ENTERING a list transition at the end of this season does not need to spell the end for champion West Coast pair Josh Kennedy and Shannon Hurn, but it should trigger a shifting of roles and prominence for the Eagles' "legacy players".
Kennedy and Hurn have each made it clear in recent weeks that they want to play on, and the pair have done more than earned the right go out on their terms.
But if they continue their careers into a 2022 season that shapes as a step back to go forward, the Eagles need to make sure the 33-year-olds' younger teammates can emerge from their considerable shadows.
The benefit of retaining your champions during a list transition – and how to do it – was perfectly captured by the midfield pair that spearheaded a rebuilding Fremantle's Western Derby win on Sunday.
Dockers great David Mundy was a star in his record-equalling 353rd game, but it was the young gun he has mentored and helped guide into an emerging star, Caleb Serong, who proved the difference in a best-on-ground performance.
Mundy has been a star this season, but the midfield keys have often been handed to the Dockers' youngsters with the veteran helping them shine. It's an example the Eagles could follow.
Kennedy, who has booted a team-high 41 goals this season, is clearly capable of playing on at a high level next year, but 22-year-old Oscar Allen needs to emerge as the main man.
Allen threatened to take off as a young star this season with 16 goals in the first six rounds, but he has faded since the midway point, moving into a forward/ruck role and going goalless in his past four games.
Hurn, 33, has been excellent again in 2021, playing 15 games and averaging 21.8 disposals and a team high 6.0 rebound 50s – equal with Alex Witherden, who has played eight games.
If Hurn plays on, can he do so in a way that allows Witherden be the main rebounder, or uncontracted pair Josh Rotham and Luke Foley to take the next step?
The Eagles have not declared 2022 will be a year of transition, and they could yet decide this group – with Kennedy and Hurn playing significant roles – has another shot at a premiership in it.
Their prominent roles were the right ones in a season that the club hoped would end with a premiership, and the same approach would be justified again in 2022 if the club found a way to delay the inevitable list transition.
But coach Adam Simpson did not sound like he was leaning that way on Sunday night when he said the Eagles knew what needed to happen from a list perspective.
"We know where we’re at. We know what's in front of us and what we need to do," Simpson said. "Everything you (media) are talking about, we know."
West Coast has not missed the finals under Simpson since the coach's first season in charge, finishing ninth in 2014 before a run of six consecutive finals campaigns.
The 2018 premiers appear likely to miss this year unless they can beat Brisbane and Essendon or Greater Western Sydney lose their clashes against Collingwood and Carlton respectively. It's a long shot.
Simpson foreshadowed the looming transition in a pre-season interview when he said it was his belief the club would "need to invest in the draft and kids at some stage".
That time appears to have come for the Eagles, who face difficult list decisions once they have identified what direction they will take in 2022.
Premiership pair Nathan Vardy and Mark Hutchings are without deals, while Brayden Ainsworth has played just two games this season.
Contract talks with young tall Jarrod Brander, who would attract interest from opposition clubs, have not started.
Rotham, Foley, premiership pair Jack Redden and Liam Duggan are all expected to confirm new contracts.
If both Kennedy and Hurn choose to play on, their vast experience would be invaluable as a teaching tool.
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But if the Eagles choose to start a list transition and want it to be as quick as possible, they can't be the main men on field they have been in 2022.