The Eagles entered season 2017 with excitement and anticipation, pulling off a major coup with the extraordinary signing of Sam Mitchell from Hawthorn who was fresh from winning his fifth Peter Crimmins Medal. Mystery surrounded Nic Naitanui, his ACL recovery key to his return and ability to contribute at the back end of the year and with that in mind, there was a lot of optimism externally for the Eagles.
It was a season of thirds for the Eagles. A positive start to the season winning six of their first eight games was followed by a mid-season slump winning just the two games between rounds nine and 16. Many began to question the leg speed of the engine room and ability to maintain pressure in their forward 50.
Their season climaxed in the last game of the year, coincidentally it was also the last game of the regular season and all eyes were on their clash against Adelaide, with Melbourne losing earlier in the round to leave the door ajar for the Eagles to steal eighth spot on the ladder by percentage. A 29-point victory was enough for them to creep in by .51%.
The rollercoaster for Eagles fans would yet continue, with a trip to Adelaide Week 1 of finals to play Port Adelaide on the cards. West Coast were up by five goals mid-way through the second quarter, only for the Power to mount an incredible fight back, eliminating the deficit and leading by four points with two minutes on the clock. The game would go down as one of the best of the season, with the game culminating in the controversial free-kick to Luke Shuey, who would kick the winning goal after the siren.
That high would be followed by the low inflicted by Greater Western Sydney, with the Eagles never in the contest losing by 67 points and summing up their inconsistent season.
FB: Jackson Nelson – Tom Barrass – Shannon Hurn
HB: Brad Sheppard – Jeremy McGovern – Liam Duggan
C: Elliot Yeo – Luke Shuey – Lewis Jetta
HF: Mark LeCras – Jack Darling – Brendon Ah Chee
FF: Jamie Cripps – Josh Kennedy – Willie Rioli
R: Nic Naitanui – Jack Redden – Andrew Gaff
INT: Dom Sheed – Nathan Vardy – Chris Masten – Mark Hutchings
EMG: Scott Lycett – Will Schofield– Eric Mackenzie – Liam Ryan
Best 22 Analysis
Nic Naitanui is still no certainty to line up in Round 1 with the Eagles desperately requiring his class in the middle given the retirements of Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell last year. A serious groin injury to Nathan Vardy during their practice match with Fremantle two weeks ago may have opened the door for Scott Lycett to get another opportunity.
The Eagles have the bookends well covered, complimented by the versatility of Elliot Yeo, but will no doubt need an improved season from Mark LeCras and more consistency from Jack Darling if they are going to take full advantage of their forward 50 entries.
Even with a fit squad, a lot of responsibility will be on Shuey and Gaff to win plenty of the footy. There will be a lot of opportunity for the likes of Sheed, Duggan, Ah Chee and Rioli to develop, but that inexperience in the middle will be telling throughout the season and they will rely heavily on Redden, Sheed and Masten to pick up the workload.
Round 1 vs Sydney @ Optus Stadium
The first AFL game to be played for premiership points at the newly constructed Optus Stadium, the Eagles will really be starting from scratch with the new unfamiliar settings. It’s going to take time for them to develop the home ground advantage they had previously at Domain Stadium and despite not painting a full picture will provide some serious insight into the season ahead.
Round 6 vs Fremantle @ Optus Stadium
Supporters will be absolutely buzzing ahead of the first ever Derby at Optus Stadium. Both teams will feel genuinely confident that they can pick up a win as well, especially the Eagles who would’ve been challenged already this season. Port Adelaide, GWS and Richmond will follow this outing for West Coast.
Breakout Player – Dom Sheed
A lot of the Eagles season will be about how much midfield depth they can develop and who can make the most of their opportunities. Sheed is still just 22 years old but has already played 60 matches. He will be relied upon as a consistent player through the midfield and on the wing. His average of 22 disposals last season should be improved upon in 2018.
Fantasy Gold – Elliot Yeo
Yeo had a year of consistent season in 2017, culminating with his selection in the All-Australian team for the first time in his career. His versatility around the ground, ability to intercept mark and play through the middle ensures that he is always a prospect of contributing. He averaged seven marks a game last year and has plenty of growth still in him as a key cog in the Eagles success this year.
Ladder Prediction – 12th
There are simply too many teams with more midfield depth in the competition that can tear the Eagles apart, which leaves their forward line starved of opportunities. With the new stadium, they’re not guaranteed the 10 victories at home that they’re accustomed to and of their first nine games, they play six finalists from last year. Their pre-season form wasn’t inspiring, but they do have the structure to make an impact. It’s more likely that West Coast will miss out in 2018.