THEY'RE baaack.

After ordinary – by their standards – performances in the past two seasons, the Eagles have started 2021 with premiership-vying purpose.

A solid first-up win against an improving Gold Coast, into a gallant loss at Marvel Stadium to the rampaging Western Bulldogs, into Saturday's night emphatic win against flag contender Port Adelaide is proof West Coast has regained its mojo.

Nic Naitanui is in sublime form, the best of his already outstanding career. Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass have opened 2021 in blistering style in the backline, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling equally impactful up forward, Oscar Allen (though quiet against the Power, and nursing a shoulder complaint) is looming as a genuine star, and Tim Kelly is finally looking as though he is in sync with the Eagles' midfield systems.

Then there is Liam Ryan, whose 58-match highlight reel already ranks alongside some of the game's all-time great showmen.

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Flyin' Ryan wows the crowd with this screamer

Liam Ryan rides high adding yet another special grab to his impressive collection

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The Eagles set themselves the highest of performance benchmarks every season. On that basis, they badly under-performed – sixth in 2019, seventh in 2020 – after winning the 2018 premiership. Last year's elimination final exit put then out of their own self-driven moping misery, where they never properly got their heads around the major distractions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If this season goes to plan, they have 10 more matches at Optus Stadium. On Saturday night's form, they won't be beaten at their home ground, and given they were badly undermanned yet ran fellow premiership contender the Bulldogs right to the wire in round two, they are clearly back in business.

Luke Shuey returned for the Port match after an off-season of soft tissue problems, and finished it with more, a hamstring injury sustained very late in the game taking significant gloss of his best-afield return. Shuey's body is one of two big concerns for West Coast. The other is the indefinite sidelining of Elliot Yeo. If they get both those players back, another Grand Final berth will present if not as a certainty, then highly likely.

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Shattered Shuey left hamstrung again

Luke Shuey's wretched run of soft tissue injuries continues after re-injuring hamstring in return match

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From finals lock to floundering, Saints are in strife

IT was touted as the season that St Kilda would return to the top four. It is looming as a disaster.

Key players have been unavailable, Jade Gresham the latest gun to go down, an Achilles injury from the weekend's loss to Essendon ruling him out for the year.

A great win first up in 2021 against GWS has been followed by morale-sapping defeats by Melbourne and the Bombers. By the time the Saints have negotiated the next three weeks – West Coast and Richmond at Marvel Stadium, Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval – their season may be over.

THINGS WE LEARNED It's time to drop Bradley Hill

Paddy Ryder is expected to return from personal leave this week. But he is likely to require a minimum two weeks of intense training just to get him back near the required match fitness. Rowan Marshall is being desperately missed with a foot problem, so too Jarryn Geary (leg) and Ben Paton (broken leg). 

The spark has gone from the Saints. There is no guarantee of it being re-lit.

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Gun Saint subbed out early with Achilles injury

Saints Jade Gresham is out of the game after landing hard on his foot

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Remember me? The Swan who's fired up in the midfield

In his 2016 debut AFL season, Callum Mills was crowned the NAB AFL Rising Star. In the Swans team which made that year's Grand Final, he was not merely a first-year player having a crack, he was arguably the main play generator out of the backline.

While the following four seasons were far from ordinary, Mills nevertheless failed to have the impact most expected after watching him play with 200-game maturity in that first season.

But fast forward to 2021, with Mills finally being given the chance to play in the midfield, his star factor has re-emerged. He has now played 95 matches, the three in 2021 reminding the entire competition of his elite talents.

Against Richmond on Saturday, Mills was as crucial as any Swan in the big, statement-making 45-point win, playing a key role in the nullifying of Dustin Martin.

The unbeaten Swans now have a Thursday night SCG match against Essendon. Buddy Franklin, rested for the game against the Tigers, will return. The excitement around this team grows by the day.

Sydney's Callum Mills celebrates a goal against Brisbane in round one, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

After horror loss, Kangas simply must deliver

The North Melbourne captain said the club's 59-point loss to Gold Coast in round two was "not what we stand for". In the minutes before the start of the ensuing round three match, the coach added that his players had committed themselves to a four-quarter effort.

A 128-point horror show loss to the Western Bulldogs later confirmed that they were just words, not commitments.

Jack Ziebell and David Noble are men of the highest character, but they now need to rethink their public strategy on how best to wade through this most ugly of AFL seasons.

The club's chairman, Ben Buckley, felt the need to write to members after the horrendous loss. He said: "We have a young group and a very experienced coaching panel led by David Noble. We must continue to support them and encourage them – if we're asking the players not to pick and choose when they turn up, we can't either."

North plays Adelaide at Marvel Stadium on Sunday. When the 2021 fixture was released, this is the match in which North would have fancied its chances. But that was before Tex Walker opened with 17 goals in the opening three matches and the Crows being surprise winners of two of those games.

If North fans choose to attend this match, at the very least they deserve more than just words about performance.

North Melbourne's Jack Ziebell after a 128-point loss to the Western Bulldogs in round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos