AFTER almost pulling off a stunning premiership raid last season, West Coast captain Shannon Hurn says he and his teammates need to embrace the expectation that comes with being a flag contender in 2016.
The Eagles defied their critics last year, rising from ninth in 2014 to an unexpected Grand Final appearance where they succumbed to Hawthorn's experience on the big stage.
But after strengthening its squad with proven performers Lewis Jetta and Jack Redden, West Coast is one of the leading contenders deemed capable of ending the Hawks' stranglehold on the premiership cup.
Five club captains have tipped West Coast to reach the 2016 Grand Final, and Hurn said his teammates had spoken about dealing with the hype in a footy-mad city.
"I think it's a good thing to have that expectation, because it means you should be doing well – and we understand that," Hurn said in Melbourne on Thursday.
"The only thing that makes it hard is you don't want to get carried away too much with outside influences.
"Certainly for us last year we played some pretty good team footy, we understood what we were trying to do, and if we can continue to do that this year I think we'll be OK with it.
"You don't want to lock yourself off too much. You've got to be a little bit in the footy bubble and the club bubble, but you've still got to have an understanding of what's going on in the outside world. So it's just finding that balance.
"Each player deals with it differently, but I think we're handling it OK so far."
Former club champion Mackenzie's return from a ruptured ACL promises to make the Eagles more versatile, with Jeremy McGovern tipped to emerge as the League's most damaging swingman.
Hurn hinted the 23-year-old would start the season in defence following a breakout year as an intercept marking backman, but he's eager to see McGovern unleashed in a similar role to 2006 premiership swingman Adam Hunter.
"Goals win you games and we understand he can go forward, take a good mark and kick a goal, but at the same time he reads the game well down back," Hurn said.
"I view him a bit like Adam Hunter when he was playing for us, so he'll probably be down back and if he needs to go forward and change things up a little bit he'll have the ability to go up there."
Eagles coach Adam Simpson has built Hawthorn-like flexibility into his side after two seasons out west, and McGovern moving forward might allow athletically gifted forward Jack Darling to roam through midfield in a similar style to Hawks star Jarryd Roughead.
Shannon Hurn with David Mundy and Brendon Goddard. Picture: AFL Media
"The thing that Jack's done well, especially when he came on the scene, is he's a very good contested player and he's got that speed," Hurn said.
"He's now gone into the midfield and added another string to his bow – which I think you've got to do – the thing for him now is just that consistency.
"I think JD can have another level to go to and that's something he'll try to do this year."
With 10 days until their season-opener against the Brisbane Lions, several key Eagles are racing the clock to be fit.
Hurn said Jetta (calf) has been training strongly and "is ready to go", while Redden (adductor) is desperate to face his former side.
The ex-Lion had his first hit-out in West Coast colours against Essendon last Sunday and could line-up for East Perth alongside Mark Hutchings (calf) and Dom Sheed (knee) this weekend.
"I think Dom's still going to be a couple of weeks away, but certainly Hutchy and Reddo, they'll be ready to go," Hurn said.
"They'll try to get some minutes into them this week and then they should be all right for selection.
"(Dom) hasn't been doing a lot of training, so I think it's going to be a little bit hard at this stage (to play round one)."