A MONTH to this day, Western Jets players trudged off Shepley Oval on the receiving end of a 21-goal belting at the hands of Dandenong Stingrays. After a strong start to the season which yielded to wins from three games, the uncharacteristic heavy loss was not what the Jets wanted to stand for in 2018. It was no doubt hard to fathom how the match had gone so one-sided, despite feeling relatively even at the coal-face. Fast forward four days later and feeling amongst the playing group was different – there was optimism.
Captain Xavier O’Halloran remembers the weekly Thursday training night well and how Jets’ coach Torin Baker and his staff took a different approach to the post-game review than many would expect. Rather than pour over vision of everything that went wrong, Baker pointed to the statistics up on the whiteboard. Disposals were negative 10, marks were plus eight, tackles were minus one, clearances were minus two, rebounds were plus two, contested possessions negative four. All the stats with the exception of inside 50s and goals showed that Western were well and truly in the contest.
“I remember the Thursday night post-Dandenong game, we had a look at stats on the board and it wasn’t too dissimilar from each other,” O’Halloran said. “It was only obviously the score and the inside 50s so I think I personally took a lot from looking at those stats and seeing that, [I thought] yeah we can actually take it up to what we consider to be one of the best sides in the comp. “Then it’s just a matter of tweaking a few things and looking at how we’re using the footy, especially going into our forward line.”
Kicking efficiency was certainly down for the Jets, hitting targets by foot just 53.4 per cent of the time compared to the Stingrays’ 60.5 per cent. But the main message was, the Jets were winning the football and matching them on the inside, they just lacked a little bit of polish and needed to reduce the opposition’s entries inside 50.
“Personally for myself I was able to take a lot of belief from that, and especially I think the group has as well,” O’Halloran said. “I think we’ve gone from the positives of that game more so than the negatives. “I think we were able to bounce back pretty well and we’re showing that.”
Western certainly is showing that, with three wins on the trot and remarkably, the team that went down by 126 points four weeks ago, is now sitting pretty in the top four following victories over Sandringham Dragons, Geelong Falcons and Oakleigh Chargers. But did they fix their inside 50s problem? Against the Dragons, the Jets piled on a massive 58 inside 50s to 28. The Falcons? A 60-32 advantage. Against the fourth placed Chargers? The Jets won that count by 13.
In the past three weeks, Western has had 164 inside 50s to 93. A differential of 71 across rounds five to seven, or an average of 24 more inside 50s than their opponents per game. The little “tweaks” the Jets have made since have been working a treat, and now, they sit in the top four with five wins from seven matches.
Their top players have also been in strong form, with Zak Butters averaging 23 disposals, 6.3 marks, three clearances and six inside 50s from the past three rounds, while O’Halloran has averaged 20 disposals, 3.3 marks, six clearances and 5.7 inside 50s. Connor Thar has notched up 22 disposals, four marks, 3.3 clearances and 3.3 inside 50s, while in two games, Stefan Radovanovic has picked up 23 disposals, 2.5 marks, 3.5 clearances, three inside 50s and two rebounds. In defence, Buku Khamis is averaging 14.3 disposals and seven marks, providing a crucial link and acting as a brick wall stopping opposition attacks.
The Western Jets have a bye this weekend for the Development Weekend, before returning on June two for a home match against last placed Bendigo Pioneers.