West Coast take on local rivals Fremantle, in a Western Derby to take place in Geraldton. It is the 2nd hit-out for West Coast and here are five players to keep an eye on.
The former Hawk brings a wealth of experience on top of an impressive resume that includes four premierships, five best and fairests, a Brownlow medal and xx All-Australians. Ultimately Mitchell arrives at the club to begin his coaching career post-football, but the Eagles pulled off a massive trade coup in having Mitchell complete his playing days with the club. Much focus will be on Mitchell’s role within the team and his ability to win the ball and use it cleanly will help arrest an Eagles midfield who were below AFL standard with possession efficiency in 2016.
Like Sam Mitchell, Drew Petrie joins the club after an illustrious career with the Kangaroos. Petrie, a former teammate of Adam Simpson, provides potential insurance for a ruck division that faces an early-season crisis. Naitanui is out for the season and both Scott Lycett and Jon Giles face races to be fit for the season-opener. Petrie will partner Nathan Vardy in what is fast shaping as West Coasts likely ruck duo for North Melbourne in Round 1. However, Petrie still needs to be upgraded from the rookie list, and faces competition from fellow rookie Fraser McInnes who also has a chance to shine in this match against the Dockers.
Mark Le Cras
Season 2016 was not one of Mark Le Cras’ best, as the veteran forward battled form for much of the year. Adam Simpson’s mantra of flexibility within the squad saw Le Cras spend more time through the midfield, to varying success. A 27-possession, three-goal effort against the Magpies showcased what he could do, but in too many games, Le Cras’ defensive flaws and inability to win the contested ball left Le Cras exposed. Le Cras makes his first appearance of 2017 in the pre-season derby and Simpson has suggested through the off-season that Le Cras will return to a more prominent role up forward. Whilst not a genuine crumbing forward, Le Cras could provide the foil needed at ground level to Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling that West Coast are desperate for. Le Cras averaged 1.65 goals per game in 2016, his worst return in a decade of top-level football, and will be looking to hit the scoreboard more regularly. Where he plays in this game could indicate the match committee’s thoughts for 2017.
Eric Mackenzie gets his second chance in the pre-season to push for selection in the opening round. With Will Schofield sidelined due to a minor ankle injury suffered in JLT 1, there will be interest in what role Mackenzie plays alongside the Eagles preferred defensive duo of last season in Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern. Against the Giants, Mackenzie struggled opposed to Jon Patton early, before being moved onto the more mobile Rory Lobb. In a week where he was dropped from the Eagles leadership group, Mackenzie will be eager to build some form and confidence against new Docker forwards, Shane Kersten and Cam McCarthy.
Watson was the final player added to the Eagles list over the off-season selected as a Category B rookie, but showed plenty of attributes in his first hit-out against the Giants. Playing mainly in defence, Watson gathered 15 disposals and 7 marks and had four rebound 50’s. Although Watson only disposed of the ball at 67%, the youngster showed plenty of poise with the ball and neat footwork amongst heavy traffic and forward pressure from the Giants. Watson is still a rookie, but with Naitanui and Tunbridge both to be placed on the long-term injury list, an opportunity on the senior list could arise if Watson can continue to impress.