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How the Eagles fell, and the kids who might lift them back up

REBUILD, transition, whatever you want to call it – West Coast looks to be in for years of pain as it tries to cushion its fall from grace and plan towards its next premiership tilt.

Right now, that premiership window feels a long way away for a side that’s been thrashed in the past three weeks, capped by a 109-point loss to Richmond at Optus Stadium – the club’s second-worst home defeat.

The Eagles now sit 18th on the ladder with a 1-6 record and a miserable percentage of 55.3.

An AFL club bottoming out isn’t anything new, but West Coast’s readiness for a rebuild is the major worry. Two years ago the Eagles were trading in pursuit of a premiership; now they’re battling to avoid a wooden spoon.

There are some damning facts too. In Friday’s loss, West Coast had no players on the field younger than 21. West Coast is the only AFL club not to have a top-10 draft pick in the past decade. Their last top-10 pick was Andrew Gaff way back in 2010.

So, there are two questions: how has West Coast got here? And, with 15 weeks left in the 2022 season before they can actually hit the draft, who are the kids on their list?

Jack Darling after West Coast’s loss to Richmond in round seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

How the Eagles fell

SUSTAINED SUCCESS

After West Coast’s 2010 wooden spoon, the club made finals in eight of 10 years, before finishing ninth in 2021. As a result, the club’s access to elite young talent via the draft has been limited. Dom Sheed and Liam Duggan proved good selections with pick 11 in successive years, while the Eagles relied on nabbing guns late on, such as Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern (No.43 and 74 in 2013).

2010: Andrew Gaff (No.4)*, Jack Darling (26)*, Scott Lycett (29)#, Jacob Brennan (62)
2011: Murray Newman (23), Fraser McInnes (28)
2012: Brant Colledge (45), Adam Carter (59), Mark Hutchings (60)
2013: Dominic Sheed (11)*, Malcolm Karpany (31), Tom Barrass (43)*, Dylan Main (49), Jamie Bennell (61), Jeremy McGovern (74)*, Simon Tunbridge (85)
2014: Liam Duggan (11)*, Tom Lamb (32), Jackson Nelson (51)*, Damien Cavka (66), Alec Waterman (76)#
2015: Luke Partington (28), Tom Cole* (36), Kurt Mutimer (57), Matthew Allen (62)

* still on West Coast’s list
# still on another AFL club’s list

West Coast’s Dom Sheed chases a loose ball against Collingwood in round 20, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

FAILED TOP PICKS

West Coast’s highest two picks in the past six drafts are no longer at the club. Daniel Venables should be feeding inside 50s to Josh Kennedy each weekend, but instead he retired in the off-season due to ongoing concussion symptoms, having played only six more games after being part of the 2018 Grand Final side. Sometimes pure bad luck plays a significant part.

On the other hand, Jarrod Brander simply didn’t work out. With the build of a key-position player at 195cm and endurance of an onballer, Brander had all the traits but never found his spot before being delisted in the off-season and joining GWS.

Oscar Allen, who went eight picks after Brander, is West Coast’s best young talent but has been sidelined in 2022 due to a foot injury.

2016: Daniel Venables (No.13), Josh Rotham (37)*, Willie Rioli (52)*, Jake Waterman (77)*
2017: Jarrod Brander (13)#, Oscar Allen (21)*, Liam Ryan (26)*, Brayden Ainsworth (32), Jack Petruccelle (38)*, Hamish Brayshaw (68)
2018: Xavier O’Neill (28)*, Luke Foley (31)*, Bailey Williams (35)*, Jarrod Cameron (39)

Daniel Venables in action for West Coast against Brisbane in round one, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

THE TIM KELLY TRADE

Twelve months after winning the 2018 premiership, the Eagles surrendered the bulk of their 2019 and 2020 NAB AFL Draft hands to land Kelly, giving up picks 14, 24 and 33 in the 2019 draft, along with their first-round pick in the 2020 Draft. It meant West Coast’s first pick in 2019 came in at No.49 (Callum Jamieson) and in 2020 it was No.52 (Luke Edwards). That’s left a glaring hole of quality emerging talent on the club’s list.

You cannot blame the Eagles for chasing more glory while their premiership window was seemingly open, but sadly that hasn’t worked out in the immediate years.

Kelly has been a solid contributor, playing 41 games since the trade, but he hasn’t matched the heights of his 2019 season at Geelong, where he kicked 24 goals and averaged 25.4 disposals. West Coast fans may argue the club could’ve got the South Fremantle product earlier too, potentially in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, when he went at pick 24, or the 2018 trade period.

2019: 49 – Callum Jamieson*, 58 – Ben Johnson; Rookie Draft: 11 – Anthony Treacy, 25 – Mitchell O’Neill, 33 – Brendon Ah Chee, 39 – Hamish Brayshaw
2020: 52 – Luke Edwards*, 57 – Isiah Winder*; Rookie Draft: 12 – Zane Trew*, 27 – Daniel Venables; 2021 Mid-season draft: 11 – William Collins, 23 – Connor West*

Tim Kelly in action during West Coast’s loss to Richmond in round seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

THE KIDS ARE TOO RAW

Eagles’ fans will fondly look back to Chris Judd’s debut season or with envy at the instant impact of the likes of Jason Horne-Francis, Nick Daicos or Josh Rachele at other clubs.

The reality is West Coast’s 2021 draftees are yet to genuinely make an impact, even if three of them have debuted amid the club’s injury and COVID woes, the latest being 24-year-old Greg Clark in the Richmond loss. There were high hopes for a round one debut for No.14 pick Campbell Chesser, but he landed awkwardly in their first practice match in February, sustaining a left foot injury that will likely keep him out for the whole season.

2021: Campbell Chesser (14), Brady Hough (31), Rhett Bazzo (37), Jack Williams (57), Greg Clark (62); SSPs: Hugh Dixon, Luke Strnadica, Patrick Naish, Tom Joyce

Campbell Chesser clutches his ankle during an the practice match between West Coast and Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park on February 25, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Who are the next-gen Eagles?

DEFENDERS

Harry Edwards, who was West Coast’s youngest player against Richmond at 21, won the club’s Emerging Talent award last year and is a strong-marking key defender who could take over from McGovern and Barrass but is still figuring out how to use his body in contests. Local product Luke Foley, 22, is developing into a solid half-back type who had been part of West Coast’s best 22 before entering health and safety protocols last week.

Harvey junior Brady Hough, pick 31 in 2021, has had a taste of AFL action, playing off a half-back flank where he’s a trusted ball user (potentially to take over from Shannon Hurn long-term) but his slight frame is not ready for the weekly rigours of senior footy. Teenage key defender Rhett Bazzo, who slid to pick 37 in the 2021 Draft, is still very raw.

Harry Edwards in action during West Coast’s loss to Gold Coast in round one, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

MIDFIELDERS

From the 2018 crop, Xavier O’Neill is the player West Coast hopes can become its next 10-year midfielder, taking over from the likes of Luke Shuey and Jack Redden, but he’s yet to solidify a spot in their best 22. He showed great workrate and hunger in the shock win over Collingwood but that’s been a rare glimpse of his talent at AFL level. The jury is still out.

Luke Edwards, who is the son of Adelaide great Tyson, looms as a decent pick-up at 52 having impressed in eight games in the latter part of 2021 playing in the midfield and wing, with groin issues interrupting his progress in 2022. He could be a successor to Gaff.

Xavier O’Neill gets a handball away during the 2021 Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

There are high hopes for Melbourne Grammar graduate Campbell Chesser who is set to miss his debut year through injury. He’s an explosive on-ball type, who can also play off half-back and win plenty of footy. We’ll just have to wait until 2023.

Three-time WAFL premiership player Greg Clark is 24 but is a well-built mature-age recruit at 195cm, who can find the footy. There’s also 2021 mid-season draftee Connor West who is a tough 22-year-old onballer and Zane Trew whose debut season was ruined by injuries and is still finding his way at WAFL level.

RUCKS

Victorian product Bailey Williams is viewed as Nic Naitanui’s successor but has struggled in recent weeks as the side’s number one ruck when given that opportunity and responsibility. He has some encouraging attributes.

West Coast’s other developing ruck, 200cm 21-year-old Callum Jamieson, with his long blond surfer look, was exposed earlier this year against North Melbourne, playing as a key defender, but didn’t appear ready for AFL footy. Similarly, rangy 18-year-old Jack Williams debuted against North but struggled. The rucks often require patience.

Ex-Fremantle pair Luke Strnadica, 24, and Hugh Dixon, 23, were also added via the supplementary selection period earlier this year to bulk up the ruck options, although the latter is more of a forward. This area is a worry for West Coast, hence reported interest in WA products Tim English and Luke Jackson.

Peter Ladhams and Bailey Williams contest the ruck in West Coast’s loss to Sydney in round five, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

FORWARDS

Oscar Allen, 23, looms as a key figure for the club and the natural successor to Josh Kennedy as West Coast’s forward pillar but the Eagles need to manage his body and potentially avoid using him as back-up ruck. Speedy forward Jack Petruccelle looks a handy player with his pace but hasn’t put the pieces together consistently yet.

Teenager Isiah Winder, picked up in 2020, is a medium forward who has debuted but hasn’t been able to find consistency at WAFL level yet.

Oscar Allen in action for West Coast against North Melbourne in round 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

 

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