This is the latest in a series I will write leading into Friday’s AFL season opener between Adelaide and Essendon at AAMI Stadium, today examining the chances of the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers.
West Coast Eagles
Last season: 5th (after regular season and after finals series)
Best and fairest: Scott Selwood
Leading goal-kicker: Jack Darling (53 goals)
Most recent premiership: 2006
I actually think the West Coast Eagles took a step backwards last year. In 2011, they rose from three years at the bottom to make the preliminary finals, losing to eventual premiers Geelong, who had regularly tormented them during their time at the bottom of the ladder.
While they had another solid season last year, winning their first six matches of the season to sit on top of the ladder for the first time since 2007, the Eagles could only manage a fifth-placed finish at the end of the season.
Two narrow losses to Brisbane (two points) and Collingwood (three) proved very costly. They lost one more match than they did in 2011.
The Eagles though have gone strength to strength since the dark times of 2008-10, in the years which followed Chris Judd’s departure from the club and Ben Cousins’ drug controversies.
Additionally, many of its premiership players from 2006 also left the club, or retired, leaving Beau Waters, Dean Cox, Darren Glass, Andrew Embley and Adam Selwood as the only premiership players remaining at the club today.
But the young Eagles of today are starting to develop into a true premiership contender once again and I can’t see the Eagles dipping back down to the bottom for any extended period of time in the near future.
Mark LeCras returns after a year out of the game due to a knee injury, and his presence up forward will be very valuable to the young forwards.
Sharrod Wellingham comes to the club from Collingwood as a direct replacement for Quentin Lynch, who will take his place in the black and white this season.
Expect Wellingham to also blossom for the Eagles this season now that he has returned home.
There’s no excuse for this team not to perform this season, and I believe they have the squad to challenge for this year’s premiership.
Last season: 7th (regular season), 6th (after finals)
Best and fairest: Ryan Crowley
Leading goal-kicker: Matthew Pavlich (69 goals)
Most recent premiership: None
Fremantle were one of the success stories of the 2012 season, and their decision to dismiss Mark Harvey in favour of then-St Kilda coach Ross Lyon paid massive dividends.
They made the finals for the second time in three seasons, and impressively ended the premiership defence of Geelong at the MCG in the first week of the finals, before going down to Adelaide in a very close semi-final.
The Dockers have come a very long way since the dark times of 2008-9, when blowout losses were very frequent and the club lost to Adelaide by a whopping 117 points whilst only scoring 13 points for the entire match.
However, most of the squad from the Mark Harvey era still remain at the club today, and the confidence of most players have risen due to the influence Ross Lyon has had on them.
Matthew Pavlich only gets better as he gets older, and last season he booted almost 70 goals for the year.
But the Dockers are too reliant on him for their goals and this could become a problem if he has to miss a match through injury or suspension.
He led the Dockers by example last season; none more so than in the first round when he booted the match-winning goal against Geelong.
The Dockers, despite their successful 2012, were very inconsistent.
They won five of their first seven matches but then lost five of their next six, before storming home to win nine of their next ten before losing their semi-final to Adelaide.
If the Dockers want to challenge for the top four, they must remain consistent all year and keep player injuries to a minimum.
Plus, they have never made the finals in consecutive seasons so that will also be a challenge for this young squad.
The club has not suffered any significant player losses over the off-season, though Greg Broughton was traded away to the Gold Coast Suns and Antoni Grover, who was there when the club was struggling earlier this century, retired after more than 200 matches for the Purple Haze.
This squad is very capable of challenging for a top four place at the end of the season, they have the players and the coaching staff to do so. There’s no excuse for this team not to perform this season.
There will be two Western Derbies this season, in the season opening round and in round 16. The two Derbies were split last season with the Eagles winning the first Derby by 48 points, and the Dockers the second by 65.
Judging by both teams’ improvement last year, it’s very hard to predict a first round winner, because one team must lose its’ season opening match.
Next, I will preview the seasons of Essendon and Richmond.