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AFL 2017 season review: West Coast Eagles

The Eagles just made the eight, and their finals campaign typified their season. They were too inconsistent to mount a charge, and eventually fell in the semi-final.


Win-Loss Ratio: 12-10
Ladder Position: 8th
Percentage: 105.7%
Biggest Win: 68 Points v Brisbane (Round 19)
Biggest Loss: 67 points v GWS (Semi-Final)

Overview

A season that promised plenty with off-field signings that screamed “We want a flag”. But much to our surprise, the Eagles promised the world and delivered an atlas. Signing Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie in the trade period showed that the Eagles believed they had the right mixture to have a tilt at a flag, and that they just wanted some extra experience up forward and in the midfield. West Coast were one of the most consistently inconsistent teams this year and were labelled “flat track bullies” due to their strong wins at home and the inability to win in Melbourne.

In saying that, West Coast managed to leave it until the last round to secure a finals spot. Needing to beat the Crows in Perth by roughly 19 points, they got the job done and stole the Demons’ finals spot from underneath them. Whilst the Eagles underperformed for a big part of the season, without a genuine ruckman to play, Nathan Vardy battled valiantly and at least gave the Eagles mids a chance.


What they did well

Defensive setup

West Coast had one of the better defensive setups in the AFL. Buoyed by youth and bolstered by experience, the Eagles created a lot of their attack out of their backline. Their intercept marking was one of the best in the AFL, with Elliot Yeo, Tom Barrass, Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn being in the top 25 for this statistic. Along with their 3 talls, the smaller defenders in Brad Sheppard and Elliott Yeo were outstanding all year. One of the most notable efforts was Brad Sheppard keeping Robbie Gray to no goals and pushing forward and kicking an important one himself late in the round 7 clash.

A potent forward line

The Eagles’ forward line boasts of a raft of different avenues to goal. Josh Kennedy is the number 1 pure full-forward in the game at the moment. He has the aerial ability to take contested marks and also the tank to lead all day. He can also kick goals from pretty much anywhere, which makes him very dangerous. Jack Darling’s pace and agility are almost unbelievable for a man his size. He also has the uncanny knack of finding space around a contest where there seemingly is none. Add in Mark Lecras, who even as his career is coming to a crescendo, still has the experience and the cleverness to know where to be and when, and you have a very potent attack.


What they did poorly

Poor stoppage conversion

For a team with such a strong midfield, to be ranked 6th in clearances but only 10th in inside 50’s shows that for most part, the Eagles midfield lacked that spark on the ball to get the ball to their forwards. This is further backed up by being the 3rd ranked team for rebound 50’s and yet their 4 gun midfielders averaged 4 turnovers a game. So getting it out of the back 50 was never an issue, it was the Eagles inability to hit a target that cost them.

No consistency

There was much spoken about the Eagles’ ability to have all their players fire at once. Recording only 3 away wins this year, one in Adelaide and two in Melbourne, showed how poorly they played interstate. The fact they were able to beat Adelaide, Geelong and Sydney on their home deck shows the gap between their home and away form was too great for them to be considered a contender. The worst part of it is that the Eagles players weren’t bad in many games, and it was just that crucial players had poor games at the same time, which caused the Eagles to lose very winnable games.


What they need

Midfield grunt

With Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis retiring, it is abundantly clear that the Eagles’ engine room needs some personnel. Even with those Brownlow medallists, it was clear that the Eagles lacked some genuine pace around the contest to break the lines and break away. I think they should be looking at getting someone like Aaron Hall from the Suns. He can find the pill, has genuine pace and is still young. Another they should look at is Anthony Miles. He spent the year playing the VFL and is an in-and-under beast. There is always the option of recruiting Haiden
Schloithe from South Fremantle. He won the Sandover Medal in the WAFL this year and could be worth a look as a mature-aged rookie to bolster their midfield.

Nic Naitanui back and firing

West Coast’s lack of tackle numbers shows that they were generally first to the ball but often giving it up too easily. When Nic Naitanui is back in the side, he will be able to give his onballers first use. The one slight I had on Nathan Vardy was that when he did win a tap, it was generally palmed to a player who was heavily marked. Naitanui has the amazing ability to find his onballers in space which in turns gives them time to hit a target. He also adds another issue when he goes forward as someone of his size and ability becomes an incredibly hard match up for any team.


Final word

It is hard to look at the Eagles’ season as anything other than a missed opportunity. I can think of at least four games in which West Coast were leading and all they had to do was stay composed and the four points would have been theirs. When you look at their squad, it is hard to fathom how they only managed 12 wins for the season. I still think the future is very bright for the Eagles, with most of their core group starting to head into their prime. A good trade period and a strong pre-season could yet see the Eagles push for another tilt at a flag.

Grade: B-


How do you rate the Eagles’ season in 2017? What do they need to do to get back up as a contender? Comment below.

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AFL 2017 season review: West Coast Eagles

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