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Opinion

Four burning questions for West Coast ahead of the AFL restart

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8th June, 2020
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The 2020 premiership favourites barely put a foot wrong in Round 1’s win over Melbourne.

But with an extended layoff, an ageing list and a government-imposed exile from the comforts of home, you have to wonder with circumstances are conspiring against the Eagles.

Here are four burning questions for West Coast as we approach the restart of this season.

1. How much better does Tim Kelly make us?

It’s not every day a player of Kelly’s calibre requests a trade to your club and, despite the price to acquire him being steep, it will all be worth it if he leads the Eagles to another premiership.

West Coast paid a small fortune to prize last year’s fifth-place in the Brownlow medal, but the 25-year-old looked slick in Round 1 despite not producing earth-shattering numbers.

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He only had the 19 disposals and two clearances against the Demons, but used the ball superbly and had a team-high six inside 50s to go along with 487 metres gained.

More importantly, however, he gives the inside midfield a huge boost in star power and this will make a huge difference over the course of 2020.

Luke Shuey had 52 centre clearances last season – second at the club behind Elliot Yeo – but was allowed to play more on the wing in Round 1 and starred with 27 disposals, five tackles and 500 metres gained in a surefire three-vote effort.

A coalface trio of Kelly, Yeo and Jack Redden is more than good enough to get the clearance work done and if that allows Shuey and Andrew Gaff to play more as outside midfielders they’ll be very hard to stop.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly makes the Eagles serious contenders. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. How big of a deal is Willie Rioli’s absence?

Rioli is currently serving a provisional suspension for allegedly producing a fake urine sample last year and almost certainly won’t be pulling on the jumper in 2020.

He may have only kicked 18 goals in 2019, but he was sixth in the AFL for goal assists and his absence seemed to harm the Eagles in their upset semi-final loss to Geelong.

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West Coast lost the inside 50 count in that game badly anyway, but their inefficiency inside 50 was also quite poor.

He missed nine games in 2019 and five of West Coast’s six lowest scores of the season were in those matches. They lost four of the five he didn’t play.

Even against Melbourne in Round 1, they only managed 71 points. That’s enough to beat the Dees, but in 2019 they lost seven of the nine games they scored fewer than 80 points.

Liam Ryan and Jamie Cripps will play their role but, with Daniel Venables also ruled out for the year, the lack of depth at small forward is a worry.

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3. Should we worried about the age of our list?

When the resumption of this season appeared uncertain, a lot of Roar readers remarked that West Coast would be impacted the most severely.

The perception was that, with several ageing stars, their premiership window was on the wane and a missed season could see it slammed shut.

The Eagles are definitely older than Richmond, Collingwood and GWS, but I don’t quite agree with that sentiment.

They’ve got six players in over-30 club at present; Josh Kennedy, Shannon Hurn, Will Schofield, Lewis Jetta, Nic Naitanui and Luke Shuey.

Admittedly, there are some worries in that group with Kennedy and Naitanui having well-documented injury histories. But Hurn has been ultra-reliable, Jetta doesn’t use his pace much anymore, Shuey looked in scintillating touch in Round 1 and Schofield is behind Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass in the key defender pecking order anyway.

The rest of the club’s superstars are comfortably inside the 25-28 years old bracket, with a handful of promising youngsters coming through too including Ryan, Liam Duggan and Oscar Allen.

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Adam Simpson’s game style too is very kick-heavy and seems resistant to players slowing down with age. They were second-last for tackles in 2019 and last in contested possessions, so it’s not as if the team is built to win through prime-bodied specimens out-muscling and out-running the opposition.

As long the stuff between the ears works fine, West Coast’s players will be fine too.

Shannon Hurn of the Eagles

Shannon Hurn isn’t getting younger. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)

4. Will this season’s quirks cost us a premiership?

All that said, however, this season still has significant differences to it and it’s hard to argue against Western Australia’s clubs being particularly disadvantaged.

It’s not some great VFL AFL conspiracy, but the WA government’s (perfectly reasonable) restrictions on entering and exit the state mean they’ll have to forfeit home games to neutral venues.

Their ‘home’ game against Richmond being at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast is obviously massive. The Eagles have monstered the Tigers in their last two meetings in Perth and, in a 17-game season, whatever differences the venue change may have on this game could be enormous.

With no guarantee of a return to Perth once this block of fixtures is over either, West Coast’s quest for the premiership could be an uphill one.

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