14/04/2024

The West Coast Eagles have had a disappointing start to 2022. (Image: West Coast Eagles; Design: Will Cuckson)

The West Coast Eagles will be hoping to turn their fortunes around in the back end of the season. With the side currently lingering at the bottom of the ladder, they'll be wanting to avoid a wooden spoon finish.

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, the West Coast Eagles.

Snapshot

At the midway point of the season, the Eagles sit bottom of the ladder having won just one game for the season. Additionally, the side has already notched two losses over 100 points, losing to Richmond by 109 points and Bulldogs by 101 points, both of which were played on their home deck in Perth.

Entering the bye round, Adam Simpson will be hoping to re-energise his squad for the second half of the season.

What’s Worked

Due to a mountainous injury list and COVID having run rampant through the Eagles this season, the list has been stretched. Though as a result, some of the Eagles’ recruits have taken their opportunities.

The clever recruiting from West Coast during the offseason has now come to the forefront, with its pickups repaying the faith, particularly midfielders Patrick Naish and Greg Clark.

Naish has been impressive, currently averaging 16.7 disposals per game, and was arguably one of the Eagles’ best midfielders in the first month of the season. Meanwhile, Clark has come in and proven to be a valuable mature age recruit with the 25-year-old enjoying his first taste of AFL football having been previously plying his trade in the WAFL.

Rookie Brady Hough has shown encouraging signs, relishing the chance to play for his boyhood club. Playing down back, he’s proven to be a capable defender despite being under constant pressure.

Youngsters Isiah Winder and Connor West have also put in encouraging showings, with the duo now asserting themselves in West Coast’s best 22.

In light of injuries, the Eagles have unearthed some gems this season. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

What Hasn’t

Their inability to keep players on the park has contributed to the Eagles’ struggles this season, with the side boasting one of the largest injury lists in the competition for the second season running.

Whether out due to a physical injury or missing games due to health and safety protocols, there isn’t a single player on the list who has featured in every game for the club this season. The most games anyone has played this season is 11, with Jack Darling, Jack Redden, Jake Waterman and Patrick Naish (one as the medical sub) just the four of whom to make double-digit appearances this season.

42 players have made an appearance for the club this season, with West Coast, forced to use COVID contingency players at times just for fixtures to go ahead. The club currently have 15 players on their injury list.

Additionally, the Eagles have struggled to influence games due to their inability to win the ball, they rank ranked 16th in the competition for disposals per game and 15th for total disposals, with the side averaging just under 330 touches per game.

West Coast also ranks 17th for hit-outs and 15th for clearances, with the midfield group’s inability to get on top and get first use out of the middle a major area of concern this year.

West Coast’s top ball getters in the midfield are Tim Kelly (25 disposals per game), Andrew Gaff (24 disposals per game), Jack Redden (22 disposals per game) and Luke Shuey (21 disposals per game). All of whom are having down years compared to previous seasons and most have failed to be impactful with their ball use.

Its midfield inability to win the footy has also proven costly in the forward end of the ground with West Coast ranking as the second-lowest scoring side in the competition, averaging 57.6 points per game.

With the side collectively just averaging just over eight goals a game, veterans Jack Darling (15 goals) and Josh Kennedy (16 goals) have done their best to find the goals. Though others around them have failed to hit the scoreboard.

Despite Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy’s best efforts, the Eagles have struggled to find the goals. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

Biggest Improver

Though he was a handy contributor in a down season for the Eagles last year, Alex Witherden has taken another step in 2022 with the defender being one of the few highlights for the Eagles this season.

While his teammates have struggled to hit the mark this season, the 23-year-old is enjoying a career-best season, averaging 23.7 disposals, 8.5 marks and 439.4 metres gained. Additionally, while other teammates have struggled to stay on the park, Witherden has been able to play consistently.

He’s also ranked inside the top 20 players of the competition in multiple areas this season. Currently, he’s ranked sixth for total marks (85) taken this season and ranked second for marks per game (8.5).

He’s also ranked inside the top five players for rebound 50s (7.1) per game and ranked 12th for kicks (17.6) per game.

Witherden has been a rare highlight for the Eagles this season. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

Who needs to lift

Even though he’s been one of the few Eagles players which have managed to stay fit, Jackson Nelson has been substandard this season, failing to have an impact in the nine games he has played.

Having been on the Eagles list since 2015, the argument could be made that the defender/midfielder hasn’t taken any significant steps in his career. Having been utilised in the midfield or defence, Nelson like many of his teammates has failed to be impactful in 2022.

Although he is averaging a career-high 15.6 disposals per game, Nelson is still ranked below average for touches per game, marks per game and clearances per game. And though he isn’t used as an offensive midfielder, Nelson has also failed to shut out opponents when given the tagger role or put down back.

Due to the state of the Eagles’ list, Nelson has been afforded the luxury of playing regular games due to a lack of depth. With key players set to return in the coming weeks, he’ll have to lift or could risk finding himself out of the side.

Nelson has failed to hit the mark since his first season back in 2015. (Image: West Coast Eagles)

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Best and Fairest Contenders

It’s hard to look past key defender Jeremy McGovern as the best player for the Eagles this season, with the big man putting in a good body of work. Though West Coast boasts one of the leakiest backlines in the competition, the finger can’t be pointed at McGovern who’s been reliable in defence.

Having caused some headaches for opposition forward lines with his ability to compete in the air, he’s ranked elite for intercept marks (3.9) per game, while ranked above average for disposals (17.9) per game, kicks (11.7) per game, and spoils (six) per game.

Fellow veteran defender Shannon Hurn has done his best to mitigate the damage down back, with the 34-year-old proving to be a calming presence in an under threat defence. With 2022 tipped to be his last year, the defender has put in one of the best seasons of his career.

Hurn has been putting in impressive numbers, averaging 21 disposals a game, 17 kicks, seven marks, and 374 meters gained.

McGovern is putting in an impressive season despite his side’s poor form. (Images: West Coast Eagles)

Expectations for the second half of the year

Currently sitting bottom of the ladder with just one win next to their name, the Eagles will be looking to redeem themselves when they return from their week off.

With midfielders Dom Sheed and Elliot Yeo expected to make their returns from injury in the second half of the season in addition to Jack Petruccelle, Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan, the Eagles have some big names to come in. These inclusions will go a long way in helping the Eagles become a more competitive outfit and help propel themselves off the bottom of the ladder.

After its bye, West Coast will face Geelong, Essendon, Richmond, Carlton Hawthorn, and St Kilda in the next six rounds. If it can win a couple of those fixtures it will help instil some belief in the side.

Having won just one of their opening 12 games, the Eagles will want to have an encouraging back end to the season.

Prediction

16th

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