Will the West Coast Eagles suffer a slip in 2013?
West Coast's Luke Shuey goes to ground in a Hawthorn tackle (Slattery Images)
Initially projected as a premiership favourite, the notion the West Coast Eagles were on the edge of joining the AFL’s elite took a nosedive after just one round of football.
Should we buy into the factors that suggest the Eagles are set for a surprise drop off in 2013, or are we simply overreacting?
The Fremantle Dockers produced a 28-point upset win over cross-town rivals West Coast last Saturday and they did so in convincing fashion.
The Eagles’ midfielders were outplayed by what now appears to be a finally healthy, and severely underrated, set of Docker ball winners – a huge concern for coach John Worsfold and his staff.
The deficiencies of the West Coast midfield may have been completely overlooked heading into 2013.
The West Coast midfield is primed with depth, youth and talent, but few of those qualities were on display against Fremantle.
Daniel Kerr, Sharrod Wellingham and Matt Rosa were all absent due to injury and young guns Scott Selwood, Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff were outshone by their Fremantle opponents.
Matt Priddis was at his prolific best with 28 disposals, but was plagued by the often lacklustre disposal efficiency (38% against Fremantle) that has blighted his career thus far.
Many consider West Coast’s midfield not far behind the game’s best, however the team is also simultaneously depending upon a ton of development from within.
Priddis’ ball-winning ability makes him the engine room of the Eagles midfield, but he’s not the game changer they are missing. West Coast envision Shuey developing into that star role, but his performances in the past two derbies against a heavy Ryan Crowley tag may draw the attention of other clubs.
West Coast will undoubtedly experience a boost when it reaches full health, but with a number of elite midfields already knocking about, will it be enough to guarantee a top-four spot?
Even last year, when West Coast held an average of 22 hit-outs more than finals-bound opponents (and an average of seven more hit-outs to advantage), they still found themselves third behind Adelaide and Hawthorn in the clearances department, negating the advantage of the brilliant Dean Cox-Nic Naitanui ruck combination.
Good opposition loaded up numbers around stoppages last season as a way to limit West Coast’s clearance opportunities and the lack of effectiveness around the ruck may be a result of the lack of midfield height.
Against the likes of Michael Barlow, Nat Fyfe, David Mundy and Ryan Crowley – all at or around 190cm tall – the significantly smaller players from West Coast, all smaller than 185cm, are at a disadvantage when the ball is in the air.
The loss to Fremantle is a continuation of West Coast’s average form away from their Perth fans last season. The Eagles were a poor team on the road in 2012, six of their eight losses came during away games – something that must improve this season.
The only real advantage the team experienced away from home last year was in the ruck, yet they still managed to finish the season with a lower average score than their opponents.
In comparison, Adelaide, a top four team last season and a club also primed for a slip if round one was anything to go by, was significantly better than their opponents outside of South Australian in just about every meaningful statistical category, including scoring four more goals on average than their home team opponents.
In all likelihood the reaction to West Coast’s disappointing round one performance has been overblown, however this club may be a little further away from competing for a premiership than many pundits originally thought.