As we pass the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum has conducted its mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, West Coast.
Despite having one of the best lists on paper, West Coast is sitting just inside the eight and may struggle to make the top four.
At home, West Coast has a 6-1 win-loss record, with Essendon being the only side to breach its fortress, while away its 2-4, winning only to Hawthorn and Carlton.
Mid-season, the Eagles are placed seventh with eight wins and five losses to the Bulldogs, St Kilda, GWS, Essendon, and Geelong. The 97-point demolition against the Cats has put a massive dent in their percentage, a recurring issue that has caused problems for West Coast since 2019.
In the other four defeats, West Coast was still contending at three-quarter time, however, fourth-quarter fade-outs have cost them severely.
However, there are still plenty of positives to take away, like its victories against flag contenders Port Adelaide and Richmond, its 11th straight derby win, and the gutsy victory against Carlton that saw it break the 22-year losing streak at the SCG.
What’s worked for the West Coast Eagles?
Two-time Coleman medalist Josh Kennedy has wound back the clock and has shown no indication he’s slowing down any time soon. Kennedy has kicked 28 goals, his partner in crime Jack Darling kicking one more.
But Oscar Allen is paving the way for the forward line’s future, having several fantastic outings, including his bag of five goals against Collingwood. However, he is equally as good at the other end, with a fantastic contested marking on his side.
The three-headed monster comprising of Allen, Kennedy and Darling is notably accurate in front of goal and has contributed to a scoring efficiency of 55 percent. This places them first in the competition for scoring accuracy and is a huge part of their success this season.
Jack Redden has been a dark horse and an unsung leader, delivering consistent and often best on ground performances. He and Dom Sheed have toiled away in tandem to fill the void left in the midfield left by Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo.
With big names returning shortly, players on an upward trajectory will be displaced from the side. This group included Luke Edwards, Luke Foley, and Harry Edwards who, in under 10 games each, have shown so much promise for the Eagles’ future.
In round 14, second gamer, Luke Edwards was unlucky to not earn a Rising Star nomination after a composed, game-changing performance against Richmond. Down back, Harry Edwards and Foley are developing superbly and have played crucial roles in the absence of Jeremy McGovern, Brad Sheppard, and Liam Duggan.
Another young player who has improved enormously is Jarrod Brander, who has comfortably grown into his midfield role. He, Jamaine Jones, Xavier O’Neill, and Bailey Williams has taken a step forward and are pushing for permanent places in the best 22.
Josh Rotham has begun to solidify a place in the Eagles’ best 22 and surprisingly, is ranked second in total marks for the league (111). It’s fitting West Coast has a player ranked that high, as they are also leading marks for the competition with 1440, and by extension, contested marks with 189.
Another pillar down back is Tom Barrass, who has done some heavy lifting as McGovern battled injury. Rarely losing a contest, Barrass is ranked 7th in marks per game and 12th in one-percenters, also averaging 6.6 spoils and three intercept marks per game.
Critics have called West Coast’s hunger and desire into question throughout the first half of its season as it dropped away and lost winnable games.
West Coast has held comfortable leads, or been neck and neck with teams at the three-quarter time break, only to cough up a defeat. In four of its losses, this has been particularly costly, as it could have comfortably been sitting in the top four by now.
However, this trend isn’t unique to just losses, as teams down by more that thirty odd points often swing momentum their way to close the margin.
After 2019 and 2020 where percentage has kept the Eagles out of the top four, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking Adam Simpson’s men should start working on holding, and expanding their leads.
Momentum plays a massive role in holding onto leads and margins. When West Coast is on, it’s effectively using the ball, sending the ball inside 50 and kicking major after major. But as it flips, the Eagles struggle to contain their opposition, thanks to two alarming areas that need improvement.
Contested work is a huge indicator of output, and is an area of weakness for the Eagles. Despite being ranked 12th for contested possessions (1748), all is not bad as they are ranked first in contested marks (189) and ninth in one-percenters (645).
The issue with West Coast is acquiring the ball and attacking opposition carriers. Overall, with 4673 disposals, it falls behind 13 other teams in total possessions, and in addition, the Eagles are dead last in tackles with 608, 71 tackles below Fremantle, which is ranked directly above them.
West Coast’s well-documented run with injury hasn’t made it easy for it to perform either, with stars like Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey spending time in rehab, or, if playing, on limited minutes.
By round 13, 15 players with a combined 1537 games of experience have spent time on the sidelines. As a result, 35 players have been rotated through the side to cover the absence of stars like Yeo, Shuey, Jeremy McGovern and Tim Kelly.
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Best and Fairest (John Worsfold Medal) Contenders
Nic Naitanui is a one of a kind ruckman with a high chance to go back to back in the John Worsfold medal this year.
Although still on limited minutes, his influence on the playing 22 is unparalleled and he has the capability to lift a his teammates when in a slump.
He doesn’t have the all-round package of Max Gawn or Brodie Grundy but his ruck craft, chemistry with the midfielders and clearance work alone makes him such a unique player.
For West Coast, the dual All-Australian is rated elite in hit-outs to advantage, first in contested possessions and third in tackles. As for his clearance work, he is ranked first in total clearances and stoppages, and second in centre clearances.
He is also ranked second in the league in contested to uncontested possession ratio at 82.25 per cent.
Before succumbing to the Eagles’ injury curse, Tim Kelly was another front runner for the John Worsfold Medal and could put himself back in contention upon return in round 15.
Kelly was left to lead the midfield group in Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey’s absence and he did so sensationally.
Despite being ranked fourth in disposals, he is one of the Eagle’s cleanest and most proficient ball users, leading club inside 50s and centre clearances, but also being second in goal assists.
It is also worth mentioning his career best performance against Fremantle, in which he was rightfully awarded the Glendinning–Allan Medal. It would be very unlikely for him to not receive full votes for the derby.
Who needs to lift?
The football world knows, and has seen what defender Tom Cole can do, especially after 2018, where he was a rising star nominee and a premiership player.
However, he has struggled to replicate that form beyond, and is one of the Eagles’ weakest player this year.
With West Coast’s depth in the backline, Cole’s spot in the backline is in jeopardy, despite him being a solid one on one defender.
While Jackson Nelson plays a different role to Cole, aspects of his game have been subpar.
Although he has the ability to take key players out of the game through tagging, Nelson is one of West Coast’s most ineffective players with the ball.
For him to maintain a permanent place in the side with players like Luke Foley snapping at his heels, this needs to improve significantly.
Rated below average in kicking efficiency, Nelson’s spot in the side will be more secure should he work on this area which has been troublesome for so long.
Expectations for second half of the season
Post-bye, West Coast will be bolstered by the return of Luke Shuey, who had an impressive outing in the WAFL over the weekend. Joining him, are Brad Sheppard, Jeremy McGovern, and Tim Kelly, who elevate the list further.
With these inclusions, the Eagles are positioned to make a late-season push for the top four. With a 2-2 record against current top-eight sides already, Adam Simpson’s men must prove themselves against the Bulldogs, Demons, Swans, and Lions to prove they are capable of going deep into September.
Shannon Hurn is also expected to become the first Eagle to reach 300 games. If all goes to plan, the premiership captain will reach this milestone in round 20 against Collingwood at the MCG.
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