2013 AFL Preview: West Coast

Injuries.

Injuries for everyone.

That just about sums up the Eagles in 2012. The Western Australian club was simply crushed by extended absences to key players. The tone was set in pre-season when mercurial forward Mark LeCras did his ACL, and it effectively continued along those lines.

West Coast Eagles Games Missed in 2012
Mark LeCras 24
Mark Nicoski 24
Mitchell Brown 16
Andrew Embley 16
Josh J Kennedy 15
Matt Rosa 6
Beau Waters 4
Adam Selwood 4
Patrick McGinnity 3
Luke Shuey 3
Darren Glass 2
Nic Naitanui 2
Matthew Priddis 2
Eric McKenzie 2
Josh Hill 2

Not all of those games missed were thanks to injury, but many were. Regardless, they make their fifth place finish even more impressive. In the first week of finals they hosted the Kangaroos, and illustrated emphatically the gulf in class between the two. They eviscerated the Roos by 96 points. The following week they gave the Pies a run, but would ultimately fall thirteen points short.

With key players returning, the Eagles understandably head into the new season as one of the favourites for a top four placing.

2012 Key Statistics

West Coast 2012 Offensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Disposals 358.2 7th
Contested Possessions 140.8 11th
Clearances 38.6 tied 6th
Inside 50s 53.8 8th
Marks Inside 50 11.8 7th
Hitouts 51.2 1st
Goals 15 tied 5th
West Coast 2012 Defensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Points Against 82.14 4th
Inside 50s Conceded 47 4th
Marks Inside 50 Conceded 8.9 2nd
Tackles 58.5 15th
West Coast 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials
Total Competition Rank
Inside 50s Opponent Differential                       (Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded) 164 4th
Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential (Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded) 70 4th

What are they great at?

The Eagles star in two areas. The ruck and defence.

The ruck situation is self-explanatory. Both Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui made the All-Australian team, even if the manner in which they did was questionable (having Naitanui as the All-Australian ruckman when he isn’t even the number one ruckman on his team raises eyebrows, and the decision to put him at the ruck spot and Dean Cox in the forward pocket reeks of “we wanted to include both but couldn’t feasibly put Natanui up forward so we just decided to pretend Cox is a forward pocket player”)

I digress. Cox and Naitanui are by far and away the number one ruck combination going around at the moment, and it shows in the numbers. While their prowess in the ruck alone would be enough to justify playing two ruckmen, both Cox and Naitanui provide value in areas other than the ruck. Cox is a capable forward, and the Eagles are fond of planting him in the square and watching him outmark his opponent or see the defender give away a free. Naitanui’s athleticism and clearance work is at such a level that the Eagles can play him in the centre while Cox does the ruck taps.

The second area is defence. The Eagles ranked fourth in points against per game as a result of their stingy work in the middle and back half. They conceded the fourth least inside 50 entries per game, and the second least amount of marks inside 50. Their horrible tackle rate is the only blemish on an otherwise tremendous defensive record

What are they good at?

West Coast was good at kicking goals, a testament to their attacking capabilities given their three leading goal kickers in 2011, Mark LeCras, Josh J Kennedy, and Mark Nicoski, only managed nine games total between them in 2012 due to injury.

(All nine were played by Kennedy. Unlucky doesn’t begin to describe the Eagles in 2012)

What do they need to improve?

With the Eagles it’s less “areas we need to improve” and more “are we allowed to use bionic limbs?”

Despite boasting many talented players, West Coast’s midfield numbers didn’t stack up as well as you would expect in 2012. They posted average to slightly above average figures across the board. Their best midfield ranking, a tie for 6th in clearances, is somewhat disappointing given they led the league in hit-outs. Turning their advantage in the ruck to an advantage in the clearances is one of the biggest areas the team will look to improve over the coming campaign.

What are they bad at?

We touched on the tackling before, but another area the Eagles were below average in was contested possessions. The wide expanses of Subiaco favour hard running into open spaces and subsequent uncontested possessions, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about that particular ranking.

Points of Interest in 2013

Injury Woes

Injuries hindered their 2012 season, and unfortunately 2013 is off to a rocky start in this regard as well. Kerr, Naitanui, Rosa, Wellingham and Nicoski are on the 2013 injury list already.

Nicoski and Rosa are both out for at least the first month of the season. Naitanui and Kerr are both confirmed outs for round one. The club will be hoping they are getting all their bad luck out the way early, and that these injuries don’t persist throughout the year once again.


Tramampoline!

We have to reserve a special space for Wellingham, who has been out since the middle of February and looks likely to miss at least the opening two weeks of the season proper because of a trampoline related injury.

My favourite part of the whole tale might be the resulting news reports that used phrases like “injured in an off-field incident”. Incident. That word, when used in that kind of context, carries a weight that is distinctly not trampolinish. Yes I’m making up words. “Off-field incident” makes me think “hit by a car”, or “assaulted by some idiot while out in public”. At a stretch I’d settle for “fell down the stairs”. I would not settle for “landed awkwardly on a trampoline”.

Seriously how did he explain that to his coaches? Why does he even have a trampoline? Trampolines are for children and Olympic gymnasts who couldn’t handle the rings. Grown adults may think for a second that going on the trampoline would be fun, but they come to their senses when they look at the trampoline, or if they are particularly adventurous, after a single jump on the trampoline.

Now I haven’t been on a trampoline in a long while. From memory though, it’s relatively hard to hurt yourself. You have to really try to do some “extreme” stuff, like mid-air somersaults and flips. Wellingham may be a grown man, but he does look like a flip kinda guy. Maybe when he was attempting a flip that weird fringe he has going on temporarily blinded his vision, causing him to misjudge his landing? Maybe some of his hair product landed on the trampoline surface mid-flip and he slipped on it upon landing? Maybe he injured himself in an even more embarrassing fashion and when asked what happened the trampoline excuse was literally the first thing that came to mind? I know what you’re thinking, what is more embarrassing than an adult male hurting himself on a trampoline? Well perhaps when he was walking down his hallway he practiced his bowling action (I know you do it too don’t lie) and when he planted his foot the rug gave way causing him to crash awkwardly into the wall. Actually that can’t have happened because admitting to owning a trampoline is still stranger than hurting yourself fake-bowling.

Forgive my overuse of the word trampoline. You never know when you are going to get another opportunity to reference trampolines when writing and talking about football.

Tough Games at Home

Round Opponent Play Away?
2 Hawthorn Y
4 Carlton N
17 Sydney N
20 Geelong N
23 Adelaide Y

The Eagles certainly don’t have an easy draw, but they do get the benefit of facing some of their competition at home rather than away. They play the Blues, Swans, and Cats at home and do not have to face them at their respective grounds.

Mark LeCras

“The Frenchman” missed all of last season, so you could be forgiven for forgetting just how good he is. In 2009 and 2010 LeCras played predominately up forward, and hit the scoreboard frequently, registering 58 and 63 goals in those years. 2011 saw increased time in the midfield and a rise in his disposal and tackle numbers. He still managed to kick 47 goals though.

The club missed out on all of this in 2012, making LeCras a very welcome addition to a team already in the premiership mix.

Jack Darling

With Kennedy, Nicoski, and LeCras all missing extended periods of time, much of the goal kicking responsibility fell onto the shoulders of twenty year old Jack Darling. In just his second year at AFL level, the young key forward handled the responsibility admirably, acting as a focal point up front and notching 53 goals.

Watching Darling’s continued growth as a footballer, as well as how he combines with Kennedy and LeCras, will make for interesting viewing over the coming seasons.

2013 Outlook

The Eagles seem to be everyone’s “unique” pre-season pick for the flag, so much so that it almost feels as if they are the favourite heading in.

It’s certainly not a dumb choice. Tackling aside, the Eagles boast an elite defense. The midfield output in 2012 was only slightly above average, but it’s easy to envision improvement here. They possess what is by far the best ruck duo in the competition, and this advantage at stoppages is bound to pay off in clearances sooner rather than later. There are also young players like Scott Selwood, Andrew Gaff and Luke Shuey who could elevate their games to another level in 2013.

Up forward is where the most excitement lies. It was touched upon earlier, but it deserves another mention. They ranked fifth for goals per game last year despite missing their three leading goal kickers from 2011 for the majority. Nicoski is injured again, but the return of Mark LeCras is much bigger news. When combined with Kennedy and Darling, the Eagles possess a forward trio as good as any other.

Their fifth place finish last season despite these significant injuries paints a promising picture if important first team cogs can avoid injury. At their best they are a definite top four side, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they took out the minor premiership.

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