The Eagles season came to a close in the second week of the finals, but the outcome did little to answer the questions on where West Coast are headed. Whilst they bettered their 2016 result, which saw bundled out in week one, the Eagles won four fewer games in 2017, and seem further away from being in premiership contention.
The Eagles did lose six games by 12 points or less and had impressive wins over top four sides Geelong and Adelaide (albeit both at home), but inconsistency plagued the squad for too much of the year.
Hard to go past the heart-stopping Elimination Final win over Port Adelaide, which could arguably go down as one of the greatest finishes in club history. After scraping into the finals with the last spot in the top eight, the Eagles travelled to Adelaide to take on the fifth-placed Power with no second chances. What transpired was a classic win, with Luke Shuey goaling after the siren in extra time.
After racing out to a five goal lead midway through the second quarter, the Power were able to wrest control of the game, and slowly made ground on the Eagles. The ball spent the majority of the third quarter in Port Adelaide’s forward arc, but the home side squandered numerous opportunities, with the Eagles resiliently holding on in defence.
It seemed as though they had finally broken when Ollie Wines cleared a path to goal to put the Power in front for the first time in the game early in the final quarter, before Sam Powell-Pepper extended their lead to nine moments later. The Eagles goaled in quick succession through Matthew Priddis and Drew Petrie – their first majors in nearly an hour of play – to steal back the lead, before more missed chances in the dying minutes from Port Adelaide had scores level at the final siren.
The Power continued their momentum in the opening half of extra time, and with 30 seconds remaining, the Power led by 13 points. The Eagles continued to fight on against the Power and their home crowd, with Josh Kennedy goaling twice either side of the break. As extra time wound down, Lewis Jetta handballed to Luke Shuey, drawing the free kick from Jared Polec. As the siren sounded, Shuey calmly slotted the goal breaking Port Adelaide hearts and sending fans back in Perth into a state of euphoric.
While the 61 point capitulation against the Bombers was a majorly disappointing performance, the three point loss to Gold Coast a fortnight later appeared to be the pin in the Eagles season. West Coast never got going against the lowly Suns, with the game a tough spectacle for even the most ardent fans.
A four goal to two third quarter in favour of the Suns had Gold Coast up by 14 at the start of the final term, but with the Eagles putting Sam Mitchell and Matthew Priddis in the centre square, West Coast slammed on four goals to start the quarter and with a ten point lead, it seemed the Eagles had done enough. However, Brandon Matera drew the Suns back within a goal before Peter Wright kicked the winner with just two minutes remaining.
With 46 seconds on the clock, the Eagles had a kick in, but were unable to get through the Gold Coast defence, and they fell to a costly three point loss.
Elliot Yeo was crowned for his stellar season, winning his first John Worsfold medal to go with his first ever All-Australian selection. Yeo claimed the award in a tight finish ahead of another All-Australian in Jeremy McGovern, with last years winner Luke Shuey finishing third. Captain Shannon Hurn came fourth, while spearhead Josh Kennedy rounded out the top five, despite missing six weeks with an achilles problem.
Mark Hutchings was awarded the prestigious Chris Mainwaring Award as best clubman, Liam Duggan predictably won the rookie of the year and Matthew Priddis received one final accolade before heading into retirement with the Player of the Finals award.
The final standings in the club champion closely mirrored the placings as voted by The Eagle Eye across 2017. Taking into account a different voting system, the top three were the same, albeit in a different order. Luke Shuey polled the most votes ahead of Jeremy McGovern, with Elliot Yeo tying with Josh Kennedy in equal third. All up, 8 of the top 10 finishing determined by the Eagle Eye matched with the club champion, with Dom Sheed and Jack Redden the exceptions.
THE EAGLE EYE TOP TEN
Luke Shuey 45 Matthew Priddis 25
Jeremy McGovern 36 Andrew Gaff 24
Elliot Yeo 32 Dom Sheed 22
Josh Kennedy 32 Brad Sheppard 14
Sam Mitchell 29 Jack Redden 13
Elliot Yeo elevated himself with a personal best season that culminated in his first All-Australian selection and first John Worsfold medal. Yeo was pivotal for West Coast across half-back, particularly through the first half of the season. After being used in multiple positions in previous years, the match committee settled with Yeo at half-back, and the stability did wonders.
Liam Duggan was another who found a home across half-back giving Eagles fans promise of the future through the second half of the year. Duggan showed more comfort at AFL level starting behind the ball, but as he approaches 50 games, the expectation will be that he spends more time in the centre. Jack Redden was another who improved through the second half of the season after a tough first season at the club, and will given more game time through the middle of the ground.
It seemed a foretelling to a changing of the guard at the club, with Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham and Josh Hill all spending a majority of the second half of the season at East Perth. Hill made just two appearances after the mid-season bye, Masten just three, while Wellingham played four and was named as an emergency on another four occasions. Wellingham was included in the semi-final loss to GWS, but failed to have any impact with 14 disposals. That poor performance could be the death knell for Wellingham, with both he and Hill at long odds to receive contracts for the 2018 season.
ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK
It looks like an off-season of change is coming at West Coast, with potentially a dozen changes to the playing list. Matthew Priddis, Sam Mitchell, Drew Petrie, Sam Butler and Jon Giles have all retired, while international rookie Paddy Brophy returned to Ireland midway through the year.
Simon Tunbridge became the first delisting at the club, with a constant run of injuries in his time at the club preventing him from having a real crack at it. Sharrod Wellingham and Josh Hill are two more who could be coming to an end, while several rookies could be forced to wait. Chris Masten will need to prove plenty to reclaim his spot in the best 22. Masten has long been one of the best performers in pre-season, but struggled through the second half of 2017 and a similar season next year will have him nervous as he comes out of contract.
The Eagles are unlikely to trade away their first pick (currently selection number 13) as they set about reshaping the age profile of their list. Adding midfielders to the squad will no doubt be a priority for West Coast with the centre of the ground identified by most as a serious weakness. This area will be further depleted with the departures of Priddis and Mitchell, although the expectation is that the likes of Yeo, Sheed, Duggan and Redden will spend more time through the middle.
Still, the Eagles boast one of the best spines in the competition, and will feel comfortable that they have enough cover in both the forward and defensive stocks, that midfielders will be a focus in the upcoming draft. West Coast seriously lack in line-breakers and a dynamic small forward, and the WAFL could provide solutions for both these areas.
Mature age options in Tim Kelly, who finished second in the Sandover Medal, and Liam Ryan, who led the goalkicking, could both be on the radar, with Kelly being tracked by several clubs. Hayden Schloith could be another whose name is bandied around after claiming the WAFL’s association award, and has openly declared himself ready for another crack at AFL, after previously spending time on the Dockers’ list.
It seems that West Coast will be quiet on the trade front. Brandon Ah Chee seems set to join West Coast from Port Adelaide, and would provide an added midfield option. Brandon Matera and Nathan Wilson have both expressed a desire to return to WA, but are set to join Fremantle. West Coast have publicly stated that they wouldn’t be looking to move on any players, shutting down particular rumblings over Andrew Gaff.
Gaff is set to enter the final year of his contract, before becoming a free agent, and there were suggestions that the Eagles could look to move him back to Victoria, as one the few Eagles players with trade ‘currency’. St.Kilda seemed the keenest, and while a trade could still happen, the Eagles were emphatic that the running wingman wouldn’t be going anywhere. Another possible trade option could be Scott Lycett, who may be squeezed out with the Nic Naitanui returning from injury in 2018 and Nathan Vardy performing admirably in 2017 as a ruck-forward.
Lycett is originally South Australian, and at just 25, still has several seasons in front of him. The Crows and Power could both need reinforcements for Sam Jacobs and Paddy Ryder, and a trade for picks wouldn’t be the worst outcome for the Eagles. Tom Lamb is potentially another who could be floated as trade bait, although there was no interest for him at the end of last season. Lamb had a much improved season at East Perth – despite not being able to crack it through for a senior appearance – finishing equal third in the Royal’s Best and Fairest.
2018 ROUND 1 LINEUP
BACK Sheppard Barrass Hurn
H/BACK Yeo McGovern Duggan
MID Jetta Redden Gaff
H/FOR Partington Darling Waterman
FOR Cripps Kennedy Rioli
RUC Naitanui Shuey Sheed
INT Venables Ah Chee*
EMG Karpany Watson Cole