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AFL preview series: West Coast Eagles vs Fremantle Dockers

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Expert
3rd March, 2020
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It was 2015 when West Coast and Fremantle were last both in the top four, ultimately each vanquished by a Hawthorn side on their way to a threepeat.

In the subsequent years, the Dockers have fallen away limply, unable to finish higher than 13th. The Eagles have made the finals each season since, and tasted premiership glory themselves.

Can we expect more of the same from each club, or do they have some surprises in store?

West Coast
While the Eagles worked their way into their premiership defence in 2019, rising into the top four after a 3-3 start and winning 12 out of 14 games from that point, they never really clicked for any length of time or played their best football.

Sitting in second with two rounds to go, they lost to Richmond after holding a 29-point lead at the MCG and then with a top-four position to play for, lost in Perth to a Hawthorn side that didn’t make the eight.

A loss to Geelong in the second week of finals was a meek end to a season, and an opportunity was lost.

West Coast best 25
B Brad Sheppard Tom Barrass Liam Duggan
HB Shannon Hurn Jeremy McGovern Lewis Jetta
Foll Nic Naitanui Elliot Yeo Luke Shuey
C Dom Sheed Tim Kelly Andrew Gaff
HF Jamie Cripps Jack Darling Jack Petrucelle
F Oscar Allen Josh Kennedy Liam Ryan
Int Tom Hickey Jack Redden Mark Hutchings Will Schofield
Em Nathan Vardy Tom Cole Jake Waterman

Over the off-season, the Eagles lost premiership player and 215-game veteran Chris Masten, but gained Tim Kelly from Geelong, fresh off a top-five finish in the Brownlow. It’s a serious get, and all but ensures they will stay a contender.

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Nic Naitanui will be raring to go after only five games last year and only 20 in the last three seasons, but will have the same spring and athleticism at 30 after two knee reconstructions. If he can stay fit, and give first use of the ball to Kelly, Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden, West Coast are going to be awfully hard to stop at clearance.

With Josh Kennedy coming off his best pre-season in years and Jack Darling cementing his status as one of the premier key forwards in the competition, the midfield will have plenty of opportunity to have their work finished in front of goal.

In support of the twin towers, Oscar Allen turned heads as an impressive young mobile tall, Jamie Cripps has been underrated for years, while Jack Petrucelle and Liam Ryan are excitement machines with different electric skillsets.

Down back, the Eagles have the best attacking defence in the league. Jeremy McGovern prefers to mark than spoil, knowing he will usually have Tom Barrass to perform the latter if he’s in a tight spot. Lewis Jetta is one of the best kicks in the game from halfback, and Shannon Hurn and Brad Sheppard turn defence into attack as well as anyone with their intercept and rebound game.

There really isn’t a weakness, and Adam Simpson has his best 25-30 players available for Round 1. If a little bit of complacency did replace 100 per cent hunger last year, then that shouldn’t be a problem now.

The Eagles’ best football is at least the equal of a team like Richmond, and it’s arguably better. If they can get their clearance game and pristine ball movement up and running at the pointy end of the season, they’ll be a threat all the way until the final siren of the season sounds.

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Predicted finish: first

Jarrod Cameron of the Eagles is mobbed by team mates

How good are the Eagles? (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

Fremantle
The Dockers started 2019 brightly, sitting second on the ladder after six rounds with a 4-2 record and a percentage of 128. Even after 13 rounds, they were in sixth place, a game and percentage clear of ninth.

In the football world, things can go south real quick.

They lost eight of their last ten matches, even losing to St Kilda, and terminated the services of Ross Lyon with one game to go. It felt like time.

After eight years of Lyon drudgery, what can new coach Justin Longmuir do with this side?

Fremantle best 25
B Luke Ryan Joel Hamling Alex Pearce
HB Nathan Wilson Griffin Logue Stephen Hill
Foll Sean Darcy Reece Conca Michael Walters
C James Aish Nat Fyfe Darcy Tucker
HF Blake Acres Matt Taberner Andrew Brayshaw
F Sam Switkowski Rory Lobb Brandon Matera
Int David Mundy Adam Cerra Connor Blakeley Ethan Hughes
Em Travis Colyer Cam McCarthy Brennan Cox

Michael Walters

Michael Walters (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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Brad Hill and Ed Langdon have defected to St Kilda and Melbourne respectively, each deciding to leave one basket-case for another. Aaron Sandilands has retired, but had provided minimal service in his last four seasons anyway. Hayden Ballantyne won’t be missed by opposition sides.

Coming in as proven players are Blake Acres and James Aish, who have never cemented themselves in a best 22 even though they have the potential to do so.

Nat Fyfe is arguably the best player in the competition, and Michael Walters sits comfortably in the upper echelon, but it’s a motley crew that surrounds them. Hill and Langdon finished in the top five of the Freo best and fairest last season, behind the aforementioned two, with David Mundy in fourth.

Hill and Langdon are gone, and Mundy is almost closer to 40 than 30. It does not augur well.

We cast our eyes across the team, and while there is promise there among the homegrown talent, too many players struggle to play a full season whether through injury, form or development time. Alex Pearce, Griffin Logue, Sean Darcy, Connor Blakeley, Matt Taberner, Brennan Cox are just a few of these names.

There are still a few of us members of the Taberner fan club left, but many have deserted. Can he be the forward-line focal point with the future of Jesse Hogan up in the air? Rory Lobb should play deep, but is better suited in the ruck. Cam McCarthy can’t be trusted.

Can Stephen Hill return to be influential? If he is given a rebounding role, Freo could be hard to contain off halfback with Nathan Wilson and Luke Ryan both effective. Longmuir may set up a game style around that sort of run, freeing the players up in a way they weren’t under Lyon.

There are many questions around this line-up, and too few convincing answers. With a new coach feeling his way, and a club that has been in a hole for years, and two of their best players departing, it’s not easy to make a case for this team climbing up the ladder. More than likely, it’s going to go the other way.

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Predicted finish: 17th

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Predicted ladder:

1. West Coast
2.
3.
4.
5.
6. Brisbane
7.
8.
9. North Melbourne
10. St Kilda
11. Port Adelaide
12. Essendon
13. Melbourne
14.
15.
16. Adelaide
17. Fremantle
18. Gold Coast

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