02/03/2024

Will be the Eagles be forced to rebuild in 2022. (Image: AFL.com.au)

Coming off an underwhelming year, the Eagles have had a pre-season from hell and face an uphill battle from Round 1 in 2022.

After a disappointing 2021 season and a horror pre-season for the West Coast Eagles, season 2022 looms as potentially the end of the road for this group.

Though the side has a lot of talent at its disposal and will have its core midfield group return from injury, the Eagles are carrying an ageing list. Currently boasting the third oldest list in the AFL behind Geelong and St Kilda, it seems inevitable the seasoned Eagles won’t have one last final run in them, with injuries before the season has begun likely to force their hand to rebuild.

Last year:

9th, 10 wins, 12 losses, 93.2%

The Eagles were fancied to push for a premiership ahead of the 2021 season, and having won six of their first 10 games, which included a three-game winning streak over the Dockers, Hawks, and Crows by an average of 42 points.

However, their season would quickly unravel in the back half of the year, winning just two of their final nine games, including a horror loss at home to wooden spooners North Melbourne.

They finished their home-and-away season on a four-game losing streak, being on the receiving ends of defeats to Collingwood, eventual premiers Melbourne, and cross-town rivals Fremantle who they hadn’t lost to in six years. They lost to finalists Brisbane in Round 23 to end their season on an underwhelming note.

Structurally, Adam Simpson’s game plan was picked apart in the second half of the season, with opposition sides finding it too easy to break the Eagles down. Opting to slow down the tempo, West Coast’s reliance on kick-marking rather than attacking with speed ultimately caused its downfall.

The Eagles season was also derailed by injuries with the club losing a total of 24 players to injury throughout the season. West Coast wasn’t regularly able to field its preferred midfield group throughout the season with Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey, and Tim Kelly all serving long stints on the sidelines.

The defence would take a hit too, as the Eagles were without Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn for the bulk of last season with the duo playing just 15 games combined.

Alex Witherden was unable to have an impactful first season at his new club playing just nine games before being struck down with injury.

They were also without forwards Liam Ryan and Jake Waterman for a portion of last season with the duo also spending time out with injury, while Daniel Venables and Brad Sheppard called time on their careers due to ongoing concussion problems.

Sheppard was a 2020 All-Australian and is a huge loss for the Eagles’ backline.

Ins:

Sam Petrevski-Seton (Traded – Carlton), Campbell Chesser (National Draft pick 14 – Sandringham Dragons), Brady Hough (National Draft pick 31 – Peel Thunder), Rhett Bazzo (National Draft pick 37 – Swan Districts), Jack Williams (National Draft pick 57 – East Fremantle), Greg Clark (National Draft pick 62 – Subiaco)

Outs:

Brad Sheppard (Retired), Daniel Venables (Retired), Mark Hutchings (Retired), Nathan Vardy (Retired), Ben Johnson (Delisted), Brendon Ah Chee (Delisted), Brayden Ainsworth (Delisted), Jarrod Brander (Delisted), Jarrod Cameron (Delisted), Mark Hutchings (Delisted), Will Collins (Delisted)

Track watch:

The Eagles have looked to establish a new identity during the offseason. Having been a side that predominantly looked to slow down play, the Eagles have changed tact, aiming to move the ball quickly and use the corridor more often.

The biggest story coming out of the Eagles preseason has been Jack Darling, who looked to be in doubt to play in 2022 as he was yet to satisfy the AFL’s COVID protocols. Having been reluctant to get vaccinated, the key forward backflipped on his initial decision and returned on the eve of Round 1.

Though in his absence Oscar Allen had impressed, with Simpson intent on settling him up forward, having his time split as a forward, defender, and second ruck option for West Coast last season.

Allen will spend some time on the sidelines with a foot injury alongside Jamie Cripps who will also miss the opening rounds of the season. Having suffered a torn pectoral muscle in training, the small forward has undergone surgery.

Recovering from hip surgery last season, premiership defender Jeremy McGovern looks to be progressing well in pre-season. Following an injury-riddled season in which he missed games with knee and adductor issues in addition to his hip, McGovern has hit the park strong and looks to be fit for pre-season hit-outs and Round 1.

Speedster Jack Petruccelle has been a standout in training, with his running capacity, attack on the contest, and line-breaking ability all improving. He was amongst the top performers in the club’s practice and intra-club matches.

Jamaine Jones and Jake Waterman have also been impressive, with a strong block of work over the summer. Tim Kelly looks set for his best season in the blue and gold following a solid pre-season and was best afield in the side’s intra-club hit-out, but has been struck down with Covid-19 on the eve of the season so will miss Round 1.

Unfortunately in their next pre-season hit out against the Fremantle Dockers, youngster Campbell Chesser and veteran Dom Sheed suffered lower leg injuries and will be sidelined for large parts of 2022.

Ruck-forward Bailey Williams has staked a claim to play more senior football in 2022, having competed well with Nic Naitanui in ruck contests in their intra-club battle. Train-on prospect Hugh Dixon was rewarded for his strong summer, earning a spot on the list.

What to look forward to:

The Eagles have rebranded their style of play and will opt to play a faster brand of football, with the side looking to freshen up in 2022.

West Coast has traditionally been a slow tempo side, with disposal efficiency and a kick-mark style trademarks of its footballing identity. In 2022, the Eagles are opting to be more daring and play an exciting brand.

There are also plenty of milestone games for Eagles fans to look forward to. Josh Kennedy is just 14 goals shy of kicking 700 career goals, and a big season could see him move into the AFL/VFL’s all-time top-20 goal-kickers.

Andrew Gaff is set to play 250 games this year, with Cripps to play 200 games. Tom Barrass will reach the 100-game milestone in the Eagles season opener against Gold Coast. Jackson Nelson and Tom Cole are will also reach their 100-game milestones later in the season.

It’s a big year for:

Since being drafted by West Coast back in 2017, Oscar Allen has yet to settle into a position in the Eagles’ side, having been trailed in both ends of the ground and the ruck in his first five seasons at AFL level. His athleticism and quality is unquestioned, but due to him being constantly rotated around the ground he is yet to play a chunk of consistent football in any position. 2022 could be the year that changes.

Simpsons has given the athletic key position player the green light to be a permanent forward and having been drafted to the club originally to play in the forward half of the ground, playing Allen full-time in his natural position should see him live up to his potential.

Having kicked 28 goals in 2021 despite playing third fiddle to Kennedy and Darling, and being rotated in the ruck and in defence, 2022 could be a breakout season for Allen.

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Biggest unanswered questioned:

Are the Eagles a chance to make the finals this season?

The Eagles had two major problems last season that prevented them from making finals, being injuries to key players and utilising a game plan that no longer held up against opposition sides.

Though West Coast has looked to remedy the latter by introducing a new brand of football, the transition of defence-minded football to attack-minded could see them be exposed by the top sides of the competition.

Additionally, the Eagles last season boasted one of the worst injury runs in the AFL last season, with the club losing 24 players in total through injury. Allen, Chesser, Cripps, and Sheed are already sidelined with injuries in the preseason. It’s become a recurring theme over the pre-season.

Another problem is the Eagles’ ageing list, with one of the oldest lists in the AFL, the Eagles currently have eight players aged 29 or over that would currently sit in their best 22. With an array of players nearing the end of their careers the club will need to pull the trigger on a rebuild sooner rather than later.

While Simpson’s team is aiming for finals, introducing a new game style, having youngsters pushing for selection, and having players out injured means the Eagles may have their hand forced and bottom out if things go awry.

Coach pressure index:

High

2022 will be Simpson’s ninth season as coach of the Eagles, and while guiding the club the 2018 premiership was no small feat, it can be understood the club may feel they underachieved as the premiership window closes on them.

Though quickly turning the Eagles into a genuine contender since taking over as coach back in 2014, the Eagles look to be on the way down.

Though hard to move on a coach with proven success, if the new-look Eagles fail to make any improvements on last season or Simpson’s new playing style he’s orchestrated doesn’t show promising signs, Simpson could be in trouble come the end of the 2022 season, if not earlier.

If the Eagles don’t impress in 2022, Simpson could be up for the chop come end of the season. (Photo: West Coast)

Predicted Round 1 lineup:

Ladder range:

12th-16th

Whilst they could surprise as they did back in 2018, it looks like it will be a trying season for the Eagles in 2022 as they look to re-establish themselves in the competition.

Ranked as just the ninth highest-scoring team last season, it looks to be more of the same in 2022 for the Eagles despite opting to play a more attacking style.

Keeping their stars fit will be key for them if they are to be competitive this season. But if they are to have a horror run of injuries like in 2021, they will struggle once again.

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