West Coast play their final JLT match ahead of the 2017 season, against the Demons who many predict could leap into the finals for the first time since 2006. Melbourne have won their opening two pre-season games, and with both sides fielding line-ups which may closely represent their Round 1 offerings, this fixture could shape expectations of both teams for the season proper.
The Eagles have bemoaned the fixturing leading into their opening game of the season, with only one match in the 25 days ahead of the Round 1 game against North Melbourne. As a result, the Eagles will take in their strongest squad, with the hope of getting as many minutes into senior players as possible. While much of the team is set, here are five players to keep an eye on as they sit on the cusp of selection.
Dom Sheed will be hoping for a strong year, after his 2016 season was interrupted with a torn pectoral muscle. The injury, along with a minor knee complaint held Sheed out of the Eagles line-up until Round 19, after a breakout season the year before. Despite having played just 39 AFL games, Sheed is already a vital link in the Eagles midfield as a player that can play both as an inside and outside midfielder and was an important inclusion at the end of last season when the Eagles played their best football of the year. With an uninterrupted pre-season heading into 2017, Sheed has been a top performer in the opening two JLT matches and could be set to show why the Eagles selected him with their first pick in the 2013 National Draft.
Nelson gets a third straight game in the JLT to push for a spot in the opening game of the season. Nelson has managed 19 games across his first two years at the club, played in a variety of roles through the backline and midfield. The last few games saw him pinch-hit as a run-with player, and he may be given similar roles in the JLT match against Melbourne as part of his continual development. Adam Simpson said that there were 30 players in the mix for Round 1, and with Sam Butler sidelined with a slight calf strain, Nelson could grab an opening round berth with a strong performance in JLT3.
Lewis Jetta was considered the final piece for many Eagles supporters as they hoped to go one better last season, following a Grand Final appearance in 2015. However a persistent calf injury during the pre-season meant Jetta was unable to reach Eagle expectations, and his disappointing year finished with the calf injury returning. The signs for 2017 in the first two JLT matches though have been much more promising with Jetta displaying customary run and carry and penetrating ball use that can break the opposition defence. 17 disposals as part of a weakened midfield against the Giants was followed up with 21 possessions and five inside-50’s against the Dockers, with the two performances once again exciting West Coast fans. A final strong display at Subiaco against the Demons will complete the perfect launching pad for the 2017 season.
Like Jetta, Jack Redden joined West Coast ahead of the 2016 season with expectations that the former Brisbane Lion could bolster the Eagles midfield. And like Jetta, Redden found himself on the outer in the second half of an underwhelming season. Redden could only manage two senior appearances after Round 13 as an interrupted pre-season courtesy of adductor surgery, appeared to catch up with the midfielder. The acquisition of Sam Mitchell over the off-season, as well as the return of Dom Sheed means Redden will have a fight for a spot in the Eagles best 22. Redden has only returned 16 and 8 disposals in the first two JLT matches, and will want to make the most of a final opportunity ahead of the Eagles first game against North Melbourne.
Darling has been very much a staple of the Eagles side since he first debuted with the club in 2011, but in recent years his spot has come under fire at West Coast. Named as possible trade bait over the off-season, the Eagles showed faith in the tall forward, extending his contract until 2020. At 24, Darling is heading towards the prime of any forward’s career and expectations will be that Darling can rise above the plateau that his career appears to have hit in recent seasons. Darling was held out of the opening JLT game against the Giants and managed just five possessions and a goal in the rout of the Dockers, so there will be keen interest on his performance against the Demons. The Eagles have drafted in Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie during the off-season with both players considered forward-rucks as opposed to natural ruckmen. If Scott Lycett can return for Round 1, Darling may find himself facing stiff competition for the second forward role.