West Coast Mid-Season Report
West Coast came into the season as a side that could deliver anything and at the midway point of their season, there remains as many questions as ever about what the Eagles can achieve in 2017. The Eagles were faced with the daunting prospect of being without Nic Naitanui for much of the season but the addition of Hawthorn superstar Sam Mitchell was deemed an astute acquisition for a midfield seen as the achilles heel of West Coast.
Plenty of core Eagles were put under the microscope after having lesser seasons in 2016 than the previous year’s Grand Final effort. Mark LeCras, Elliot Yeo, Sharrod Wellingham, Jamie Cripps, Chris Masten and Josh Hill all dropped off the pace in 2016, while Dom Sheed’s season was ruined by injury. Jack Redden and Lewis Jetta remained as unknowns with both failing to deliver in their first season at the club, but at the bookends the Eagles boasted the double reigning Coleman medallist and the best intercept marker in the competition in All-Australian Jeremy McGovern.
Following the first 8 rounds of the season, the Eagles sat comfortably in third spot with six wins and two losses. Josh Kennedy was leading the competition in goals and Elliot Yeo is well on his way to receiving his first All-Australian jumper after a stellar season across half-back.
West Coast have maintained their home form although a tight loss to the Giants upset their 100% record. The Eagles have also shown great heart in a number of wins, despite not necessarily playing their best football. A come-from-behind win against St.Kilda and the ability to hold on late against Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs has showed grit.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The defiant win against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval
For all of the talk after a disappointing end to 2016, many of the same issues with West Coast remain. The Eagles are well down in the competition for contested possession and tackles, but most concerning has been their work around the middle. The Eagles have won the clearances count in just three games so far in 2017 as they’ve battled without Naitanui and Scott Lycett.
West Coast lost their final three games heading into the bye and are likely to be out of the top eight when their season restarts in Round 13. The run home for West Coast doesn’t get easy and will need to find more consistent football if they are to make finals for a third consecutive year. In one of the most even seasons in recent memory, every game will be crucial.
The Eagles play Geelong and Melbourne in their next two games before an away trip against the reigning premiers before hosting a resurgent Port Adelaide side. West Coast also have a derby against Fremantle, an away trip against the Saints and close the home and away season against the current top two sides in Adelaide and GWS.
WORST PERFORMANCE: A toss up between the Hawthorn thrashing and the Essendon debacle.
The away form continues to be an issue for Adam Simpson’s side. For much of his tenure Simpson has had to defend the Eagles performances’ away from Subiaco but the doubts have only grown in 2017. Two ordinary efforts at the MCG against the Tigers and the Hawks has continued a poor recent run at the home of football since their 2015 Grand Final defeat. The Eagles backed up a 46 point loss in the 2015 decider with a consecutive 46 point loss to Hawthorn in Round 2.
The Eagles also lost to Collingwood later in the season and survived a close seven point win against strugglers Carlton. West Coast have lost five of their past six games at the MCG by an average 34 points and its a record that needs to be corrected if the Eagles ever want to have a major impact on the September action.
Disappointing losses to Essendon and Gold Coast in recent weeks has dropped the Eagles back in the pack of teams chasing a finals spot.
Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey would be fighting out the top two for West Coast in the first 11 games of the season. Shuey, the reigning John Worsfold medallist, has averaged 28 disposals bettered only by Andrew Gaff who has averaged 30 disposals this season. Shuey has also been the most proficient goal scorer from the midfield with six goals from 10 games, having missed the close loss to GWS.
Elliot Yeo has been one of the big improvers of the AFL with Yeo being settled across half-back. The Eagles have tried him in several different positions over the last couple of seasons, but with a permanent move to defence, Yeo has delivered the best form of his short career. Andrew Gaff has consistently accumulated possessions, while Josh Kennedy and Jeremy McGovern have been pillars at either end, to wrap up a likely top five.
Under the Pump?
Many of the senior Eagles have been questioned with careers potentially on the line. Mark LeCras has failed to show his best having been made a permanent forward in 2017, while Josh Hill was dropped to East Perth. Jack Darling has also had his position questioned and could find himself with a challenge on his hands with the imminent return of Scott Lycett.
Sharrod Wellingham and Matthew Priddis are two more who have been below their best and Wellingham may find himself without a contract at season’s end, along with LeCras and Sam Butler. Priddis was recently offered a one year extension, meaning that it is unlikely Sam Mitchell will continue on in 2018. Liam Duggan forms part of the next generation but has been unable to take his game to the next level despite playing seven of 11 games.
West Coast will need to find greater consistency with all of their performances having lapses throughout games. As mentioned the run home for West Coast isn’t easy, so if the Eagles do make the finals they would have earned it.
The future of a number of players will be determined in the second half of the season as the Eagles work out whether they are still a contender or if they are in need of an injection of youth and the reinvigoration of a game plan that is being found out.
Scott Lycett is set to be a vital inclusion when he returns from a dislocated shoulder, with the centre clearances and stoppages becoming a real issue for West Coast.