Ahead of the first team selections for 2017, the Eagle Eye have predicted what the first side to run out against North Melbourne will look like.
The first Eagles team of 2017 is likely to have some (old) fresh faces with the three drafted players in Nathan Vardy, Drew Petrie and Sam Mitchell all expected to line up. The biggest query over the summer was what would the Eagles ruck combination look like in 2017?
Newcomers Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie are expected to lead a decimated ruck division that will be without Nic Naitanui for the season, and Scott Lycett who dislocated his shoulder in East Perth’s warm up match a fortnight ago. Lycett will miss three months and has been placed on the long term injury list whilst Jonothan Giles who carried the ruck in the final two games of 2016 won’t be considered as he continues his rehab from a thumb injury sustained right before the JLT series.
It won’t be a kind initiation for the fresh ruck duo either, as they come up against Petrie’s former teammate Todd Goldstein, plus potentially the spring-heeled Majak Daw and rookie Brayden Preuss. Goldstein will naturally expect to win the majority of the hit-outs, but Vardy and Petrie provide mobility around the ground that should match one of the best all-round ruckmen in the league.
Sam Mitchell will also make his club debut, having played the final two JLT games. Early signs are the former Hawthorn champion will not be slowing down, recording 24 and 39 disposals in his first two appearances. Mitchell will provide a valuable link through the middle, and any concerns pre-season about the Eagles midfield being too slow with Mitchell alongside Matthew Priddis appear to have been allayed.
Lewis Jetta has enjoyed a flourishing JLT series and could deliver on the promise of his recruitment ahead of 2016. Andrew Gaff will resume on the other wing with last year’s club champion Luke Shuey through the middle. Shuey could also spend more time up forward, having shown an ability to hit the scoreboard, as could Chris Masten.
Down back, Eric Mackenzie looks certain to reclaim his spot ahead of youngster Tom Barrass. With the Eagles changing their defensive patterns while Mackenzie sat out 2015 due to a knee reconstruction, the 2014 club champion struggled to adapt to the changing structure last season. Barrass was preferred through the second half of 2016 to partner Jeremy McGovern, but after an impressive pre-season, Mackenzie is back in favour.
Despite the likelihood that North Melbourne will play three tall forwards, West Coast are looking to return to the balance of a smaller backline, which engineered their run to the 2015 Grand Final. Another change in the back half could be the inclusion of Jackson Nelson, who has been a fringe player in his first two seasons at the club. With veterans Sam Butler and Will Schofield still returning from injury and Tom Cole sidelined with a quad strain, Nelson could get first crack as a running defender who could also take a third tall.
The Eagles also look set to use Elliot Yeo through the backline, where he spent the majority of time through the JLT. Primarily used as a forward/mid since he joined the club, Yeo could start at half-back, beside Brad Sheppard and captain Shannon Hurn. Like Nelson, Yeo also has the capability to take a third tall forward if required, having filled in the role at times during 2015. The Eagles will be hoping for big things from Yeo, who has shown glimpses of the player he could be, without doing it consistently.
The rest of the Eagles team should be straight-forward with 16 players from the Elimination Final loss to the Bulldogs picked. Josh Hill and Jack Darling should get first run up forward, despite being prone to inconsistency. Darling in particular, has had an underwhelming JLT series, with just 11 disposals, 4 marks and 3 goals across the two wins against Fremantle and Melbourne, but is still expected to partner Josh Kennedy up forward.
Mark Le Cras is one of many looking to atone for a poor 2016 and Adam Simpson has suggested that Le Cras will spend less time through the middle and remain a permanent forward. Helping Le Cras hold his spot in the forward line is the untimely hamstring injury to new recruit Willie Rioli, which has ruled out the small forward for three months. Jamie Cripps had a slow start in 2016 and will be hoping to hit the scoreboard more regularly, starting across half-forward.
Starting alongside Drew Petrie on the bench are Sharrod Wellingham, Dom Sheed and Mark Hutchings. Hutchings could potentially be a casualty throughout the year with Sam Mitchell’s arrival, but with a number of players either sidelined through injury, or still working their way back at East Perth, he holds his spot. Dom Sheed will look to build on a disappointing 2016 after a breakout season the year before, and will be an automatic selection each week.
Wellingham may spend more time up the ground, particularly with Elliot Yeo’s shift back. Leading a young side in the opening JLT match against GWS, Wellingham was predominantly played through the middle, collecting 28 disposals, and would provide more flair alongside Mitchell and Priddis. The flexibility of Wellingham could tempt West Coast to utilise him in all areas of the ground.
Predicted 2017 Round 1 – West Coast vs North Melbourne
BACK J Nelson E Mackenzie B Sheppard
HALF BACK S Hurn J McGovern E Yeo
MIDFIELD L Jetta M Priddis A Gaff
HALF FORWARD C Masten J Darling J Cripps
FORWARD J Hill J Kennedy M Le Cras
RUCK N Vardy L Shuey S Mitchell
INT S Wellingham D Petrie D Sheed M Hutchings
With the likes of Barrass, Giles, Schofield, Butler, Liam Duggan and Jack Redden knocking on the door, there will be plenty of competition amongst a strong West Coast squad in 2017.