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Footyology countdown: Things look wobbly for West Coast

Jubilation for West Coast after Luke Shuey’s elimination final match-winner. But it’s going to be tough for the Eagles to hold on in 2018. AFL MEDIA

Footyology countdown: Things look wobbly for West Coast

Rohan Connolly    

2017 record: 13 wins, 11 losses (6th)
List age ranking (oldest to youngest): 10th
List experience ranking (most to fewest games): 8th
Footyology draw ranking (easiest to hardest): 18th

Brendon Ah Chee (Port Adelaide), Jarrod Brander (Bendigo Pioneers), Oscar Allen (West Perth), Liam Ryan (Subiaco), Brayden Ainsworth (Subiaco), Jack Petruccelle (Northern Knights), Hamish Brayshaw (Sandringham Dragons), Ryan Burrows (South Fremantle), Tony Olango (NT Thunder), Callan England (Claremont)

Matt Priddis (retired), Sam Mitchell (retired), Sam Butler (retired), Drew Petrie (retired), Sharrod Wellingham (delisted), Josh Hill (delisted), Jonathan Giles (retired), Paddy Brophy (retired), Simon Tunbridge (delisted), Tom Gorter (delisted), Tom Lamb (delisted), Jordan Snadden (delisted)

B:Tom Barrass, Eric Mackenzie, Brad Sheppard
HB:Elliot Yeo, Jeremy McGovern, Shannon Hurn
C:Jack Redden, Andrew Gaff, Lewis Jetta
HF:Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling, Liam Ryan
F:Nathan Vardy, Josh Kennedy, Mark LeCras
Foll:Nic Naitanui, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed
Inter: Liam Duggan, Mark Hutchings, Willie Rioli, Brendon Ah Chee
Emerg: Scott Lycett, Chris Masten, Will Schofield

It goes without saying this year’s competition appears as tight as it’s ever been, a cluster of teams outside last year’s top eight banging on the door for entry. And when it comes to just who will make way for them, it’s West Coast which seems most in the pundits’ sights. And perhaps with good reason.

They might have made it to the second week of finals, but the Eagles in reality last year looked a shadow of the team which reached a grand final two seasons previously, despite the fact even now 15 players from that grand final line-up remain on the list.

And while individuals can’t on their own make or break a team’s fortunes, it’s the much-discussed Nic Naitanui who is as good an exception to the rule that exists in AFL football.

The super-athletic ruckman is more than just a talisman, his clearance ability is as big an influence as his tap work, he provides a strong forward presence, and his capacity to allow his teammates first use of the ball is also crucial to their capacity to set up their defence behind the ball.

It has been at best a measured comeback from a knee reconstruction, with West Coast already warning against too much expectation about what he can deliver in the short term when he finally does take the field again.

Funnily enough, the Naitanui dependence comes despite West Coast having no less than half-a-dozen player rated elite in their positions by Champion Data.

Significantly, three of those – Jeremy McGovern, Elliot Yeo and Shannon Hurn – are defenders, whose intercept abilities are fundamental to the Eagles’ modus operandi, but whose capacity to do so as effectively was compromised last year under more frequent assault.

It’s West Coast’s midfield which will look most different in 2018, and it needed to. Both Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis are done, and that places even more responsibility now on Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff, with the depth of support for them even more questionable.

In a big-picture sense, though, the big list turnover and departures specifically of Mitchell, Priddis, Drew Petrie, Josh Hill and Sharrod Wellingham has cost the Eagles a whopping 1411 AFL games’ experience. That is a void that won’t be easily filled.

There’s no leg-up with a favourable draw, either, Footyology rating the West Coast fixture the toughest in the AFL, and remembering, too, that as grand a new home as Optus Stadium will surely prove, it might for a while negate what has been a considerable home advantage over the years.

Given all those factors, and the stampede of would-be usurpers to the Eagles’ top eight spot, even holding ground in 2018 will be a victory of sorts, an improvement on last year something of a surprise.

13th.A big turnover of experience and tough draw could make like very difficult for the Eagles in 2018. Everything would need to go right for a fourth finals appearance in a row.

THE LADDER SO FAR (click on team to read)

1 Comment
  1. As an Eagles fan I could not agree more with your assessment. I think we’re in big strife this year. Only two Rising Star nominees in the past six years begs the question – what on earth is wrong with our recruiting department?!

    Anything we get out of NicNat this year is a bonus. Some pundits talk up our forward line with Kennedy, Darling and LeCras, when the truth is that LeCras is all but finished, perhaps saved only by the number of players that finished up at the end of last year. Kennedy injured going into the season doesn’t bode well either.

    Given we have a gun in Kennedy up forward it doesn’t say much for the rest of our attack that we were only 10th in points-for last year, with even lowly North Melbourne scoring more than us.

    Our midfield relies on Shuey & Gaff, as much as I like those two they’re not really match-winners in the like of the Cousins / Judd pairing we had back in the mid-00s.

    Far from convinced on Simpson too, haven’t seen anything innovative from him so far.

    As ever the X-Factor for the interstate clubs is the home ground advantage. How this pans out for us this year is anyone’s guess given the new stadium.

    We were poor last year, should never have made the eight, and if your assessment of our fixture pans out I think our most likely landing spot is from 10th to 14th.

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