18 Teams in 18 Days: West Coast Eagles

2017: 8th (12 wins – 10 losses; lost to GWS in semi final)

Key Acquisition:

Brendon Ah Chee (from Port Adelaide), Liam Ryan (AFL Draft -Pick #26)

Key Losses:

Sam Mitchell (retirement), Matt Priddis (retirement), Drew Petrie (retirement), Sam Butler (retirement), Sharrod Wellingham (delisted)

Million Dollar Question 

Which of the young midfield brigade will stand up in 2018? The Eagles have lost a combined 569 games experience and 2 Brownlow Medalists with the retirements of Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis in the offseason. Additionally, premiership player and 166 gamer Sam Butler. Throw in the delisting of Sharrod Wellingham and Josh Hill, and there’s plenty of opportunities for the young midfielders to stake their claim in 2018. People have been quick to write the Eagles off heading into 2018, but if their younger mids like 4th-year gun Liam Duggan, 2nd-year jet Daniel Venables and offseason recruit Brandon Ah Chee can take over the midfield baton, the Eagles should be in the September running again this season.

Case For

The Eagles have plenty to build around, with players up both ends of the ground other sides would kill for. From veteran Eric Mackenzie and swingman Jeremy McGovern down back to the dynamic duo of former Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling up forward, the Eagles certainly have plenty to work with. The biggest plus this season for the Eagles will undoubtedly be the return of star ruckman Nic Naitanui. While some may believe Naitanui is overrated by many in the AFL landscape, there’s no doubting just how influential the big man is when up and running. His presence alone could help smooth some of the midfield turbulence the Eagles are expected to experience in 2018. With the move to the wide open spaces of the new Optus Stadium, coach Adam Simpson will be hoping to get full use of the speedy players they’ve added in the offseason, including local WAFL hero Liam Ryan, first-year quick Jack Petruccelle and second-year, injury-riddled mid, Daniel Venables. They’ll need to get some more goals out of whoever goes through the midfield this season, after Dom Sheed and Luke Shuey were the only true midfielders to reach double-figure goals in 2017, both kicking 11. There are some young quality and tricks waiting to make their mark for the Eagles this season, and if the majority of them manage to have an impact at certain stages, West Coast could be a pleasant surprise this season.

Case Against 

There’s perhaps too much expectation on too many inexperienced players. It’s unreasonable to expect the Eagles to replace the brilliant careers of Mitchell and Priddis immediately. However, if they don’t get some of these other young guys to do their bit, there could be too much left on the shoulders of Andrew Gaff and Luke Shuey. Plenty of Eagles fans will be crossing their fingers Naitanui returns better than ever, but although “Nic Nat” is a freak, it’s unlikely he’ll hit the ground running in 2018 after so long out of the game. Also, if the star ruckman breaks down again this season, there’s not a lot of backup with the retirement of Drew Petrie (backups include Nathan Vardy, Scott Lycett and the rarely tested duo of Fraser McInnes and rookie Tony Olango). There’s also no getting around the fact that West Coast just doesn’t get enough goals from their midfield. Besides Shuey and Sheeds 22 between them in 2017, Lewis Jetta kicked just 9, the supremely talented Elliott Yeo kicked just 8, star line breaker Andrew Gaff kicked just 6 and Liam Duggan kicked only 4. This is an area the Eagles must improve upon if they’re to play finals again in 2018. Then there are the issues with the MCG. The Eagles will have just 2 opportunities to prove to the football world that their MCG hoodoo is a thing of the past.

One to Watch

Liam Ryan kicked 73 goals last season playing for Subiaco in the WAFL last season, while also taking 3 marks of the year candidates. Does that sound like somebody to keep an eye on? Ryan is set to thrill the West Coast fans at the new stadium this year, and he will be hoping to help ease the burden on Eagles fan favourite Mark Lecras, who is entering what will likely be his final season. Keep on eye on Ryan to pop up on plenty of highlight reels this season.

Bold Prediction

West Coast has made a habit of playing the wild card in recent seasons, making the Grand Final in 2015 having missed out on the finals the year before. If they can get mass improvement from their 20-24 year old players, there’s no reason why they can’t be a surprise packet once again. Adding players with speed and class should correlate nicely with the move to a wider stadium in 2018 and beyond. Eagles fans will be hoping this will go some way to fixing the demons the Eagles seemingly have playing at the MCG.  Expect the Eagles to be in the thick of things late in the season in 2018.

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