The West Coast Eagles are coming off a very disappointing season. After making the finals six seasons in a row, the Eagles finished in ninth position with just ten wins and their first loss to crosstown rivals Fremantle since 2015.
After long-term success, the football club needs to face the reality that it’s at a crossroads, but it seems they’re refusing to accept it.
At the start of the season the Eagles had the third oldest team (25 years old on average) and the second most experienced (80.5 games). The only teams with an older list were St Kilda and Geelong, who people have said may have had their last chance at a premiership, but seeing as they’ve defied that before, we’ll wait and see.
So, if it’s last chance gone for Geelong, what does that say about West Coast?
The thing that concerns me most about the Eagles is their forward line. Their top goalscorer this season was Jack Darling, who’s 29, which is above the average age for starters. But worse is that their highest goalscorer on average is Josh Kennedy, who’s 34 and has a contract expiring at the end of 2022 and is already on reduced money.
They will be looking at tall forward Jye Amiss from East Perth in the upcoming draft with Pick 10 – he’s likely to go at Pick 12 after father-son picks – but with Fremantle possessing a higher pick in Pick 8 or Pick 10, there’s a good chance they’ll select him as a tall forward given they’re also in need.
It may not be a horrible result for them, as they’ll also be looking for a second ruckman, and Jack Williams from East Fremantle suits both of those needs. That said, he’s not predicted to be a top-ten pick, so if the Eagles are able to get a lower first-round pick with something thrown in, they’ll have done themselves good business.
But if they’re unable to do that, they shouldn’t be afraid to draft a tall forward or second ruckman from interstate. It’s interesting that both Fremantle and West Coast seem to be hesitant to draft non-West Australians despite the games record holders for both clubs being from interstate.
But while there are some draft prospects available for them this year that suit their needs almost perfectly, three list changes they made recently have got me confused.
The first one is Brayden Ainsworth, who was given only two matches this year, and in both of them he barely touched the football. In the WAFL, though, he was one of the standouts in a disappointing season, averaging 26 touches and being on top of a fair few stats boards. Apart from not being a regular goalscorer, Ainsworth’s stats for 2021 were similar to those of Tim Kelly before he got drafted to Geelong, and that was in a much better South Fremantle side.
The axing of Ben Johnson makes a bit more sense – he’s in his third season and not performing at WAFL level – but the delisting of Will Collins doesn’t. After having signed him in the midseason draft, he was yet to play a game at AFL level before being given the cut. While he wasn’t successful in the Eagles WAFL side, he is a medium-sized defender, and West Coast will be on the lookout for someone to replace Shannon Hurn, whose contract also expires at the end of 2022.
Collins was meant to be only a top-up player, but so was Jai Newcombe at Hawthorn, and it looks he’ll be part of Sam Mitchell’s future plans.
On the topic of the medium defender, Sam Petrevski-Seton has requested a trade to West Coast from Carlton in recent days. While not on Shannon Hurn’s level yet, he is still only 23 and could fill the role. I repeat: could. But did the Eagles actually have any interest in him, or is it another case of a player having too much power? He may run the risk of becoming another Brendon Ah Chee.
So after an underwhelming season, with the Eagles relying on ageing players and delisting younger ones who haven’t been given a chance, are they refusing to go down the rebuild path, or are they attempting the unlikely, to be the next Geelong?