UNDERRATED West Coast trio Josh Rotham, Tom Cole and Jackson Nelson have formed the unlikely glue keeping the Eagles' injury-hit defence together this season, playing every game as stars around them have come and gone.
The Eagles have lost a combined 17 games from first-choice defenders Jeremy McGovern, Tom Barrass, Shannon Hurn and Liam Duggan because of injury this season, forcing the constant shuffle of personnel and roles.
They will also be without versatile All Australian Brad Sheppard against Richmond on Sunday because of concussion, while McGovern, who last played in round nine, is still two weeks away from returning from a knee injury.
As the Eagles prepare to face a fast and dangerous Tigers forward line at Optus Stadium, the stability provided by Rotham, Cole and Nelson will be important, according to backline coach Jaymie Graham.
"You want backlines to jell together and it's been hard because we have had players in and out because of injury, but those three have been consistent every week and are playing an important role for the team," Graham told AFL.com.au.
"In any team it is important to have consistency and guys playing week to week, and they have been able to do that.
"They're traditional defenders in that they train hard, they work hard, and they are reliable. They've been important parts to our backline."
Rotham's emergence as a quality defender this season has been a win for West Coast, with the 23-year-old averaging career-high disposals (16.4), rebound 50s (3.1) and marks (8.7).
Graham said the key to his spike in 2021 had been the work put in during a solid apprenticeship at WAFL level, playing 45 games at the lower level between 2017-19 while he waited for a consistent role at AFL level.
"It's not by mistake, it was through the work he put in," Graham said.
"He showed really good patience, worked hard on his craft with development coach Mark Nicoski, and showed he could build that confidence and have an impact at AFL level.
"He studies the game and he understands the importance of him being flexible, and he's just solid, hard-working, and reliable."
Graham highlighted the importance of Nelson's versatility this season, moving into the midfield when required, while Cole's unheralded work off the ball had made him "a really valued team member" this season.
The trio's ability to stand up when star teammates have been forced out through injury is representative of coach Adam Simpson's desire to be a team that relies firstly on system.
Tall defender Harry Edwards, recruit Alex Witherden, wingman Jarrod Brander and third-year defender Luke Foley are other Eagles who have filtered through the backline when needed this year.
Young star Oscar Allen has also played as a key defender when needed.
"It's important we have a squad mentality and guys who are clear on their role when they come in," Graham said.
"Talent and system do go hand in hand, and we obviously need talent. But also understanding that when it's your turn to play a certain role we really value that as well. That's important."
Tickets for the Big Freeze in Sydney match are on sale now. Get your tickets HERE. The famous blue Big Freeze beanies are still available from Coles, Coles Express, Bunnings or fightmnd.org.au, while donations can be made at fightmnd.org.au.