bombers in Week 1 of the AFL Finals Series at Optus Stadium in Perth, Thursday, September 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

But others saw it differently.

"Pulling hair is just not on," wrote sports journalist Roy Ward. "Not just because it's such a poor act but because it could also cause neck/shoulder issues. NFL had to outlaw guys tackling people by their braids. I hope the AFL takes a very dim view on this act."

As Kyle Langford stepped in to take over wrestling duties for the Bombers, a fan was captured spraying his drink in Merrett's direction.

 

Naitanui and Merrett - who shared a friendly hug after the game - are likely to escape with fines. "I was a bit angry," Naitanui said. "I'll probably get a fine for throwing the bloke. Yeah he pulled my hair, wasn't happy with it, but ah well, it's all part of it."

Michael Hurley of the Bombers tackles Liam Ryan of the Eagles during the First Elimination Final between the West Coast Eagles and the Essendon Bombers in Week 1 of the AFL Finals Series at Optus Stadium in Perth, Thursday, September 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Michael Hurley of the Bombers tackles Liam Ryan of the Eagles during the First Elimination Final between the West Coast Eagles and the Essendon Bombers in Week 1 of the AFL Finals Series at Optus Stadium in Perth, Thursday, September 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Kennedy kicks Eagles into gear

West Coast forward Josh Kennedy booted four goals and Nic Naitanui weaved his magic in the ruck to help lift the Eagles to a 55-point elimination final win.

Kennedy booted three first-half goals and set up two for Liam Ryan to blow the game open early.
Naitanui, playing his first game since suffering a syndesmosis injury eight weeks ago, produced a series of potent ruck taps and crunching tackles to give his side the midfield ascendancy.

West Coast opened up a 41-point lead midway through the second quarter, and were able to withstand two Essendon fightbacks to secure the 17.14 (116) to 9.7 (61) win in front of 59,216 fans.

The Eagles will now take on either Geelong or Collingwood at the MCG on Friday week in a semi-final blockbuster.
Naitanui finished with 24 hitouts and 14 disposals in a promising return.

But the 2012 All-Australian was reported for shoving Zach Merrett into the fence after the Bombers midfielder tugged on one of his dreadlocks. The angry exchange sparked a heated melee, and Merrett was reported for the original hair tug.

But both Merrett and Naitanui will probably escape with a fine given there were no injuries to come out of it.

Naitanui showcased his speed at ground level during the match, running down Bombers speedster Adam Saad in a mad dash in which he reached a speed of 31.7km/h.

Essendon haven't won a final since 2004, and the big question now is whether coach John Worsfold will hold onto his position.

Rumours have bubbled in recent weeks that Worsfold could be axed if he failed to guide his team to a finals win, but the veteran coach is confident he will be at the helm in 2020.

Eagles forward Jamie Cripps booted four goals and Liam Ryan kicked three in a strong display.

Essendon forward Jake Stringer was goalless, while Saad shook off a close tag from Mark Hutchings to finish with two goals and provide some good bounce from defence.

The Bombers booted two of the first three goals of the match, but the rest of the quarter belonged to West Coast as the club's indigenous stars came to the fore.

Lewis Jetta's pin-point kicks from defence were complemented by magical play from Ryan and Willie Rioli further up the field.

Kennedy booted his second goal on the quarter-time siren to give West Coast a handy 21-point lead at the first break, and the margin swelled to 41 points midway through the second quarter.

Saad sparked a mini revival for the Bombers to help close the margin to 30 points at the long break.
Merrett's tug on Naitanui's dreadlock ignited an angry response as tempers threatened to boil over in the third quarter.

Essendon booted the next two goals to close the gap to 24 points, but the Eagles were able to hold their nerve and then pull away in the final quarter. The Bombers lost Mitch Brown to a calf injury in the third quarter.

WEST COAST 6.4 10.8 13.11 17.14 (116)

ESSENDON 3.1 6.2 8.5 9.7 (61)

Goals: West Coast: J Cripps 4 J Kennedy 4 L Ryan 3 J Darling 2 J Waterman 2 D Sheed W Rioli. Essendon: A McDonald-Tipungwuti 2 A Saad 2 W Snelling 2 A McGrath J Laverde O Fantasia.

Umpires: Matt Stevic, Andrew Stephens, Leigh Fisher.

Official Crowd: 59,216 at Optus Stadium.

- AAP



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