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All change for Eagles forwards, with Rioli set to miss

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WEST Coast's premiership-winning forward line will be almost unrecognisable from the Grand Final in Saturday night's season opener against Brisbane, with Willie Rioli expected to miss the match with a foot injury.

Rioli suffered the issue on Wednesday and was not sighted at Perth Airport as the Eagles flew out on Thursday afternoon.

The Eagles are already without spearhead Josh Kennedy, who has failed to overcome foot soreness for the long trip to the Gabba, and goalsneak Jamie Cripps (toe), who is aiming for a round three return.

Rioli's expected absence would further deplete West Coast's attack, which has also lost Mark LeCras (retired) and ruck-forward Scott Lycett (Port Adelaide) since the Grand Final.

"He's (Rioli) huge. His experience, albeit just (24) games, and what he gives us last year, but his pre-season has gone up another level," coach Adam Simpson said.

"He's a very important player to our side."

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Kennedy was pushing to play but has been ruled out by medical staff, despite Simpson's willingness to gamble on the dual Coleman medallist.

"He's desperate to play. I'm desperate to play him. If they had told me he'd play 50 minutes I would've played him," Simpson said.

 

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"But the recommendation is that we rest him up for another week and keep building that conditioning.

"I just needed a green light and I would've played him.

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"It's always a challenge when you get an A-grade talent like that, and what do you do and what risks are you willing to take?

"I was willing to take a few risks, but I think we've got to back in the collective, and the decision was we're not going to play him."

Simpson confirmed ruckman Tom Hickey would play his first game for the club after crossing from St Kilda.

The premiership mentor was coy when asked if the Eagles would take two ruckmen into the clash, but confirmed youngsters Oscar Allen, Jack Petruccelle and Jarrod Brander would be on the plane.

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Brander was used in defence, on a wing and up forward during the JLT Community Series and is set for his second career start.

Allen and Petruccelle were standouts over pre-season and will play their third and fourth games respectively in an inexperienced attack.

"We've got (Jack) Darling who is 25 and 26, and everyone else is 20 or 21, which is really exciting for us, it's going to be new, it's going to be different," Simpson said.

 

"Our backline and our midfield are pretty solid, pretty stable, but our front half will be a bit like the start of last year, there will be a lot of youth in our front half."

Simpson admitted he was nervous ahead of a tricky clash with the Lions, who have been tipped as big improvers after winning five games last year and losing five by single-figure margins.

"Brisbane are coming off a couple of years of developing their kids as well, so there's a lot of belief coming from up north and (their) home ground, our biggest travel game of the year, it feels like back on the horse, backs against the wall," Simpson said.