Sport AFL AFL season preview: West Coast Eagles

AFL season preview: West Coast Eagles

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It’s a time of change at West Coast, and not even the new coach knows what to expect.

The Eagles started 2013 as one of the premiership favourites, but ended the year as also-rans after managing just nine wins and a 13th-placed finish.

Luke Shuey. Photo: Getty

John Worsfold, who led the club to two premierships as captain and another flag as coach, stepped down at the end of the season.

Worsfold will be fondly remembered as the club’s greatest-ever figure and an icon of the game.

They are big shoes to fill for his replacement Adam Simpson.

But the Eagles are confident they have chosen the right man for the job.

Simpson was a revered leader during his 306 games with the Kangaroos, and his four years as an assistant to Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn gave him vital coaching experience.

Now, Simpson’s challenge is to lead West Coast back into premiership mode – and he has plenty of talent to work with.

Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox form the game’s most formidable ruck duo, while an attack featuring Mark LeCras, Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and a resting ruckman has the potential to wreak havoc.

The injection of former Hawk Xavier Ellis into the midfield adds a touch of class, while key defenders Darren Glass and Eric Mackenzie are experts at locking down the best key forwards.

Draftee Dom Sheed looks ready to make an immediate impact, and former Lion Elliot Yeo is a handy acquisition.

But there are two notable worries.

Beau Waters’ future is in doubt due to a reconstructed shoulder that hasn’t healed properly.

And Naitanui’s dodgy groin also looms as a season-long concern for West Coast.

Mark LeCras. Photo: Getty

The rest of the squad, however, is in good shape.

And if the Eagles can avoid the dreaded injury curse that plagued them last year, a return to top-four action isn’t out of the question.

Simpson is reluctant to make any bold predictions, but the rookie coach knows he has inherited a good list capable of causing damage.

“I think there’s definitely high-end talent here,” Simpson told AAP.

“But it’s about how we’re going to adapt to the style of play.

“Everything’s brand now – new coaches, new game plan.

“I don’t know how quickly we’re going to click into gear.

“The biggest message for our players at the moment is just embrace the change.”

Simpson has been quick to encourage flexibility amongst his squad. The 38-year-old sees it as the key to being able to thrive in the biggest games.

“They’ve got to be really good at their craft, but they’ve also got to understand that with the rotation cap, we need to explore where else they can play,” Simpson says.

Even though Worsfold is no longer at West Coast in an official capacity, there’s no escaping his imposing shadow.

A portrait of Worsfold hangs over Simpson as the new coach ponders the season ahead.

During the pair’s recent meetings, Worsfold gave Simpson two main messages.

First and foremost, Worsfold stressed to Simpson the importance of getting the work-life balance right.

Simpson’s wife and four kids, aged 11, nine, seven and two, need nurturing while they settle into Perth.

Worsfold’s second message was to encourage Simpson to trust the people around him at West Coast.

“He told me there’s good people here, and they’re very loyal,” Simpson says.

New coaches generally enjoy a season-long honeymoon period.

But given West Coast’s success-filled history, Simpson knows Eagles fans will be expecting results from the get-go.

The pressure is on. Welcome to coaching.


Coach: Adam Simpson

Captain: Darren Glass

Last five years: 11th, 16th, 4th, 5th, 13th

Premierships: 3 (1992, 1994, 2006)

Key five: Josh Kenndy, Nic Naitanui, Darren Glass, Scott Selwood, Matt Priddis

One to watch: Sharrod Wellingham. A serious ankle injury limited the former Collingwood premiership player to only 10 games in his debut season for the Eagles. If he can return to his best, Wellingham will add a good deal of polish to the West Coast midfield.

Ins: Tom Barrass (Claremont WAFL), Xavier Ellis (Hawthorn), Malcolm Karpany (Woodville-West Torrens SANFL), Dylan Main (South Fremantle WAFL), Dom Sheed (Subiaco WAFL), Elliot Yeo (Brisbane Lions).

Outs: Bradd Dalziell (delisted), Brad Dick (retired), Andrew Embley (retired), Ashton Hams (retired), Daniel Kerr (retired), Cale Morton (delisted), Mark Nicoski (retired), Adam Selwood (retired).

Best 22: B: Will Schofield, Eric Mackenzie, Darren Glass
HB: Beau Waters, Mitch Brown, Shannon Hurn
C: Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, Sharrod Wellingham
HF: Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy, Chris Masten
F: Mark LeCras, Dean Cox, Josh Hill
R: Nic Naitanui, Scott Selwood, Matt Priddis
I: Elliot Yeo, Xavier Ellis, Matt Rosa, Jamie Bennell

Predicted finish: 12th

Betting (Sportingbet)

To win the flag: $17

To make the top eight: $1.75