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Are 'junk time' goals and injuries the only thing stopping Jack Darling being dropped?

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Roar Rookie
26th May, 2022
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Jack Darling’s ‘junk time’ goals for the West Coast Eagles are disguising how bad his form really is, but will the club finally pull the trigger and drop their enigmatic forward?

The 2018 premiership player has struggled since returning to the AFL in Round 2, kicking just nine goals. The 2019 All Australian is not alone, as the Eagles have endured a horror year.

COVID-19 and injury have derailed West Coast’s season and most weeks the battered club have barely had 22 fit, AFL-listed players to choose from.

Darling’s quiet start to the season was almost expected, given he missed seven weeks of pre-season after he failed to meet the AFL’s coronavirus mandates.

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Coach Adam Simpson told fans to keep the faith after the club’s prized forward came under fire for not impacting the scoreboard after only four games.

“Jack has had seven weeks away from the club,” he told AFL.com. “It would’ve been really difficult to do anything in terms of football. I’m not surprised it’s been a slower start, but we’d love him to get going sooner rather than later.”

Adam Simpson addresses the Eagles

Adam Simpson, coach of the Eagles (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

It’s now later, and not much has changed.

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Darling’s nine goals have been serviceable given the club have only kick 84 this year. What must be a concern for West Coast is the single goal he has kicked in seven games has come late in matches when the Eagles were getting thumped.

Even when West Coast pulled off a miraculous win over the Pies in Round 4, Darling still kicked his two majors in the fourth quarter.

The 29-year-old has never really been a contested-mark king during his 245-game career, but he has only taken 14 this year. And those numbers are flattering after a season-high four against the Giants last week.

Coaches will always roll out that ubiquitous line that forwards are not just about kicking goals but Darling has only laid two tackles per game, had three goal assists and 13 inside 50s.

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If the Eagles’ season hadn’t been riddled by injuries and COVID, it would be hard to make a case for the out-of-form forward. They have also been bereft of scoring options, with Willie Rioli and Josh Kennedy out with injuries, and promising young forward Oscar Allen yet to play this season because of a foot injury.

Simpson had previously said Darling was the first player targeted when he went through a dry spell. The power forward has always been an enigma and is one of the most polarising players running around in the AFL.

At his best, the Eagles’ four-time leading goalkicker has all the poise and grace of former Roos great Wayne Carey.

Only two players in the club’s history have kicked more goals than Darling, who sits behind Kennedy (581) and Peter Sumich (511).

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There is no doubt Darling is a prodigious talent but his moments of brilliance have been overshadowed by his on-field bloopers.

darling eagl

Jack Darling celebrates a goal

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

West Coast fans have been relentlessly unforgiving of his mid-game gaffes, most notably the 2015 grand final when he dropped a sitter with no player within 20 metres of him (which, to a lesser degree, he repeated in the dying minutes of the 2018 decider).

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The Eagles are already talking rebuild, so naturally Darling’s name has already been tossed around as trade bait. It happens every time he goes through a bad patch.

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With Kennedy set to retire at the end of the season and Allen still a work in progress, the Eagles are unlikely to part company with their star forward.

With West Coast struggling to put their best 22 on the park, Darling appears to be safe from the chopping block for now. But if his lack of form continues and with the club expected to welcome back a number of players from injury in the second half of the season, he might not be so lucky.

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