West Coast are a title contender… on paper

Dan Lonergan Columnist

28 Have your say

    In the AFL pre-season, every side as expected is spouting that they are flying and have never been fitter, with everyone available and healthy. Unfortunately that doesn’t last long, with most teams never able to field their best side.

    Mind you, some teams suffer such a bad spate of injuries that their season is ruined before it even gets started, ensuring their supporters will be in for a long hard winter as well as the usually bitterly cold one. It would be fantastic if sides could actually take the field with their best side.

    At this time of the year, before a ball has been kicked in anger or a goal scored, many of the so-called media experts (including me) try and pick the best 22 on paper of all the 18 clubs.

    It can be a fascinating exercise and if games were played on paper, Sydney deserve to be premiership favourites.

    Their best 22 has talent everywhere. Any side that can fit Goodes, Franklin and Tippett in one forward line with Lewis Jetta at their feet is going to be hard to beat.

    I also have Sam Reid on the bench with the exciting trio of Tom Mitchell, Luke Parker and Gary Rohan, who would all probably be in the starting 18 of every other team.

    Now on that small SCG ground the Swans may be slightly unbalanced with those three talls in the same forward line, but they are automatic selections. When all are on song, opposing backlines will be under pressure.

    West Coast had a poor year last season, mainly caused by injury, but when their list is up and running and their best 22 can be selected, they deserve to be in the premiership.

    They may lack one classy outside midfielder, but a forward line of Josh Kennedy, Mark LeCras and Jack Darling along with the two ruckmen – Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox – changing in the forward pocket would challenge the Swans.

    They have three solid key defenders in Eric Mackenzie, Will Schofield and the veteran Darren Glass, the rebounding class of Shannon Hurn and one of the toughest defenders in the game in Beau Watters.

    Unfortunately he is often too courageous for his own good and has missed many more games due to injury than he’s played, but when fit, would be one of the first picked in all teams.

    The Eagles’ new coach Adam Simpson has got a terrific list at his disposal. If he can keep them on the park they will be hard to beat, especially at Subiaco Oval, which needs to become a fortress for the Eagles again.

    Club legend John Worsfold had probably run his race after 12 years as coach, but in his final season he was haunted by losing seven of his best players in Watters, Naitanui, Hurn, Scott Selwood, Luke Shuey, LeCras and the now retired Daniel Kerr for large chunks of the season.

    Their depth was badly tested and exposed, as any side would be when losing players of that calibre for a decent period of time.

    When fully fit, an Eagles interchange bench of Xavier Ellis, Elliott Yeo, Jamie Cripps and Mitch Brown – all top 30 draft picks – show they have plenty of talent at their disposal.

    Hawthorn, having come off a premiership, has an outstanding best 22 even without Buddy Franklin. They were preparing last year for life without him and although he still kicked 60 goals and that amount is never easy to find, he wasn’t the dominating force of past years.

    They have decided to play David Hale as a permanent forward, so traded for former St Kilda ruckman Ben McEvoy.

    They have hardly any holes on their list and also welcome back a couple of handy defenders from knee reconstructions in Matthew Suckling and Ryan Schoenmakers to compliment Josh Gibson, Brian Lake, Grant Birchall and Ben Stratton. Wow!

    The bottom three teams of last year, St Kilda, Melbourne and GWS,  also look good on paper when their best 22 can be selected – somewhat surprising when you consider how much they struggled in 2013.

    Melbourne have a potentially strong forward line with the three talls in Mitch Clarke, Chris Dawes and the teenager, Jesse Hogan, who will play his first AFL season this year.

    It’s ridiculous for the Demons to think Hogan will star straight away, but he has shown in the VFL that he has what it takes to be a player.

    Dawes and Clarke missed most of last year with debilitating injuries, but have proven in the past with Collingwood and Brisbane respectively that they can be more than handy.

    There’s also the exciting Jeremy Howe and the yet to make it No.1 draft pick, Jack Watts, who could be ready to finally take the competition by storm under new coach Paul Roos.

    All Melbourne need is a quality small forward and that may eventually be provided by 2013 draftee Jay Kennedy- Harris.

    Like Hawthorn and West Coast, they have solid key defenders in Colin Garland, James Frawley and Tom McDonald.

    The midfield also has some maturity about it now with the inclusion of former Bulldog, Daniel Cross and ex-Crow, Bernie Vinc,e along with Dom Tyson from the Giants, who was a top three pick in 2011.

    Melbourne urgently require some direction and will get it with Roos.

    GWS have all those early draft picks and have added the top two from last year as well in Tom Boyd and Josh Kelly, but they were wiser this time in selecting their experienced players from other clubs.

    Heath Shaw and dual Geelong premiership player Josh Hunt – along with Swans ruckman Shane Mumford – should give them more steel and maturity.

    And the Saints, despite a turbulent start to the pre-season in which they sacked coach Scott Watters at the beginning of November and only appointed Alan Richardson a fortnight later after pre-season training had started, have a more than competitive best available combination.

    They still have club greats in Lenny Hayes and Nick Reiwoldt, who on reputation alone are legends.

    There’s also Leigh Montagna, Sam Fisher, Adam Scheinder and Sean Dempster – all wonderful servants – along with their best young player in Jack Steven and talented emerging ruckman Billy Longer, who left Brisbane because he missed the Victorian Capital.

    The Saints actually stack up quite well if Alan Richardson can keep them on the park.

    The side to me that has the least amount of class is the Western Bulldogs. Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen along with Robert Murphy are class with a capital C, but that’s where the match winners stop.

    The Bulldogs are mainly recruiting hard-nosed, big-bodied grunters like Tom Liberatore, who is fast becoming elite in that area. He will help set up a win, but probably not decide it.

    The good news for the Bulldogs is footy matches are not won on talent alone and most certainly are not decided on paper, but they still seem a fair way off from the Swans, West Coast and Hawks when all things are equal.

    Dan Lonergan
    Dan Lonergan

    Dan Lonergan is one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years on ABC Grandstand he has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated 16 sports.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2014 @ 10:04am
      SportsFanGC said | February 12th 2014 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Dan I would agree that on paper that West Coast have one of the best forward lines in the competition with Kennedy, Darling, Le Cras, Hill which is supported by their ruck combination of Cox and Nic Nat resting forward. The one knock on WCE is the midfield is one paced with no one really have electrifying pace except maybe Wellingham and he has hardly been on the park.

      Hawthorn and Sydney have the most talented lists no doubt about it.

      I expect this season to be much closer than any of the last three years with improvement from all the bottom sides of that period of time. There will be upsets a plenty this season.

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2014 @ 10:21am
      TomC said | February 12th 2014 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Good read.

      I definitely agree that the Eagles have the personnel to do much, much better than 2013. I don’t think it was entirely a happy club last year and they may have underachieved as a result.

    • February 12th 2014 @ 10:33am
      Jorji Costava said | February 12th 2014 @ 10:33am | ! Report

      On a day when Australia’s economy heads towards depression with massive job losses. This little piece about West Coast was just the fillup to amuse and cheer us all up.

      Out of curiousity author, you just happen to be West Australian don’t you and chances are then you are a West Coast supporter?

      The Eagles have never recovered since Chris Judd left, then the Ben Cousins revelations.

      What I will concede is the West Coasters are always tough to beat at home, but will struggle when they travel. I doubt they can win a game away which means making the finals will not happen as you need 13/14 wins to make it.

      Also, you need to factor in Fremantle will whip the Eagles in Perth on the two occasions they meet. So you might win 10 to 12 games, falling a couple short of the minimum needed to qualify.

      Sorry to burst the Sandgroper bubble. Think about the resources you are exporting to Asia instead.

      • February 12th 2014 @ 11:50am
        Dalgety Carrington said | February 12th 2014 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        I don’t think Dan is a WA boy per se Jorji (and I think he’s a Bulldogs fan), but likely he did spend some time in the WA media. The WA media do get infatuated with the Eagles every year, and are so intoxicated by the idea of them that at this time of year they feel the need to express their undying affecting for the Indian Pacific Corporation with an endless number of articles spruiking the Eagles chances. It is very amusing, if not a little sickening.

    • Columnist

      February 12th 2014 @ 10:51am
      Cameron Rose said | February 12th 2014 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      The other thing with West Coast is they were too one-paced last year, hence why they kept getting opened up at Subiaco.

      I’d be interested to know who is on the ground ahead of Parker in Sydney’s 18 for Dan. Rohan is also the interesting one. The version that we saw late last year was arguably the worst player to play AFL football in 2013. We’ve been hearing that he’s training the house down, and hopefully is a new player, and ready to produce closer to his best.

      • February 13th 2014 @ 7:35pm
        Dan Lonergan said | February 13th 2014 @ 7:35pm | ! Report


        Good Question about Parker…. Sydney’s Team… Back… Smith, Richards, Johnson… Half back… Shaw… Grundy… Malceski…. Centre.. Jack… Kennedy… Hanneberry… Half Forward… Bird… Franklin… Jetta…. Forward… Goodes… Tippett… McGLYNN…. rUCK… pIKE… o’KEEFE… McVEIGH… I/C…Parker, Rohan, Reid, Mitchell… JUST MY OPINION.. hE COULD START AHEAD OF Shaw, Bird and McGLYNN…

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2014 @ 12:25pm
      Steve J said | February 12th 2014 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

      Lack of speed, skill and big bodies around the ball means they won’t be pressing top 4 again this year. Masten, Priddis, Selwood, Gaff, Rosa, Sheppard all lack the physical pressence on the ball, none of whom actually would give an opposition coach any sleepless nights.

      They play nice footy when things are going their way, but they lack that hard edge right now. I reckon 10th – 12th is about right for West Coast this season

      • Roar Guru

        February 12th 2014 @ 1:15pm
        SportsFanGC said | February 12th 2014 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        Steve J – Not sure I can agree that Selwood lacks a hard edge.

        The others probably yes but not Selwood.

      • February 12th 2014 @ 5:20pm
        Dwyane said | February 12th 2014 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

        How can you say that Priddis isn’t a physical presence? He always has more handballs than kicks: a sign that he is a ball retriever and inside midfielder!

    • February 12th 2014 @ 12:51pm
      Lroy said | February 12th 2014 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      Hopefully they will play Will Schofield on a wing instead of the backline.. he has real pace and good skills. He really could tear sides up running along that far Chris Mainwairing wing. They have picked up a couple of good recruits, most notably the young guy from the Lions.. he will probaby play as a defensive midfielder.. he has explosive pace that one.

      Some of their guys have had horror runs with injuries, Nicnat , Beau Waters, Le Cras and Wellingham for starters..

      Barring injury, they should be good enough to make top 8, and possibly have a shot at top 4.

      For me their biggest problem has been the poor skills of guys like Rosa and Masten.. those guys continually fail to hit a target when they are in the clear. If they dont sort it out this year I dare say they will be looking for other clubs in 2015.

      Hopefully guys like Blayne Wilson will be playing each week, he impressed every time he played last year. Theres a couple of other young guys knocking on the door as well who should have played a few more games by now.

      Apart from the Dockers, Hawks and Swans no other sides really look ahead of the rest so 4th spot is definately up for grabbs I would say.

      • Roar Guru

        February 12th 2014 @ 1:04pm
        TomC said | February 12th 2014 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        Between Rosa, Masten, Priddis and Scott Selwood they have a bit of a cabal of players with a tendency not to use it all that well.

        It’s a problem that Simpson will have to address. Wouldn’t surprise to see Rosa on the outer, actually, or Selwood play more deep in the backline.

        • February 13th 2014 @ 3:59am
          Lroy said | February 13th 2014 @ 3:59am | ! Report

          agree 100% … Maye the will drop Selwood to the backline as a rebounding defender from the back pocket??

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