West Coast season preview for 2021.
West Coast season preview for 2021.

Big threat to Eagles’ rebound plans after ‘wasted’ year

Season 2020 did not meet lofty expectations for the Eagles - or some their star players - as the side failed to win a final.

But can coach Adam Simpson return West Coast to a third Grand Final in seven years this season?

Or will state border wars again take their toll?

Chris Cavanagh's six people who will define the club in 2021:

■ Mark McGowan

The iron-fisted Western Australia premier didn't do the Eagles or Dockers many favours last season with his draconian border controls which forced the state's two clubs to spend most of the season in Queensland. While McGowan has since watered down his restrictions a little, his strict attitude to borders could again cause major problems for the Perth-based teams if there are minor COVID-19 outbreaks in other states throughout the season. West Coast held an impressive 7-1 record at home last season, but only 5-5 away in the sunshine state.

 

■ Nic Naitanui

As Gerard Healy puts it, Naitanui has every weapon in a ruckman's artillery - the flipper, the flopper, the dropper, the over-the-topper and the whopper. He is central to how the Eagles play and the club and its fitness staff need to keep him fit and on the field if they are to challenge for another premiership this year. Naitanui played 17 games last season - his most since 2015 - which is hopefully a good sign that injury issues of recent years are in the rear-view mirror for now.

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Nic Naitanui’s fitness and form could shape West Coast’s fortunes in 2021. Picture: Michael Klein
Nic Naitanui’s fitness and form could shape West Coast’s fortunes in 2021. Picture: Michael Klein

■ Adam Simpson

He took the Eagles to a premiership in 2018, but coach Simpson has had one win from three finals since with a similar-looking team. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but Simpson will be looking to squeeze more out of his playing group after what he labelled a "bit of a waste" of a season last year after a home elimination final loss to Collingwood. The Eagles looked a little lost and lacked confidence at stages last year. It's up to Simpson to rewrite the ship this season.

 

■ Tim Kelly

He wasn't alone in having a little bit of a down year at West Coast, but Kelly's output in 2020 wasn't close to what he produced at Geelong in 2019. The 26-year-old was supposed to make the Eagles' midfield the AFL's most formidable. While he didn't have a bad year, he averaged only 20 disposals (down from 25.4 in 2019) and only 0.28 goals a game (down from 0.96 in 2019). West Coast gave up two first-round picks in the trade for Kelly and will be hoping he can step things up this year.

 

Tim Kelly will be hoping to step things up in his second season with the Eagles this year. Picture: Michael Klein
Tim Kelly will be hoping to step things up in his second season with the Eagles this year. Picture: Michael Klein

 

■ Glenn Stewart

The Eagles' high-performance manager, along with his medical team, have some work to do as gun midfielder Elliot Yeo continues an ongoing battle with osteitis pubis which has him in doubt for the start of the season. The runner-up in West Coast's 2019 best-and-fairest count, Yeo did not play after Round 11 last year due to the injury and soreness has forced the Eagles to pull back his pre-season program at different stages over summer. West Coast can little afford for the issue to persist and Yeo to miss half a season or more again this year.

 

■ Oscar Allen

He's still only 38 games into his AFL career but there's a lot to like about Allen and you sense a big 2021 could be on the cards. The key forward lacked consistency at times last year but dazzled when he was up and about and booted multiple goals in each of his last three games, including the elimination final against Collingwood. With fellow key forward Josh Kennedy likely to hang up the boots at season's end, Allen shapes as the future alongside Jack Darling. But he will also have a big role to play in the Eagles' fortunes this year.

 

 

 

BEST 22 FOR ROUND 1

B: Tom Barrass, Brad Sheppard, Tom Cole

HB: Shannon Hurn, Jeremy McGovern, Liam Duggan

C: Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed

HF: Zac Langdon, Jack Darling, Jamie Cripps

F: Oscar Allen, Josh Kennedy, Liam Ryan

R: Nic Naitanui, Tim Kelly, Elliot Yeo

Int: Jackson Nelson, Jack Redden, Jake Waterman, Alex Witherden

 

INS & OUTS:

In: Alex Witherden (Brisbane), Zac Langdon (Greater Western Sydney), Luke Edwards (national draft), Isiah Winder (national draft), Zane Trew (rookie draft)

Out: Hamish Brayshaw (del), Tom Hickey (trd), Lewis Jetta (del), Mitch O'Neill (del), Nic Reid (del), Will Schofield (ret), Anthony Treacy (del), Francis Watson (del)

 

Prediction after first six rounds: 5 wins, 1 loss

R1 v Gold Coast (Optus) - W

R2: Western Bulldogs (Marvel) - W

R3: Port Adelaide (Optus) - W

R4: St Kilda (Marvel) - W

R5: Collingwood (Optus) - W

R6: Geelong (GMHBA) - L

There's not many easy games in the AFL anymore, but it's not a terrible start for an Eagles side that should be flying high this year. The clash with the Cats in Geelong is the main question mark, but the home game against the Power helps in the other particularly hard clash.

 

 

 

Expected finish: 3rd-6th

West Coast spent much of last year based in Australia's rollercoaster capital - the Gold Coast - and it was similarly a rollercoaster ride for the side in 2020. After a slow start, the Eagles peaked mid-season only to dive back down later in the year and bomb out of finals in the first week. But on paper they are a strong side that big things should be expected of this year.

 

ROBBO'S LIKES AND DISLIKES

Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson tackles the Eagles.

 

LIKES

After a restless year in the hub and with injuries, I think the band is back together for 2021 and the Eagles will be strong contenders. List changes were minimal, so the Eagles are confident with their squad. Elliot Yeo back for a full season (hopefully) is a huge plus because he is a warrior and (hopefully again) Liam Ryan gets even better as a forward‑mid. Keep 'em out of a hub and the Eagles will be tough to beat.

DISLIKES

They would love another small forward because they didn't find a consistent replacement for Willie Rioli. The Eagles get enough of the ball inside 50, but are there enough scroungers underneath Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen? Is three talls still the right mix? Probably, because the Eagles like to go long. Age is on them and with that can come injuries, so that could be an issue. But that's the case for most clubs. Expect the Eagles to be rocking at home.

VERDICT

A contender for top four.

 

Elliot Yeo missed the second half of the 2020 season. Picture: AAP
Elliot Yeo missed the second half of the 2020 season. Picture: AAP

 

BURNING QUESTIONS

Fox Footy experts Nick Riewoldt, David King, Leigh Montagna and Jordan Lewis join Robbo to give their predictions for 2021 on West Coast.

 

ROBBO: They've been up for a while, the Eagles. Do they have another contending year left in them?

 

JORDAN: I expect them to be up there again. I think they're a top four side. They play enough home games to register 12 or 13 wins. They get Elliot Yeo back, who was missing for a large portion of the year. They're a great clearance side but what he provides is the outer layer in what we were talking about with Melbourne earlier. He provides that X-factor of being able to break through. They're window is small - this year and next year. Whether they can challenge the good sides like Richmond and Geelong, it's right now because their players and their genuine stars are getting older.

 

JOEY: I'm about the same. They'll win enough games to be around the top four, somewhere between third and sixth. Nic Naitanui is still crucial and Josh Kennedy is coming towards the end, but they like Oscar Allen. Young Bailey Williams might get more games. Shannon Hurn isn't getting any younger. But they'll still be a chance and they'll probably need home finals if they're a chance to win a flag. They need to evolve their game plan a little bit and I think Adam Simpson is aware of that. They play a lot of back-half football and I think they need to play more front half. They need to lock it in a bit more.

 

 

 

ROOEY: They didn't have a lot go right last year. I think what they were able to achieve was pretty special given all the obstacles, but they couldn't get going to start the year. Put that down to attitude, being in the hub and all the obstacles they faced. Some teams handled it, they didn't. Their midfield was decimated at a really important time of the year and McGovern went out late in the year. So I think give them a full squad and they'll be right there with the very best teams.

 

KINGY: It's too simplistic to say they're too old because their older players are still performing at a pretty high level. Kennedy is still a dominant force in the forward 50.

 

ROBBO: They've got the three targets in the forward line in Kennedy, Jack Darling and Liam Ryan. But do they need more speed or do they need speed on the game?

 

KINGY: It's all part of how they play though, isn't it? They play a methodical, workmanlike, take territory slowly type game.

 

JORDAN: The good sides, if they're not having a good day, they find a way to put on four, five goals in quick succession. It feels like for me, they don't necessarily have a gear to go to if they really need to add some pace around the midfield. Yeo was a huge loss last year in that area, but overall they need to travel well. If they're going to be a serious contender and play in a grand final, they have to travel well.

 

ROBBO: Verdicts?

 

JOEY: Between fourth and sixth.

 

KINGY: Wouldn't be surprised if they slid this year, but they'll be in the top six.

 

ROOEY: Top five for me.

 

JORDAN: Top five as well.

 

Originally published as Big threat to Eagles' rebound plans after 'wasted' year