WEST Coast will be forced to field top-up players for the second time this season after another COVID-19 outbreak within the playing ranks ahead of Saturday night’s away game against Brisbane.
The club confirmed eight Eagles players are currently in health and safety protocols, with stand-in coach Matthew Knights – who’ll step in with Adam Simpson entering protocols on Thursday – revealing at least two top-up players will be required to play.
Round seven debutant Greg Clark was confirmed as one of those eight players, with Alex Witherden and Jackson Nelson also revealed to have entered protocols earlier this week.
It’s understood some players currently on the injury list are part of the eight.
MEDICAL ROOM Check out the full injury list
To make matters worse, Knights confirmed captain Luke Shuey would be unavailable due to a fresh hamstring setback, along with pacy forward Jack Petruccelle, with both to undergo scans.
“Unfortunately, Luke has got awareness in the hamstring,” Knights said. “He won’t be playing or making the trip.
“We’ll get further scans early next week, but with Luke’s history and being such a pivotal and important player for us moving forward for the rest of the year, any type of awareness is enough for us to err on the side of caution.
“It’s unfortunate because he’s so up for playing at the moment and leading this club.
“‘Petch’ hurt his hamstring yesterday in training. Again we’ll get further scans on that.”
Knights confirmed Tom Barrass will return from a minor hamstring issue which forced him to be a late withdrawal in last Friday’s 109-point loss to Richmond.
The Eagles could have as few as 20 AFL-listed players available for the game, pending their final captain’s run on Friday, with a 26-member squad to fly out for Brisbane on Thursday afternoon.
“We’ll be travelling with 26 and then make decisions from there,” Knights said.
“We’ve got four WAFL guys travelling with us. I think at least two of them will play in the 22. We’ll make those final decisions in Brisbane tomorrow.”
Knights confirmed Jake Florenca, Declan Mountford, Angus Schumacher and Logan Young will be the WAFL top-up players to travel with the squad.
Mountford was among five top-up players fielded by West Coast in its round two loss to North Melbourne.
Knights said he was hopeful the number of players unavailable due to protocols would not grow in the next 48 hours prior to the game.
“Fingers crossed no, but that’s why we’re taking 26,” he said. “We have to have backups, and if something does arise whether it be injury or health and safety, we’ll have 26 there and available.”
West Coast’s latest outbreak comes amid a new peak in cases in Western Australia, while crosstown rival Fremantle has lost six players from its best 22 for Friday’s game against North Melbourne.
The Dockers had been minimally impacted by players entering protocols until this weekend, while it is understood only six Eagles squad members are yet to contract COVID, having been hit hard this season.
Knights insisted the club had “extensive vigilance” in their measures to manage the spread of COVID within the playing group and coaching staff.
He also wouldn’t be drawn on a “tipping point” for availability to force Saturday night’s game to be postponed, nor whether it had been compromised by West Coast’s long list of outs.
“I’m not sure the AFL in their preparations for this season with COVID, have got a tipping point,” he said. “If they do, I’m certainly not aware of it. I can’t think about that too much other than getting the 23 players and staff ready to play good football on Saturday night.”
The Eagles stand-in coach also clarified concerns about their ruck options, with Luke Strnadica, Hugh Dixon, Callum Jamieson and Harry Edwards all available to share the duties.
Knights added that the Eagles were heading to Brisbane believing they can win, despite going in as heavy underdogs.
“Unless you’re going to win a game of football, it’s pointless getting on the plane,” he said. “We’re going there to win and play hard.
“Players have got to have that belief as well. That’s part of the coaches’ role, to instill belief as well as the game style and strategy.”
The AFL has granted West Coast an extension in naming its team with the squads for both sides to be publicly revealed on Friday at 3.30pm AWST (5.30pm AEST).