WEST Coast midfielder Xavier O'Neill will almost certainly get the chance to kickstart his career in an injury-hit onball brigade when the Eagles open their season against Gold Coast on Sunday.
O'Neill, who has spent his first two seasons on the fringe and played five games, has impressed this pre-season and shapes as a young replacement for injured captain Luke Shuey against the Suns.
The 21-year-old was already in the Eagles' round one plans before confirmation of Shuey's hamstring injury and is now considered certain to help cover the absence of the Norm Smith medallist.
"O'Neill has really stood up … he doesn't look out of place," coach Adam Simpson said last Friday, adding the midfielder was "definitely" in his plans for the season-opener at Optus Stadium.
While a long way off the high standard Shuey has set, O'Neill is being developed as the same type of midfielder, bringing burst out of stoppages, neat skills and an ability to receive the ball in dangerous positions.
Described as a highly coachable player who asks a lot of questions and is keen to learn, he has made a point of shadowing Shuey early in his career and building a skillset similar to the captain's.
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After battling niggling injuries in two interrupted pre-seasons to start his career, O'Neill has enjoyed an uninterrupted summer and is physically ready to launch his career, with the Eagles craving an injection of youth in their 22.
The 185cm midfielder was recruited with pick No.28 in the 2018 NAB AFL Draft – the highest pick the Eagles have used in the past three years – and is out of contract at the end of this season after signing a one-year extension last year.
Young tall Oscar Allen said both O'Neill and rookie Zane Trew had been prominent this pre-season and would be under consideration in the absence of Shuey and powerful midfielder Elliot Yeo, who continues his recovery from osteitis pubis.
"Xavier has been training with the mids and played a full game in our last pre-season hitout, and Zane Trew has been really impressive," Allen said on Monday morning.
"We're definitely excited to see what both of them bring and I'm sure one of them probably will get an opportunity."
Trew's aggression this pre-season has stood out, with the 18-year-old not intimidated at the top level and enjoying some prominent periods in the centre square in match simulation.
While O'Neill played a full game against Fremantle in the AAMI Community Series, Trew came into the match for the final quarter and racked up nine quick possessions to put his name forward for round one.
"Zane has been taking it up to our best midfielders which not many midfielders do in their first pre-season," Allen said of the rookie.
"I think he gave big Nic (Naitanui) a fend off early in pre-season and sent a message to all the boys he's a strong kid, he's well-built and likes a contest."
Meanwhile, West Coast expects champion forward Josh Kennedy to be ready for the season-opener after recovering from a calf complaint, with the 33-year-old "ticked off" medically.