The West

Kerr fit for big season
John Worsfold on the Eagles 2012 preparations.

_Will Daniel Kerr play NAB Cup? _

Yes. I expect him to play against Port (March 3, Mandurah). We weighed up playing him last weekend but in terms of his preparation we decided to give him another week. He trained unbelievably hard last Saturday morning and really well again on the Monday in terms of preparing him for the next round.

_He played 16 games last year. Given his run with injuries, do you regard any games from Kerr this season as a bonus? _

It was a bit like a bonus last year because he was fighting to get back to AFL conditioning, but he's right back up there now. So maybe last year, but not this season. Right now, he's probably where he was at halfway through the season last year. So it's setting him up to be able to play at his best.

_What can Eagles supporters expect this year? _

An exciting team looking for further development. A team that is still in a phase of aiming to improve significantly in terms of playing together as a group and understanding the way we want to play together. Consolidation in some degree of the team, which probably happened a fair bit last year but with Ebert gone and LeCras injured already two spots have opened up. Our view is that we're building this current squad to be at its peak in, as I said a few years ago, around 2012, 2013 and hopefully for another four or five years after that. There will be some transitions from Glass handing over the reins eventually to Mackenzie, Embley handing over the reins full-time to Gaff at some point, Kerr to Masten or Stevens or Swift at some point. Cox to Naitanui but Naitanui to Lycett coming through underneath.

_In effect are you a two-speed team? _

Not really. We're a team right now which finished top four last year, and should be aiming to be there again this year with a view of maintaining that through that transition and not having a drop off over the next six or seven years.

_You talk about consolidation, does that also mean your place on the ladder? _

I suppose it is. We don't take it for granted that you finish one year in a position and you get that the next year. Our aim is we play with the same intensity but improve, and we should improve given the relatively young core group of players like Naitanui, Shuey, Scott Selwood, Gaff and Darling.

_This time last year you were under the pump. Are you a better coach with that stress removed? _

Every year is a stressful year in this game. 2006 was one of the most stressful years after coming off a losing grand final. Will we get another chance at it? Are we good enough to get there? I asked myself those questions and the scribes did as well. One Melbourne journalist called us pretenders all the way through the year.

_To get enough wins do you believe you can bank points here, given you lost only one game at Patersons Stadium in 2011? _

I don't think that way. History might show that but I'm not banking any games. I'm looking forward to earning every win.

_As last season wore on, it appeared that the clock was wound back because opposition sides found it tougher to win here. _

They did because we were playing better football. We were a better team. They knew it was going to be tough. I don't think it provided the intimidation playing us the previous year but it did against Fremantle in 2010. They know when our teams are up and going coming over here will be tough to beat us.

_What is the greatest challenge going into 2012? _

To show constant improvement, to keep wanting to strive to get better, to meet challenges head-on. Mark LeCras was a hurdle to overcome and there will be others along the way. You've got to be good enough to deal with those and push on. Our squad is not at Collingwood's extreme level of their depth yet, but that's what we're working towards.

_Have the Eagles got the capacity to finish top four in the transition as the older blokes retire? _

That's our greatest challenge. Can we finish higher than top four? Can we finish top two this year after the home-and-away season? That's a big challenge for us, and then can we do that consistently?

_There's no prediction like "we can win the flag". _

Not really, our view is that over a number of years we want to be a team who can challenge for a premiership. But to seriously be seen as a premiership contender you need everybody looking at you from outside saying that they are a very, very good team and we expect them to be in the top two. No, we're not at the point yet, outside. Inside, we know we have got a lot of room for improvement.

_Is Scott Lycett coming along as you'd expect? _

For a 19-year-old up-and-coming ruckman, we're rapt in what he's doing.

_Ruckman or forward? _

Both. He's got the ability to play as a key forward but he's got the size (202cm) to play in the ruck. At the moment, we want him to keep learning as a forward because the way the game is currently these guys are either going to be the No. 1 ruckman and spend most time in the ruck, or most time forward and go and help out in the ruck. With Naitanui on our list, we think Scotty's going to add a lot of value in the forward line in the future.

_Comment on these two players. First, Brad Sheppard who played 14 games in 2010 and only six last year but was listed as an emergency 14 times. Where's he at? _

He will be a very good long-term player. This year he is 10 per cent stronger and fitter than he was last year. And he will continue to get stronger and fitter for another two or three years. He won't peak as a footballer for another three years. Our view last year was that we can't play him for what we think he's going to be in three years time. My expectations are that in three years he will definitely be in our best team. He wasn't quite at the required level last year and his aim this year is to show us he is at that level, that he's in our best 22 now, not our future best 22.

_Blayne Wilson looked comfortable out there last Saturday night. _

He's a good size (188cm, 85kg), he's got a good blend and reads the game well. He was playing underdone last year because of injuries, but he's had a good pre-season so we expect some really good footy from him this year in the WAFL and if it's good enough he will be up for selection.

The West Australian

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