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West Coast season review: MVP, surprise packet, low point, final grade

Jack Darling and his West Coast teammates couldn't sustain the required level for long enough to defend their flag - AFL,Season reviews,Tag-Analysis,West Coast Eagles
Jack Darling and his West Coast teammates couldn't sustain the required level for long enough to defend their flag
In a nutshell

Inconsistency plagued the reigning premiers. Pre-season injuries contributed to a shaky start, and while the Eagles could – and should – have finished top-four, they only played their best football in bursts. They found out defending a flag is hard work.

What we said in the pre-season

The overwhelming majority of AFL.com.au reporters tipped West Coast to finish top-four – and the Eagles were all but locked in when they sat two wins and percentage clear of fifth-placed Collingwood after round 21. They will lament what could have been.

Liam Ryan and the Eagles were all smiles after beating Adelaide in round 21.

What worked 

Setting the season up
Coming off a shortened pre-season and disrupted preparation for key players, the Eagles recovered from 3-3 and had their flag defence nicely poised at 15-5 before it all fell apart in the final month.

Bringing through kids
Regenerating when you're in finals contention is crucial to stay at the top. Oscar Allen (21 games), Jack Petruccelle (20) and Jake Waterman (13) saw plenty of action, while Josh Rotham, Francis Watson and Jarrod Cameron got a taste. 

Oscar Allen and Jack Petruccelle showed plenty in 2019. 

Recruiting Tom Hickey
The former Sun and Saint was the mainstay in the ruck, playing 20 games and impressing both as the lead man and in support of Nic Naitanui.

What failed

Earning the double chance
Winning the premiership from the west is tough, and nigh on impossible without finishing top-four. The Eagles blew it by not turning up against Hawthorn in round 23, and in a disastrous one-point round 17 loss to battling Collingwood. 

Willie Rioli's urine substitution
It's impossible to tell exactly what impact the bombshell revelation had on the eve of West Coast's cut-throat semi-final loss, but it certainly wasn't a positive, and now Rioli's career is in limbo. 

Staying ruthless
The Eagles played in fits and spurts all season and their inability to put poor teams away cost them valuable percentage. How many players can put their hands up and say they improved from 2018?

The Eagles only managed two narrow wins over lowly Melbourne. 

Overall rating

B- 

Being 'hunted' is challenging and the Eagles deserve credit for building towards September, but they ultimately weren't up for the fight when it mattered most.

The coach

A fifth-straight finals campaign for Adam Simpson after narrowly missing the eight in his first year at the helm. His calmness under pressure and straight talking have earned him respect inside and outside the club. Contracted until 2022 and going nowhere after rebuffing North Melbourne's interest mid-season.

MVP

Elliot Yeo: Almost single-handedly turned West Coast's season around with his ferocious contested work. Could join elite company alongside Glen Jakovich and Ben Cousins as the only Eagles to win three straight club champion awards.

Surprise packet

Jack Petruccelle: Won rave reviews during his second pre-season and lived up to the billing by playing 20 games and kicking 21 goals. Has pace to burn and could be more important going forward given doubts about Rioli's future.

 
Get excited

Oscar Allen: The 20-year-old's emergence has eased concerns over Josh Kennedy's decline. He has a bright future in attack alongside Jack Darling, and kicked 20 goals from 21 games while pinch-hitting in the ruck.

Disappointment

Willie Rioli: One of the game's most watchable and likeable players could have the best years of his blossoming career taken away. 'Disappointment' doesn't quite cover it.

Best win

Round 10: Adelaide 10.13 (73) defeated by West Coast 13.7 (85)

The Crows weren't in bad form at the time and led the Eagles by 33 points early in the third quarter, before the visitors stormed home on the back of more Luke Shuey heroics at Adelaide Oval.

INDICATIVE DRAFT ORDER Boost for Eagles' Kelly chase

Best individual performance 

Luke Shuey: Round 15 v Hawthorn

Shuey's best is up there with the AFL's elite and his 39 disposals, 20 contested possessions, 11 clearances, 11 inside 50s, nine tackles and a goal in the wet dragged the Eagles over the line in a pivotal MCG triumph.

Shuey in action during the win over the Hawks. 

Low point

Before last week we would have said the flat round 23 loss to Hawthorn at home, but the double-whammy of Rioli's provisional suspension and a semi-final exit to Geelong is tough to top.

Lewis Jetta and his dejected Eagles teammates depart the MCG after the loss to Geelong.

The big questions 

Can the Eagles land Tim Kelly and at what cost?

Is Josh Kennedy determined to play on, will Andrew Gaff stay for the long haul and have veterans Chris Masten and Will Schofield played their last games? 

What does the future hold for Willie Rioli?

Season in a movie title

The Hangover. The Eagles never really recaptured the same hunger and desperation after last year's flag.

Who's done?

Retirements: TBC 

Delistings: TBC 

Unsigned free agents: Keegan Brooksby (rookie), Chris Masten, Fraser McInnes (rookie), Will Schofield, Josh Smith (rookie).

WHO'S HANGING UP THE BOOTS? Your club's retirements and delistings

How should they approach trade and draft period? 

The Eagles are all-in to land Kelly and the Geelong star would ease reliance on Shuey and Jack Redden, who both turn 30 next year. West Coast holds picks 13, 22 and 31 in the draft and, assuming Kelly asks for a trade, will hope to get a deal done early to keep Fremantle out of the equation.

Will Tim Kelly be an Eagle in 2020?

Early call for 2020

If the Eagles can land Kelly, keep Naitanui fit and squeeze more out of their veterans then they should be aiming to push for the top four again.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs