While their past two promising seasons have ended in finals despair, all signs point to a genuine premiership tilt from West Coast in 2013.
They finished fifth last season and marginally missed out on the vital double chance – a commendable effort given the number of key players absent due to injury. The Eagles three highest goal kickers from 2011 – Josh Kennedy, Mark Lecras and Mark Nicoski – missed the majority of the season, yet the Eagles still managed to accumulate 15 home and away season wins.
West Coast’s sudden re-emergence as a quality side can be attributed largely to the improvement of young talent, including the likes of Nic Naitanui, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling. They have established an elite midfield, which contains arguably the best ruck combination in the league in Dean Cox and Naitanui. Matthew Priddis and Daniel Kerr complement the young midfield brigade with valuable experience and leadership.
The Eagles are second favourites for the flag, behind only Hawthorn. The assessment is justified. They are well stocked in key areas, with a strong spine that begins with All-Australian full-back Darren Glass and spearheaded by influential full-forward Josh Kennedy.
Key player: Jack Darling
The 21-year-old forward lets his actions do the talking. Darling is coming into his third season at the Eagles, and his future looks very promising. He managed to kick 53 goals in just his second season, and stood up while long-term absentees Kennedy and Lecras recovered from serious injuries.
Darling’s attack on the footy is second to none, and unlike many inexperienced forwards, his defensive tackling pressure is a notable strength. He averaged almost three tackles per game in 2012 and four in 2011.
In hindsight, it’s hard to comprehend how such a talent slipped through to pick 26 in the 2010 national draft.
Darling’s 2012 finals series was an indication of player who thrives on the big stage. He averaged three goals and 6.5 marks in the two matches, and was particularly outstanding in the Eagles first elimination final demolition of the Kangaroos.
The sky is the limit for Darling, who has the talent and mindset to become one of the great forwards.
Circle it on the calendar: Round 17, West Coast vs. Sydney Swans
The Eagles have always been a hard team to beat at home and that proved to be the case once again in 2012, losing only twice at Patersons Stadium.
In saying that, West Coast weren’t without their hiccups. They were smashed to the tune of 52 points in round 16 by a rampant Swans outfit that proved to be building towards premiership glory.
West Coast and Sydney have shared some fantastic games in recent history, highlighted by the enthralling grand final battles of 2005 and 2006. The ferocity and animosity remains evident between the sides.
To be the best you must beat the best, making this game against the reigning premiers a crucial test of the Eagles credentials leading up to September.
2013 Prediction: 2nd – 4th
Presuming they have a relatively clean season with injury, Worsfold has a side that should challenge for a top four spot. History shows there are no certainties in football, but West Coast has great depth and elite contributors in each department.
Originally published on Upstart