AFL Finals: West Coast team preview

6 September 2012

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Home and Away Review

Preseason injuries to Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski casted doubts on whether the Eagles could break into the top four in 2012, but the Eagles showed their squads depth by finishing just outside the four in fifth with 15 wins.

It was in round 6 when doubters started to believe, with a 6-0 record and a massive percentage, after big wins to GWS and Melbourne, the Eagles looked like a team chalenging for the Premiership.

However the injuries kept coming, with West Coast losing power forward Josh Kennedy to an ankle, stretching the squad even further.

In Round 7, they lost their first game to the Bombers, who themselves were also on a roll in the top four, but the Eagles continued to win games.

A shock two-point loss at the GABBA to Brisbane woke up the yellow-and-blue, but a classic game at the ‘G against the Magpies in Round 13 showed the Eagles could be a force in September.

A wobbly second-half of the year included losses to Adelaide, Sydney and Fremantle, but late season victories over the Pies and Geelong gives West Coast some confidence heading into September.

The Round 23 loss to Hawthorn however knocked the Eagles from fourth to fifth, and the boys from Subiaco have some work to do this September.

The season has many upsides, Josh Hill was an excellent recruit kicking 33 goals to try and fill the void of LeCras. Eagles supporters would be pleased with the progress of their youngsters: Brad Sheppard, Andrew Gaff, Scott Selwood, Luke Shuey and Jacob Brennan showed that the Eagles are going to be a good side in the coming years.

Key Finals Player – Nic Naitanui

The Figian is the barometer of this West Coast side; when he’s on song, the Eagles usually are too.

It’s a luxury that most sides don’t have, with a ruckman who is so agile, he can virtually play as a fourth onballer.

Not only that, but the high-flyer has kicked 22 goals. Only twice in his career has he kicked two goals or more, and the Eagles have lost.

Both those games were against Geelong, with the last time in the 2011 preliminary final.

Averaging more than 25 hitouts a game, West Coast’s midfielders in Priddis, Kerr, Selwood and Masten will be relying on first hands on the football, and with big-man Dean Cox along side him, the duo is arguably the best in the comp.

Why the Eagles can win the flag

They’re rucks and tall forwards are the best in the competition, only Adelaide can boast having anywhere near the class and skill when it comes to talls, but that doesn’t matter because the two sides are unlikely to meet until a preliminary final.

With the Kangaroos at home this week, the Patersons Stadium advantage comes into play, and with the Cox-Naitanui ruck duo sure to give Todd Goldstein headaches, it will be up to Kennedy, Darling and Lynch to bag the goals.

After that, they will likely meet the Magpies who they beat two weeks ago, before taking on the winner of Sydney and Adelaide in a preliminary final.

Should the talls play at their best, the Eagles will be very hard to beat.

Why the Eagles can’t win the flag

After week one, they’ll have a lot of travelling to do.

Should they beat the Kangaroos at home, the likely schedule is Collingwood in Melbourne, then either Adelaide in Adelaide or Sydney in Sydney. Even then, they must travel back to Melbourne for the Grand Final.

It’s a tough ask for any interstate side outside the four, and no matter how much recovery they get in, the Eagles will be competing against a much fresher lineup.

Besides the travelling, the Eagles still don’t have the midfield of Collingwood or the Hawks, should West Coast beat North Melbourne.

It may need one more year to really challenge for the premiership.

Best Possible Result – Preliminary Final

With the semi-final certain to be in Melbourne, and the preliminary final to either be in Adelaide or Sydney, it would take the impossible for West Coast to win three on the trot.

They should account for North Melbourne at home, and a win over Collingwood at the MCG next week wouldn’t surprise the average pundit, but both the Crows and Sydney at home are virtually unformidable.

I think the Eagles can get to the prelim, but don’t expect to see them on the last day in September.

Damien Ractliffe is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and part of upstart‘s editorial team.  You can follow him on Twitter: @DamienRactliffe