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Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: West Coast

Luke Shuey is about to be swamped by jubilant teammates after kicking the match-winner in the elimination final against Port Adelaide. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: West Coast

Ronny Lerner    

2017 record: 13 wins, 11 losses (6th)

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)

West Coast’s backline is its biggest strength and this was made crystal clear in the epic extra-time elimination final win against Port Adelaide. Despite conceding 17 more inside 50s and eight more scoring shots in front of a packed Adelaide Oval, the Eagles, led heroically by the likes of Jeremy McGovern, Eric Mackenzie, Shannon Hurn and Elliot Yeo, somehow kept the Power at bay. McGovern and Yeo made the All-Australian team, with the latter also taking out the best-and-fairest. Andrew Gaff and Luke Shuey are top-quality midfielders, Josh Kennedy is in the conversation as the best key forward in the game, and the return of superstar ruckman Nic Naitanui will be a sight for sore eyes for the West Coast faithful. It would have been easy to get carried away with a top-six finish and overrate the playing list, but to the West Coast hierarchy’s credit, they acknowledged that they were perhaps a bit fortunate to qualify for the finals after Melbourne’s round 23 horror show against Collingwood and still made huge changes to the playing list with a total of 12 departures. On differentials in 2017, the Eagles were ranked third for contested marks, third for percentage of goals per inside 50, fourth for marks, sixth for marks inside 50 and seventh for percentage of scores per inside 50.

With the exits of Priddis, Mitchell, Butler, Petrie, Wellingham and Hill, the Eagles have lost a whopping 1411 games of experience. There are plenty of holes that now need filling, and the club’s next tier of players need to step up. The Eagles’ depth does not look overly impressive and is sure to come under scrutiny at various stages next season. After Naitanui, Shuey, Gaff and maybe Dom Sheed, their midfield falls away quite a bit. The forward line looks hit-and-miss, too, despite having Kennedy as its centrepiece. Pace was a massive issue for the Eagles in 2017 as well and they got badly exposed in that department in their semi-final trouncing at the hands of Greater Western Sydney. They simply could not keep up with the fleet-footed Giants, so that will undoubtedly be a key focus area over the summer. They also have to do something about their terrible record at the MCG. To win grand finals, you have to save your best for the home of football, and with five wins from 23 outings in the past 10 seasons there, West Coast doesn’t look like threatening for a premiership anytime soon. Another area of serious concern for coach Adam Simpson is the fact that last season, on differentials, his side was ranked 17th for clearances, 17th for tackles, 14th for inside 50s, 15th for disposals, 12th for uncontested possessions and 15th for contested possessions. There’s no question that the Eagles need a harder edge, and with Priddis and Mitchell no longer there, some of their former teammates need to step up and pick up the slack. There could potentially be some huge opportunities for the youngsters in 2018, but it will be a matter of how badly they want to take them.

After 73 goals for Subiaco in the WAFL last year, 21-year-old excitement machine Liam Ryan will likely slot straight into the Eagles’ forward line at the start of next season. Taken at pick 26 at this year’s draft, the mature-age recruit is ready to go and is sure to thrill footy fans throughout 2018.

Will Schofield has two years still to run on his contract but the 28-year-old found himself out of favour in 2017. He could only manage 10 games and spent most of the season in the WAFL. With McGovern, Mackenzie and Tom Barrass the preferred key defensive trio, Schofield has a mountain of work to do to become a regular member of the best 22 again, and needs a huge pre-season to make that a reality.

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, Chris Masten, Luke Partington
Emerg: Scott Lycett, Jackson Nelson, Will Schofield

With Naitanui back in town, Vardy should spend more time in attack. The former Cat has shown in patches that he can be effective up forward. LeCras is perhaps fortunate to be named in the starting 18 after a disappointing 2017 campaign. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him quickly slip out of favour if he can’t turn his form around. Masten is another one on notice.

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