NORTH Warrnambool Eagles’ experiment with key defender Adam Wines up forward is over.
The third-placed Eagles, desperate to find a tall marking goalkicker in the post David Haynes era, are shelving the Wines plan, despite him being the club’s equal highest goal-scoring tall with eight majors from just a handful of stints in attack this season.
Wines’ value in defence was underlined when he kept the league’s leading goalkicker Jason Rowan to his equal lowest haul of the season — one goal — on Saturday.
But with Wines in defence, the Eagles manufactured only eight goals against the premiership favourite, with genuine key forward Michael Darmody, who has eight goals for the season, held goalless in his return from an ankle injury.
In 12 matches this season, 88 per cent of the Eagles’ goals have come from small or medium-sized forwards.
Coach Bernard Moloney threw former captain Tom Batten from defence to attack in the final quarter, where he kicked one goal from a set shot after marking.
Moloney indicated after the Eagles’ 36-point loss that has them under pressure to hold on to their third-place, that Batten represented their greatest hope of becoming a second marking target in attack before the finals.
“Adam plays that well back, to be fair to him, we have to now say ‘you’re a backman’ and maybe put Tom forward,” Moloney said.
“He (Batten) is very adaptable. He can play forward or back.”
The Eagles have the most productive goal-scoring mid-sized and smaller players in the competition, with Mark Murphy heading their list of goalkickers with 34, ahead of Jeremy Parkinson (22) and Jarryd Lewis (13). The trio’s combined tally is just five more than Rowan’s individual haul for the Blues.
The Eagles tried ruckman Jordan Dillon as a key forward at times on Saturday and while he kicked a goal, they could only envy their opponent Warrnambool, which boasted three marking targets — Rowan, Travis Graham and Sam Cowling.
While Rowan was well held, Graham was prominent with six shots at goal for 1.4 and Cowling dominant with more than 10 marks for 3.1.
“Cowling was probably the difference,” Moloney said.
Assistant coach Brendan Murfett, who has been sidelined for six matches because of a calf tear, resumed in the reserves last Saturday. His return to centre half-back, which could come as early as this week, would make it easier for Moloney to shift Batten forward.
“I reckon he (Murfett) is a really good chance (to play),” Moloney said.
“We need the general there.”
The Eagles expect midfielder Dean Gavin to resume in the reserves on Saturday after suffering a fractured ankle in round six.
But they will be without versatile defender Xavier Mills, who suffered a groin injury that kept him sidelined for the second half of Saturday’s match, when they travel to Cobden for a clash both clubs are building up as must-win.