Who will reign supreme in the west?

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    The Fremantle Dockers started their pre-season with one simple goal in mind – make the grand final again in 2014 and atone for their failure in 2013.

    Failure might be too harsh a word considering they did play Hawthorn, who have been one of the strongest clubs over the past five or six years in the competition.

    The Hawks were driven by the lack of success since their grand final triumph over a rampant Geelong side in 2008. The Dockers’ nerves were evident on footy’s biggest stage this year, and now that they have had the initial experience they want it again.

    They want to be premiers and Ross Lyon wants the monkey off his back after taking St Kilda close to the holy grail in consecutive years in 2009-10. Lyon has presided over three losses and a draw in his four grand finals as a coach to date.

    Lyon wants to silence the doubters who claim that his game plan can get you to the grand final, it just can’t stand up to the pressure in that particular game.

    It is the ultimate insult.

    The West Coast Eagles’ pre-season will be a different occasion for the first time since 2002, when John Worsfold took the reins of a club he lead magnificently on the field in the 1990s.

    Adam Simpson and his new-look coaching panel will spend the pre-season teaching the group a style of footy that they believe will take the Eagles to the last day in September.

    It was a clever appointment by the Eagles to make Simpson the coach. His apprenticeship was done at the Hawks between 2010-2013, and being able to bring some of the best practice training and knowledge acquired at that club can only be a good thing for the Eagles moving forward.

    The Eagles had a massive fall from grace in 2013. After reaching the preliminary final in 2011 (losing to Geelong) and the semi-final in 2012 (losing to Collingwood), many believed that the Eagles were a genuine threat to claim a fourth flag.

    Injuries, a lack of form and a nine losses at their Patersons Stadium home saw them finish 13th. The Eagles are a proud club backed by a passionate fanbase who demand excellence, so a rise up the ladder will be expected in 2014.

    Atonement from different perspectives will drive the West Australian clubs through another brutal summer in the Perth heat. For anyone who has spent any time in Perth between December and February, you will know that brutal is probably not a harsh enough word.

    Here’s what the clubs will be working on over the summer.

    Fremantle Dockers
    Fremantle will build on last year knowing and believing that they are good enough to beat any team in the competition.

    Their midfield is the one of the best in the competition and with Aaron Sandilands (when fit) they get first use of the footy more often than not.

    With Fyfe, Mundy, Barlow and Crowley in the engine room and Stephen Hill out on the wing, this group of talent is ably backed up by the support cast with the Ross Lyon mantra of team-first football – know your role and do it as well as possible within the structure that has been set by the coaching panel.

    Mzungu, de Boer, Duffield, Pearce (both Clancee and Danyle), Ibbotson, Ballantyne and Walters can all play a role through the middle when need and exemplify this type of attitude.

    It will be interesting to see how Colin Sylvia is added to the mix and operates in a successful team with much, much higher standards than he has been used to at Melbourne his entire career.

    Sylvia has talent but it has yet to be fully realised and Lyon might be the man to do it.

    The Dockers also have a very solid defence, led by Luke McPharlin. He is the general down back and is never afraid to set the standard and drag the others long with him.

    He gets terrific support from Johnson in particular, as well as Duffield and Ibbotson. They are a stingy team and I expect more of the same in 2014.

    Where the Dockers will need to improve in order to go a step further in 2014 is the forward line. It has been lead by Matthew Pavlich for much of the past few years as his time in the midfield has decreased.

    As reliable as Pavlich was, his body is showing the strain of 14 years in the AFL, only playing 12 games in the 2013 season.

    He is still the go-to man in the forward line and it will be up the support cast to make sure that Pav can retire as a loyal one-club premiership player at Fremantle. Ballantyne and Walters on their day can be dynamic and Chris Mayne leaves it all on the field, as well as being a superb set shot for goal.

    The rotation of Zac Clarke and Sandilands between the ruck, forward and bench will be crucial for Fremantle next year. Adding a third tall stretches many teams’ defences and gives the crumbing players a great chance to get in and under to win some footy in the forward 50.

    Scott Gumbleton has also been added to the squad to play a role up forward.

    Gumbleton has a well documented history of injury while on the Essendon list, completing only 35 games since being drafted with the second pick in the 2006 draft. If he can stay fit, who knows how good he can be?

    Fremantle, along with Hawthorn and Sydney, are a top three team in 2014. They have everything in place and also one further key ingredient – a grand final loss in 2013 to spur and motivate them.

    It is also worth mentioning that they are building a great rivalry with Geelong in recent seasons, particularly because of their ability to beat the Cats. They beat the Cats at the MCG in 2012 in the elimination final and then again this year at Simonds Stadium in the qualifying final.

    The past five meetings see Fremantle with a 3-2 head-to-head advantage.

    West Coast Eagles
    A new coach and new coaching panel along with a different game plan can sometimes be just the tonic required to lift a side that gets too comfortable with its surrounds.

    It could be argued that after so long listening to Worsfold’s voice and game plan that the Eagles simply failed respond in season 2013.

    What the Eagles have in their favour is that the team is still packed with talent and with injury and form permitting are a certain Top 8 side, possibly in the top four if all games at Patersons result in wins.

    The forward line is the key for the Eagles.

    They have a great one-two combination between Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling (the envy of many clubs) who provide big strong bodies that take marks, kick goals and chase down the opposition for tackles.

    Having small forwards with the class of Mark Le Cras and Josh Hill is a massive plus, while having Dean Cox resting forward on occasion will create the third tall and headaches all round for the opposition.

    I firmly believe that the Eagles should resist the notion of Le Cras playing through the midfield too much – his value and skills up forward are vital and it is where he can cause the most damage.

    The midfield is a hardworking, ball winning group of players who have the benefit of having the league’s best ruck combination of Cox and Nic Naitanui.

    Nic Nat is spectacular and once he gets into the Cox mould of winning a heavy number of possessions to go with his natural flair he could become a once-in-a-generation player.

    The crew at Cox and Naitanui’s feet of Selwood, Priddis, Shuey, Masten and Wellingham need to capitalise on the big men by getting the ball forward as often as possible.

    The knock on the midfield is that it is too one-paced, with no genuine speed apart from maybe Wellingham.

    Andrew Gaff will need to rediscover his mojo in 2014 and learn how to deal with taggers, while Elliot Yeo also needs to show why West Coast traded their No.6 pick for No.11 to get him across from the Brisbane Lions.

    The Eagles defence will once again be led by Darren Glass, in what may be his last season. Eric McKenzie, Will Schofield and Ashley Smith have been solid in recent seasons but will need to lift from their collective 2013 form.

    Shannon Hurn’s right boot, either from the kick in or running off half-back, is a massive advantage because it generally adds an extra 30 metres to any play that he is involved in.

    Whether the Eagles have enough quality small defenders is a question that will be answered as the season wears on.

    West Coast should be back in the finals in 2014 but this is heavily dependent on how quickly they implement the Adam Simpson game plan. They also need to make Patersons Stadium a fortress again.

    Summary
    The Dockers and Eagles are both in good positions for season 2014. Finals should be a definite for both teams, although I think Fremantle has the advantage from a coaching perspective as they will be in their third season under Ross Lyon.

    The two sides meet in the Derby in rounds 7 and 15 and I think it will go one each next year.

    Fremantle currently have 41,840 members signed up, while West Coast have 41,943 members.

    Both have announced their planned moves to new state-of-the-art training facilities in the near future, which comes on the back of playing out of the new Burswood Stadium from the 2018 season.

    The future is certainly burning bright out west.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • December 22nd 2013 @ 12:24pm
      kunming tiger said | December 22nd 2013 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

      Fremantle currently have 41,840 members signed up, while West Coast have 41,943 members

      Roar Guru By SportsFanMelb, 22 Dec 2013 SportsFanMelb is a Roar Guru

      Tagged: AFL, Australian Rules, Fremantle Dockers, West Coast Eagles

      That’s an eye opener I obviously under estimated the Dockers membership base. Are the numbers a reflection of their current success or had they always had this level of support?

      • December 22nd 2013 @ 12:56pm
        Ronny said | December 22nd 2013 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        Freo have always ( last 5 or so years ) had around 40/45k of members, WCE have always had around 50k +, because they have 10k + on a waiting list.

        The 10k + on a waiting list are all entitled to 4 memberships when their number comes up, most people would take 4 memberships, so in reality there are 40k + of people waiting for WCE memberships.

        The Dockers have a waiting list, but it is no where near as long, and only for certain parts of the ground.

    • December 22nd 2013 @ 1:28pm
      Simoc said | December 22nd 2013 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

      And its absolute bollocks when it comes to support. The wimpy weagle fans stayed at home in their droves this season as being like fairy floss they disappear when the going gets tough. The new stadium is way to big to cater for real Eagles supporters. Like a few of the players their supporters are fringe dwellers. The mighty Dockers should feast out on stringy eagle shanks next winter.

      • December 22nd 2013 @ 1:37pm
        DJW said | December 22nd 2013 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

        ha Most Freo fans have come on board in the last few seasons and will disappear when Freo returns to there normality of simply making up the numbers.

      • December 26th 2013 @ 6:49pm
        Lroy said | December 26th 2013 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

        You really are a peasant. Facts are, Eagles fanst outnumber Dockers fans at least 2-1 across Western Australia.

        The Eagles could fill an 80,000 seat stadium… the reason they are going to build a piddling 60,000 seater is because those purple people eaters dont have any fans, and half the ones they do have are on unemployment benefits so they cant afford tickets LOL

        Enjoy the off season … watching replays of your ownly grand final appearance is as good as it gets for you.

        Pavlich and all your best players are into their last year…. dont win it this year.. is back to the bad old days for the purple fuzz.

    • December 22nd 2013 @ 2:10pm
      SportsFanMelb said | December 22nd 2013 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

      Kunming Tiger – I think Freo probably always had a solid level of support. Now they have a good coach and the premiership window is wide open there will be supporters who previously were not members signing up as the expectation grows for a possible 1st premiership win.
      Same with a lot of footy clubs really.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • December 22nd 2013 @ 2:10pm
      SportsFanMelb said | December 22nd 2013 @ 2:10pm | ! Report


      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • December 23rd 2013 @ 11:57am
      Daqing Devil said | December 23rd 2013 @ 11:57am | ! Report

      Kunming Tiger? Are you in China as well?

    • December 23rd 2013 @ 2:29pm
      TW said | December 23rd 2013 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

      Off topic but related to WA footy and the Eagles —
      The WAFL West Perth Football Club (The Falcons) have commenced a very innovative junior program which is pre Auskick. The program is supported by the Eagles and covers the City Councils of Joondalup and Wanneroo in the northern suburbs.
      It is called Falcons Footy Fundamentals for children aged “18 months to five years” which will be expanded to include every Childcare Centre and Community facility in both Councils.
      The pilot program commenced with 30 children which has grown to 300 in just 4 months. To quote the Falcons President -David Crute – This is the first time in “Australia” that an AFL entity has engaged this type of program. We see this as a crucial program for fighting obesity”.
      The Eagles and the Falcons have doubled their contribution to the program for 2014 to enable the proposed expansion
      I am a little bit cynical these days however because those areas have some suburbs where the migrant population is nudging 45% and who have never heard of Aussie Rules footy. So the program serves both purposes – Fighting Obesity and spreading our game. WA has by far the highest percentage of people born overseas out of the total population.
      Interesting times ahead for WA footy.

      • December 23rd 2013 @ 3:35pm
        Ronny said | December 23rd 2013 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        I live in the Falcons zone, and they work very hard for promote football, they also have Auskick programs at the local indoor sports center that are quite popular.

        I have noticed that quite a big % of migrants who initially scoff at our game, are after a few years, pretty supportive of it, and end up barracking for a AFL team, and manyof their kids go through the auskick system and play club football.

        I have also noticed that many kids who play cricket, end up playing football ( or vice versa) because of the very strong bond between both sports here in the west.

        If you are interested WP annual report is up, a fair bit of info about migrant football.

        http://www.westperthfc.com.au/assets/WP-District/AGM/2013-District-Yearbook-web3.pdf

        • December 24th 2013 @ 4:58pm
          TW said | December 24th 2013 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

          Thanks for the link,
          Interesting read on the activities of the Falcons.
          While on WA the AFL fans on here maybe interested in the progress of the new stadium.
          Here is link to the latest update in which 3 seperate submissions for the design are now in to the WA Govt.
          A couple of comments on the latest drawing/Illustration – There maybe another span added to the railway bridge over the river.
          The footbridge/walkway over the river from near the Gloucester Park trotting track has been amended to a straight structure it appears instead of a sweeping curve(Cost issues)
          Also it is hoped water ferries will run from the Perth CBD jetty complex.
          http://www.perthstadium.com.au/

          • December 26th 2013 @ 7:13pm
            john ryan said | December 26th 2013 @ 7:13pm | ! Report

            Have the Liberal/Country party Govt worked out how much this gift to two wealthy AFL clubs is going to cost the taxpayers,while Barnett engages in shonky dealings with the Casino group,all that’s going to happen is we the ratepayers and taxpayers will be saddled with another huge debt.
            Its not like the WA Lib Govt has not plunged the state into more debt as they have. but why they are doing this for the benefit of a bunch of AFL fans so they can sit in comfort while chopping everything else has me beat.I will vote for any party that puts the kibosh on this waste
            BTW has the final cost been arrived at yet, it was up to 1Billion last I heard, wonder how close to 2 billion it will get,wonder how much the Casino expect to take off the mug punters if and when it gets finished & how much the AFL will kick in

            • Roar Guru

              January 2nd 2014 @ 1:24pm
              SportsFanGC said | January 2nd 2014 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

              John Ryan – My understanding is that the stadium will be going ahead full steam, and that is regardless of whether the current government remain in power or a change occurs at the next election.

              Once the contracts are locked in it doesn’t matter if the government changes.

              The Stadium will also give Perth the opportunity of hosting more Rugby Union Internationals, Soccer Internationals and other large sporting events.

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