When victorious West Coast coach Adam Simpson made his speech on the premiership dais last Saturday, there was one group of people he forgot to thank – the Gold Coast recruitment team.
In last year’s trade period, the Eagles and Suns engineered a pick swap that, at the time, looked incredibly one-sided, and which, in hindsight, looks even more so.
The swap went like this: West Coast gave up their first-round pick in this year’s draft, as well as pick 50 in the 2017 draft, for a clutch of second-round picks from the glitter strip club (21, 26, 37, and a 2018 second-round selection).
Come draft time, the Eagles used those selections to snare key forward Oscar Allen, livewire Liam Ryan, and speedster Jack Petrucelle, in addition to using their first-round selection (13) on key position player Jarrod Brander, pick 32 on Brayden Ainsworth, and pick 68 on Hamish Brayshaw.
With pick 50, Gold Coast selected ruckman Brayden Crossley.
At first glance, West Coast trading a first-round selection for a bunch of second-round picks might seem like a strange decision – but looking back, it seems the Eagles’ brain trust knew exactly what they were doing.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this could be one of the most important trades ever for the Eagles – not only did it help bolster their list and set them on the path to a premiership, but was also executed with an eye to the future, something most clubs in the premiership window don’t usually consider.
Come the end of 2017, the Eagles clearly thought that they were likely to contend for the premiership this season, so did what most contenders do, and topped up their list. They could afford to – since 2012, the club has only twice traded its first-round selection, once for Jack Redden (pick 17 last year), and for Sharrod Wellingham (pick 18 in 2012). Several of the young players it has selected over that time – Liam Duggan, Tom Cole, Daniel Venables, Willie Rioli, and Tom Barass – have become key parts of the side. There were no glaring holes on their list, so they could afford to have a raft of picks and see what happened.
This is where swapping picks with Gold Coast became an attractive proposition – desperately needing talented players, it made sense for the Suns to get themselves another first-round pick. On paper, it seemed like it could work out well for Gold Coast. However, examined in light of West Coast’s premiership, it looks nothing short of a disaster (in fact, it might even be worse than the club’s decision to trade pick 2 for Lachie Weller, which seemed like a strange decision, but at least was done to attract a player who wanted to come to the club, and was a proven talent).
For one, the current exodus of players from the Suns should have made a bunch of second-round picks a useful commodity. They could be used on a mix of younger players and established talent, potentially grouping together a bunch of youngsters from the same clubs or states, as they did in 2016 when they took three Victorians – Ben Ainsworth, Will Brodie, and Jack Scrimshaw – in the top ten.
Instead, Gold Coast used the first-round selection (pick 19) to select Wil Powell, an extremely speculative choice from the WAFL who most clubs didn’t even have on their draft boards. He’s an athletic and combative player who may come good, but for a club in their precarious position (both on and off-field), it was a risky move.
The most damning assessment of Gold Coast’s decision, however, is that West Coast’s first-round pick this year is pick 18, while the second-round pick they acquired from Gold Coast is 20.
In essence, West Coast gave up two spots in the draft for four second-round picks. They got the exciting forward they wanted in Liam Ryan, who has had a huge impact this year, took Brayden Ainsworth and Hamish Brayshaw to add some midfield depth, and addressed three future needs in drafting key position players Allen and Brander, and speedy midfielder Petrucelle.
All that, for moving down two draft spots this year (and, of course, they could still receive a first-round compensation pick if Andrew Gaff moves to North Melbourne).
Of course, Gold Coast wasn’t to know West Coast would win the flag, but given the Eagles have been near the pointy end of the ladder the past few years, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that their first pick was going to feature later in the order.
It was a shrewd swap by the Eagles – one that, all going to plan, has set them up to challenge for back-to-back flags.