Many experts tipped the West Coast Eagles to finish on top of the ladder in 2013 and compete for the premiership, but their winless start to the season has exposed some holes in the much-fancied side’s list and game plan.
West Coast went into their round two clash with fellow premiership contenders Hawthorn missing several first-choice players in Nic Naitanui, Daniel Kerr, Sharrod Wellingham, Matt Rosa, Mark LeCras and Eric Mackenzie. Granted missing players of that quality would affect any side, the Eagles were still horribly exposed by the Hawks and also the Dockers in round one.
Coach John Worsfold has some serious problems in the middle of the ground to address if he wants his side to be a genuine flag threat. To win a flag, a team must have an elite midfield. Without an elite midfield, it doesn’t matter how good the forward line is because they need supply.
The West Coast premiership side of 2006 had an elite midfield with the likes of Kerr, Dean Cox, Chris Judd, Ben Cousins, Chad Fletcher, Michael Braun and Andrew Embley providing great supply to an average forward line. The 2013 Eagles have arguably the best forward line in the AFL when all players are available, but lack the midfield quality and depth to give enough quality supply against good teams.
Luke Shuey, Chris Masten, Scott Selwood and Andrew Gaff are all extremely talented players, but are yet to take games by the scruff of the neck like their ’06 predecessors. West Coast still rely too heavily on the hard working Matt Priddis and injury-prone veteran Kerr in the centre. That Kerr, at the age of 29 and with his best football arguably behind him, is still the Eagles’ most damaging midfielder is a glaring issue that needs to be addressed.
West Coast will be hoping Kerr, Naitanui, Wellingham and Rosa can return as soon as possible to provide much needed depth to the weakest aspect of the West Coast team. At full strength the Eagles’ defence looks quite solid, but if the midfield continues to leak inside 50s and clearances Darren Glass and co will be helpless to stop the flood.
The other obvious weakness for West Coast is leg speed and run, and again getting back some injured players will boost this are of their game, but even then the Eagles are not even close to the quickest side. Quick movement of the ball is a good way to compensate for a lack of foot speed and line-breaking players, something West Coast at their best do very well, but it’s their lack of foot speed going the other way that hurts them.
In the first two games of the season, players like Michael Walters, Stephen Hill and Danyle Pearce from Fremantle, and Cyril Rioli, Brad Hill and Paul Puopolo from Hawthorn have made West Coast’s midfield and small defenders look slow.
Ash Smith is the Eagles’ best bet against speedy small forwards, but a poor effort in the round one derby saw the young backman dropped for the all-important clash against the Hawks. Veteran defender Adam Selwood is miserly, lacks pace and is past his best while Sam Butler, while skilful, is also all too easily exposed for pace by nippy forwards.
Despite the poor start to the season, it is not all doom and gloom for Worsfold’s Eagles. Kerr’s return is imminent, and the others should all be back within the next six to eight weeks.
Supporters will be hoping that Rosa and Wellingham can add some much needed run and carry, with Kerr and Naitanui providing some more grunt and spark in the middle. Throw classy forward LeCras and reliable key defender Mackenzie into the mix and West Coast’s side looks imposing once again.
In the meantime, Worsfold and his brains trust need to find ways to cover the cracks before they end up staring down the barrel of another unfulfilling season.