For a team considered by many to have flown under the radar, the West Coast Eagles were a remarkably consistent and high performing team for the whole year.
After losing to Sydney in Round 1, the Eagles rose up the ladder to be in second by Round 4 and held this position until Round 9 when they moved to the top of the ladder and stayed there for 4 weeks before being deposed by Richmond in Round 13.
Apart from three rounds when they dropped to third, West Coast held the second spot for the remainder of the year and so was an expected and capable grand finalist.
When their major rival Richmond was surprisingly eliminated in the preliminary final by Collingwood, they became the favourite to take out the flag, and through a combination of good luck and good management they achieved their task, although West Coast owes a fair bit to a careless Collingwood runner and umpires who believe you do not pay free kicks outside the centre square in the last two minutes of a grand final.
All this was done despite injuries and suspensions to key players such as Nic Naitanui and Andrew Gaff and the retirements of Brownlow medallist Matthew Priddis, Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie at the end of 2017.
The Eagles were able to introduce nine new players into the team in 2018 and the stand out of these was Willie Rioli who played every game and contributed 28 goals for the year. Other major successes were Jake Waterman, Daniel Venables, Liam Ryan and Brendon Ah Chee whilst the 2017 recruitment of 25-year-old big man Nathan Vardy proved a masterstroke.
Vardy was another strong heavy bodied tall who could be used in the ruck or down forward to compliment the outstanding forwards already at the club: Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Mark LeCras who – along with constant goal contributor Jamie Cripps – make up the most potent forward line in the competition.
The club’s backline is well lead by the underrated Shannon Hurn and the impassable Jeremy McGovern and Elliott Yeo’s promotion into the midfield to assist Norm Smith Medallist Luke Shuey was brilliant. Jack Redden continued his stellar development and all-in-all it is hard to find any weaknesses in the team. If the club is successful in recruiting Jesse Hogan to return to assist and then replace the ageing and injury prone Josh Kennedy I would anticipate them continuing to be a major force well into the 2020s.
Even the possible loss of Andrew Gaff should be easily covered by the young talent that the Eagles have amassed, and if Nic Naitanui can make a successful return from his knee operation and play on past age 30 then the sky appears to be the limit for this extremely talented club.