Give the West Coast Eagles the flag now
Jack Darling chases the ball for West Coast (Slattery Images)
Former AFL superstar and now commentator and television personality Luke Darcy believes that 2012 is the year of the Essendon Bombers.
Darcy, speaking on Access All Areas on AFL.com.au, said that he believes the Bombers have a perfect mix to fly in and grasp the AFL premiership this year.
He has compared Essendon’s current list to that of the ‘Baby Bombers’ – a name referring to Essendon’s young team who surprisingly won the flag back in 1993.
Well, Luke Darcy, you may be a 224-game player and current Channel 7 and Triple M radio commenter, but I, Sophie Shaw – a 21-year-old second year sports journalism student and very passionate Essendon supporter – am telling you that you are wrong.
The West Coast Eagles will win the 2012 premiership.
This is courtesy of the two home finals they will receive and a game style that very much suits the MCG come grand final day when they will run out. The club – a ‘been there and done that’ club – is proud and has ridden out the loss of Chris Judd and a very public and ugly drug controversy that led to an external review of their club operations. Through all of this, the Eagles are currently the best placed team to win the grand final.
Looking at their draw for the remainder of the season, many AFL enthusiasts would highlight the tough run ahead for the Eagles. With games against Collingwood, Hawthorn, Carlton, Adelaide and Fremantle, I agree it does prove to be a fair test, but it can be confidently said that they have their sights set on a top two finish. Who would count them out once they get there?
At present they are playing without Mark Le Cras, Andrew Embley, Mark Nikoski Josh Kennedy, Ashton Hams, and speedy defender Ashley Smith – unquestionably six players of importance. If the WCE are able to stagger the return of these players over the second part of the season it gives the club immeasurable depth.
The only danger that I must point out (John Worsfold pay attention) is playing them all at once and therefore being underdone. Then again, it is a severe possibility that all of them may not actually get back.
Josh Kennedy and Mark Le Cras are obviously critical to the finals campaign, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Worsfold may have already reserved the red vest for Andrew Embley.
All premiership teams are built on defence. Their captain Darren Glass is refreshed and fit again. He forms an excellent 3-tall defence with the vastly improved Eric McKenzie and the dashing Will Schofield. Patrick McGinnity and Adam Selwood provide the lock down players needed, allowing the physical pairing of Shannon Hurn and Beau Waters to play their natural game. We cannot forget Sam Butler – a premiership player – who can slot in on the wing or half back.
Across the centre, the traditional wingers are hard runners in Matt Rosa and Andrew Gaff. They greatly compliment a hard ball winning inside midfield that features Daniel Kerr, Matt Priddis, and Scott Selwood. Traditional rovers Luke Shuey and Chris Masten have both come on enormously, although both having slow starts to their career. Masten was outplayed early by Fremantle’s Rhys Palmer and Shuey had an unfortunate personal family tragedy.
I would add Embley to this group as the sub and pinch hitting wingman. All players can rotate through forward with the exception of Kerr and Priddis who because of their enormous effort will require a rest on the bench. I don’t question West Coast’s reluctance to rotate them at the same time because of their ability to win such hard ball at the stoppages.
And who is it that feeds and controls this dangerously-good midfield? In my opinion, the number one most effective ruck combination in the AFL. Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui; they’re big, tall, mobile and most importantly a threat. These two become a genuine forward threat when moved up the ground. Cox, who soars at 6ft8, can run and accumulate possessions like a lightening midfielder standing at a mere 175cm. One word to describe Naitanui is explosive. He can jump (and boy can he jump) as well as being able to control centre clearances. He follows up as well as any ruckman and attacks the ball hard.
Statistics show that he may only get a dozen or so touches but they are game changing possessions.
Their ruck work is first class and when comparing them to Darcy’s idea of a premiership combination in Essendon’s Bellchambers and Ryder – well let’s just say that although I believe I hold loyalty to my Bomber boys, with that loyalty comes an honest opinion, one of which believes that they don’t even come close to a very special Cox/Naitanui combo.
Up forward, the Eagles bucked convention. Experts said that three talls are too much of a luxury given the way opposition sides run the ball out of defence. The Eagles have gone for four. The impressive Jack Darling, Quentin Lynch and the key man Josh Kennedy combined with Naitanui make an imposing quartet. This is an intimidating forward line, one of which is capable of kicking many goals in big finals.
Finally, the system of play. They produce great run and rebound from defence and continually hit targets. They are physically strong and have great contested ball winners. Their young players in Gaff and Shuey have given them an edge of class and they have hard-nosed taggers if needed in McGinnity and the Selwood boys. Their ‘forward press’ is as good as, or not better, than anyone else’s in the competition and they maintain hard tackles right across the ground.
It’s about balance; depth, defence and attack. Eagles should get two home finals. They will win them both. I do believe that Essendon and West Coast have similar strengths, but it’s the home ground advantage during the finals series that the Eagles will have, combined with their previous success in September action that sways me towards the team from the west.
It puts them in the grand final where they can win it. Sorry, Luke Darcy.