2017 AFL preview series: West Coast Eagles – 5th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    In 2016, West Coast were meant to be a legitimate premiership threat off the back of a grand final appearance the year before. Ultimately, it never happened.

    The Eagles were holding a position in the eight after each of the 23 rounds last season, but spent the last 22 of those rounds outside the top four. Whenever they started mounting a charge, they would get found out against better sides, like in losses to the Bulldogs in Round 11 and the Crows in Round 12. Or they’d throw in an inexplicable loss, to Collingwood in Round 19.

    By the time West Coast hit their best form, across Rounds 21-23 defeating GWS, Hawthorn and Adelaide, it was too late.

    The Eagles also had the misfortune of playing the biggest beneficiary of the freshly introduced pre-finals bye, but looked ill-prepared for the donkey-licking they copped in the early stages of their elimination final against the Bulldogs.

    Do West Coast have what it takes to entrench themselves in the top four in 2017, particularly given they are missing their match-winning ruckman?

    B Will Schofield Tom Barrass Sharrod Wellingham
    HB Shannon Hurn Jeremy McGovern Brad Sheppard
    C Andrew Gaff Sam Mitchell Chris Masten
    HF Josh Hill Jack Darling Elliot Yeo
    F Jamie Cripps Josh Kennedy Mark LeCras
    Foll Scott Lycett Luke Shuey Matt Priddis
    Int Nathan Vardy Liam Duggan Dom Sheed Sam Butler

    Emergencies: Lewis Jetta Jack Redden Mark Hutchings

    The common consensus is that West Coast can’t win the premiership without Nic Naitanui.

    But, it must be noted the Western Bulldogs won the flag last year without his services. Hawthorn’s threepeat across 2014-16 was also achieved without him. Geelong’s dynasty from 2007-2011 contained no traces of Nic Naitanui.

    In fact, last time I checked, 100 per cent of VFL/AFL premierships have been won by teams that did not contain Nic Naitanui. Nic Naitanui himself has won zero premierships.

    So, in conclusion, premierships not just can be won without Nic Naitanui, but, based on historical data, are mathematically certain to be won without him.

    Nic Naitanui of the West Coast Eagles

    Of course, everyone would love to have Nic Nat in their side, but when a player goes down at the time he did, giving coach staff seven months to prepare for the season ahead without him, then no excuse can be made. It would be poor form from any Eagle player, staff or supporter to say “If only we had Naitanui”.

    Scott Lycett is a good ruckman in his own right, but going down for half the season wasn’t in the plans. Jonathon Giles always acquits himself well when called up. Nathan Vardy was acquired from Geelong, but needs to prove he is up to AFL standard as either forward or ruck. He looked good in the JLT Series game against Melbourne last week.

    If worse comes to worse, the animated corpse Drew Petrie can be exhumed from the rookie list, and can run amok with his wheelchair in the middle of the ground. It sounds like he will be in the Round 1 team.

    There can be no doubt the addition of Sam Mitchell from Hawthorn will also offset the loss of Naitanui. Some might have a little query about whether Matt Priddis and Mitchell will now be fighting for the same ball in stoppage situations, but both are too smart for that, and play different games at any rate.

    Priddis is the one more likely to get his hands dirty at the feet of ruckmen, and Mitchell is the one that can find a metre of space where there isn’t any. Priddis might be given the responsibility of roving to his own ruckman and to any neutral balls, while Mitchell can use the smartest mind in the game to shark the opposition.

    Adding in the explosiveness of Luke Shuey, now a top 30 player in the game according to the Roar panel of experts yesterday, and the foundations of a top class midfield are set. As Ryan pointed out in his superb feature on the Eagles yesterday, Shuey can only be a beneficiary of Mitchell’s addition, and can become more destructive.

    Andrew Gaff we know will deliver the goods running free on the wings, but we’ve got to be seeing him kick 20+ goals for the year, not just half a dozen or so.

    The supporting midfield cast is lengthy, but mixed.

    Chris Masten has become a bit of a nothing player. Eagles fans, and staff, are hoping for the likes of Dom Sheed and Liam Duggan to take his position. They would also love to see Lewis Jetta and Jack Redden produce what was advertised when they were brought into the club from Sydney and Brisbane respectively.

    Sheed underwhelmed when he finally got back into the side last year, and must make a statement now in his fourth season. Elliot Yeo has a high opinion of himself, and we know he’s got all the tools, but it would be nice to see him put them to consistent use. Mark Hutchings is a solid back-up too.

    All of these guys won’t necessarily play in the same team, but it gives the Eagles enviable depth.

    The West Coast backline works seamlessly together, led by Jeremy McGovern plucking intercept and contested marks at will. Tom Barrass looks good learning the same caper, and Will Schofield is the experienced hand keeping it all together. Eric Mackenzie has also pressed claims in the JLT Series to retake his spot back there.

    Up forward, Josh Kennedy always delivers, while Jack Darling has some demons to contend with after another frightful moment on the finals stage last year.

    Josh J Kennedy West Coast Eagles AFL 2016

    The ability of Mark LeCras, Jamie Cripps and Josh Hill to work together again will help compile winning scores.

    The Eagles used the corridor the fourth most of any side in 2016, and they could do so even more this season with the addition of Mitchell. He will provide an outlet across half-back for clearing kicks from defensive fifty, and can pierce a ball into the centre with his short kicks on either foot. But he also has the uncanny knack of finding space though the middle, where he can link to devastating effect.

    West Coast gets the chance to set up their season early with a friendly draw, where they could and probably should start favourite in five or six of their first seven games, taking on five non-finalists from last year in that time. Round 1 against North will be a percentage booster.

    Do the Eagles get ahead of themselves in a two-team town? Basic human psychology says it’s an easy trap to fall into. Four of their losses last year came on the road the week after wins of 62 points or more at home. Winning by those margins generates a lot of friendly headline and pats on the back from adoring fans.

    No doubt the West Coast players were already looking forward to the adulation they would receive for winning the elimination final last year. They were looking up at the packed stadium chanting their names, and didn’t see the Bulldog freight train coming the other way.

    Hopefully the lesson will be learnt, and the fire within ignited.

    The Eagles have the players. Adam Simpson has shown he’s got the style that can win matches, and beat good sides doing it. But are they mentally strong enough to be there at the pointy end? Let’s find out.

    Predicted ladder spread: 4th-8th

    Predicted finish: 5th

    Best and fairest: Luke Shuey

    Leading goalkicker: Josh Kennedy

    All-Australian potential: Josh Kennedy, Jeremy McGovern, Luke Shuey

    Rising Star candidates: None

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    5th – West Coast
    6th – Melbourne
    7th – Adelaide
    8th – St Kilda
    9th – Hawthorn
    10th – Richmond
    11th – Collingwood
    12th – Gold Coast
    13th – Port Adelaide
    14th – Fremantle
    15th – Essendon
    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • March 16th 2017 @ 9:01am
      Another Paul said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Hi Cam,

      spotted an error for you, at the bottom of the article you have “Predicted finish: 6th” shouldn’t it be 5th

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 9:29am
        Cameron Rose said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Thanks mate, will get it fixed.

    • Roar Guru

      March 16th 2017 @ 9:54am
      Pumping Dougie said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      Good article Cam. The Eagles are definitely in serious contention but I agree they will fall just short. There are half a dozen seriously good sides around, so it’s impossible to predict any premier this year with confidence.

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 10:27am
        Cameron Rose said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Back-to-back for the Doggies PD?

        • Roar Guru

          March 16th 2017 @ 10:55am
          Pumping Dougie said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Haha, who knows. It’s going to be an open field again, but we’re in contention. I hope we make the most of our window in the sun and grab another one, but to be honest, I can die happy now without any more flags. It would be good to see Melbourne or Saints win one soon. And although it would be difficult for other supporters, it would be great for footy if Richmond got their ROAR back!

          Woof, woof!

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:16am
      Brian said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Massive year for the Eagles. The pre-finals bye and improved ability of AFL teams playing finals away means the Eagles can win it from anywhere in the 8 and they should have NicNat by then. NicNat, Mitchell, Priddis, Shuey looks the best starting 4 in the league, they are a massive chance this year.

      The downside is that it looks in 2 years they will find themselves with a big rebuilding job to do.

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 10:29am
        Cameron Rose said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        Teams are getting better at rebuilding on the run, but they’ve got a host of recent draftees they’d like to be seeing more from.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:55am
      me too said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

      interesting to see the club captains top eight and flag fancies:

      Which seven other clubs do you think can make this year’s top eight? (max 17)
      Sydney (17), GWS (16), West Coast (16), Adelaide (15), Western Bulldogs (15), Geelong (14), Hawthorn (14), St Kilda (11), Melbourne (6), Essendon (1), Fremantle (1)

      Which other club is most likely to reach the Grand Final?
      GWS (14), Adelaide (1), Sydney (1), West Coast (1), Western Bulldogs (1)

      Overwhelming, probably haven’t seen such a fancy for a team not in the previous years gf.
      West Coast well liked. And only one change, with the Saints a lot more fancied than the Dees.
      The Dons and Dockers picked by those that like a long odds gamble?

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 12:56pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        Fairly predictable stuff. I like that a few are dropping off Hawthorn. I wonder if it’s the skipper of teams like GWS, Melbourne, Dogs who all handled them comfortably last year.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 11:43am
      Whitestar said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Nice little passage on Naitanui Cam – amused me enough to spill my second coffee slightly!

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2017 @ 12:55pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

        Thanks Whitestar. Yes, I quite enjoyed it.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 3:40pm
      Tommygun said | March 16th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

      A lot more teams have not won a Grand Final or not even made a Grand Final without Nic Nat than those who have won a Grand Final or made the Grand Final without Nic Nat.

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