WEST Coast did not consider dropping out-of-form forward Jack Darling for Saturday's must-win game away to Port Adelaide despite its improved availability, says coach Adam Simpson.
Darling, like the 16th-placed Eagles (1-4 record), has endured a lean start to the 2022 season having spent seven weeks of pre-season away from the club due to failing to fulfil the League's COVID protocols.
The 29-year-old forward has managed four goals in four games, while he is averaging a career-low 3.2 marks per game along with 9.5 disposals per game which is well below his normal output. In Darling's four games he has contributed to 13 score involvements along with eight inside 50s.
"No, not at the moment," Simpson replied when asked if Darling's selection was a close call at match committee.
"It's not just about kicking goals, that's just a simple way of looking at it. I think he's been out for seven weeks and he's probably playing like it at the moment.
"I think there's some parts of his game he needs to improve in. He knows that … I know those questions come, we put ourselves out there for the criticism as well as the accolades. He's a big boy, he'll work through it."
Simpson continued: "We've got to get everything right for our forwards to play their role. We had 29 inside 50s last week, albeit there were opportunities to go through our forwards to get an inside 50 and they didn't hold up their end as well.
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"Once we get that synergy piece and we're connected, then we can make a real judgement on their form.
"Jack has had seven weeks away from the club. It would've been really difficult to do anything in terms of football. I'm not surprised it's been a slower start, but we'd love him to get going sooner rather than later."
The Eagles were unable to welcome back four-time Therabody AFL All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern who came out of health and safety protocols on Friday, with Simpson stating the turnaround was too tight for Saturday's game.
West Coast has made three changes this week, its fewest for the 2022 season after a start to the year that has been ravaged by injuries and players entering health and safety protocols leading to 37 changes across the previous five rounds, with 11 club debuts.
Xavier O'Neill and Jake Waterman earned their spots after good WAFL form, while Connor West regains his place after a minor injury. Luke Strnadica comes in to debut for back-up ruckman Hugh Dixon, who has a small calf strain which will keep him out for one to two games.
Dixon was West Coast's only forced change this week, with Jamaine Jones and Zac Langdon both omitted on form. Simpson was delighted to finally pick players on form as opposed to availability, which may aid their synergy issues which have played their part towards their volatile displays.
"This is probably the first week we've had to really work hard at match committee about selection," Simpson said. "I've probably omitted three players for the year due to the fact they've just been unavailable.
"We don't want to keep making eight changes a week. We have to stick with what we've got for a certain amount of time to see if we can get that connectivity and synergy going.
"Bringing those guys in should be good for us. They're healthy young fit players. Hopefully we can stick with a similar side for a few weeks albeit form will dictate selection in the coming weeks."
Simpson said there still was no timeline on Oscar Allen's return from a foot injury, saying he was a "short-to-mid-term" proposition. Jack Petruccelle will play WAFL this weekend after missing the past two games due to protocols.
Saturday's clash looms as a critical one for both sides, with the Power considered one of the premiership favourites in pre-season prior to their 0-5 start to the season.
Ken Hinkley's side almost claimed their first win of 2022 on Sunday when they stormed back with nine second-half goals to two to lose by three points to Carlton and will be bolstered by the return of Brownlow medalist Ollie Wines this Saturday.
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"They're a pretty good side Port. They're probably the best 0-5 side in the history of the competition," Simpson said.
"They've had two or three games where they've lost by under a goal. Their backs are against the wall. We're both in similar situations from a ladder point of view. We're both desperate to win.
"We look forward to a challenge against a team, who at their best is a premiership contender and they're not far off in terms of personnel, it's going to be a massive challenge but I think we're up for it."