Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a look at the disappointing West Coast Eagles.
With the Eagles expected to once again play finals football in 2021 their ageing and injury prone list finally started to falter as they missed the top eight for the first time since 2014. Was 2021 the outlier for a proud group of champion players or was it the beginning of the end?
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
9th position: 10 wins, 12 losses, 93.2%.
West Coast started out their season well enough, tasting victory in eight of their 13 games prior to the mid-season bye. After the break, however, the Eagles fell apart. They lost seven of their final nine games to fall to 9th place and an early end to their season after seven straight finals appearances.
West Coast had their share of solid wins, with an early season triumph over Port Adelaide and a late Josh Kennedy goal that stole a win over the Tigers chief amongst them, but when they were bad they were terrible. An embarrassing 97 point loss to Geelong was, at the time, seen as an aberration. In retrospect it was an indicator that the Eagles were not the formidable machine that they once were.
As disappointing as the season ultimately was for the Eagles there were positives that the team could take comfort in. Oscar Allen had an outstanding season playing as a utility forward, kicking 28 goals whilst working around the long standing pair of the ageless Josh Kennedy (41 goals) and Jack Darling (42) whilst also spending time in the midfield. Still only 22, he’s quickly becoming a genuine star and the face of the next generation of Eagles.
Tim Kelly and Elliott Yeo enjoyed excellent years, though the team clearly missed their influential captain Luke Shuey who played just seven games after only suiting up for 14 in 2020. Worryingly, Shuey is already experiencing soft tissue issues through the preseason.
Key ins: Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton), Tom Joyce (Brisbane), Patrick Naish (Richmond), Rhett Bazzo, Greg Clark, Brady Hough, Jack Williams, Luke Strnadica, Campbell Chesser, Hugh Dixon (all draft)
Key outs: Jarrod Bander (GWS), Brad Sheppard, Nathan Vardy, Daniel Venebles (all retired), Brendon Ah Chee, Jarrod Cameron, Will Collins, Mark Hutchings, Ben Johnson, Brayden Ainsworth (all released)
Carrying one of the oldest lists in the AFL (only the Cats and Saints are older) the Eagles enter the 2022 season with plenty of questions to answer. Namely, what to do with the under performing veterans and who on the current list can step in to their shoes.
Defensively, the stingy duo of Tom Barass and Jeremy McGovern will again man the key defensive posts. Draftee Rhett Bazzo is seen by the club as a long term option to replace McGovern, who will turn 30 shortly after the season starts. Who slots in around the bigs could be an open question, given there is plenty of depth in the ranks.
Former skipper Shannon Hurn will drag his cannon of a right foot out for a 17th season. Expect Alex Witherden and Liam Duggan to get first crack at two of the remaining spots with the form player out of Tom Cole, Jackson Nelson and Josh Rotham to round out the sextet. Keep an eye on who the Eagles use as their rebounding half back. Harry Edwards looked sharp in his 10 games last season, whilst the speed and ball delivery of Petrevski-Seton could see him utilised in that role.
The Eagles midfield is full of big name players that under performed in 2021. As mentioned earlier, Shuey had another injury interrupted campaign, as did the criminally underrated Elliot Yeo. Should they be able to get an injury free run, they’ll join Tim Kelly, Andrew Gaff, 2018 grand final hero Dom Sheed, and Jack Redden in a productive midfield. Mature age recruit Greg Clarke will also get a long look at AFL level after stepping up from the state leagues.
In the ruck, Nic Naitanui won the club Best and Fairest on his way to winning his 3rd All Australian blazer. After a four year run where he seemed to be perennially injured, he played all 22 games for the first time since 2015. He remains the best player in the squad and by extension integral to the Eagles hopes of returning to finals action. The four other rucks on the Eagles list have a combined one game of AFL experience. Losing Nic Nat would be a catastrophe for coach Adam Simpson.
The biggest question facing the Eagles attack was answered last week when Darling finally relented and received his COVID vaccination, allowing him to rejoin the team, although he has now suffered a foot injury that will see him likely miss the opening three rounds of action. That will allow Allen to step into a featured role at centre half forward. Allen has always been the Great White Hope of Eagles football. He was expected to take over from the soon to be 35 year old Josh Kennedy, who seemingly never ages. Instead he’ll have the chance to be the main man alongside the veteran spearhead.
Around them are the crafty Jamie Cripps and the unpredictable pairing of Willie Rioli and Liam ‘Flyin’ Ryan.
Rioli is set to see his first AFL action since 2019 after a drugs ban. Assuming he can pick up where he left off he’ll form one half of the most exhilarating pair of small forwards in the AFL. The pacey Jack Petrucelle would usually be the final forward in the mix but given Darling’s absence coach Adam Simpson may opt for the taller and rangier Jake Waterman to start the season.
In a rare win, this writer correctly called the Eagles decline in 2021. That assessment was based on the plethora of ageing stars that littered the Eagles squad. Another year of miles onto those legs isn’t going to help, either. Shuey’s body looks to be failing him which is a shame, Kennedy and Hurn can’t keep going on for ever. Darling didn’t really have a preseason even before his foot injury. Naitanui’s injury history is always bubbling just below the surface.
With the exception of the impressive Allen there are no obvious star talents emerging out of the younger part of the list.
All of that indicates that this is not a team on the way up. At best, they’ll plateau, but with teams around them improving that means the Eagles will move backwards.