A defiant Beau Waters has warned that critics who write off West Coast because of key pre-season injuries will do so at their peril as the club prepares to challenge for its fourth premiership.
Waters yesterday seemed every bit a leader-in-waiting as the face of the Eagles at the AFL's season launch in Sydney, after captain Darren Glass was told by club doctors not to make the trip because of a knock to the throat in last Saturday's NAB Cup grand final loss to Adelaide.
Glass is expected to take his place in the round-one clash against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on Sunday week, but the Eagles have already lost forwards Mark LeCras and Mark Nicoski.
Josh Kennedy, Quinten Lynch and Chris Masten are also all under injury clouds.
But Waters said the club's list had redeveloped to a point where the player losses could be covered and was adamant the players would improve on the form that took them to a surprise fourth-placed finish last year.
"There's no doubt people like to challenge you when things happen and team dynamics change and there's no doubt there's 115 goals gone missing from those two players (LeCras and Nicoski)," Waters said.
"You can say woe is us, those two guys aren't going to play, but we're definitely not going to be doing that.
"We've got the absolute confidence that the depth of our list can support those guys not being in the side.
"Whether it's conventional forwards playing up there, whether it's midfielders having a bigger role up there or defenders going down there and playing a forward role, there's no doubt we'll find some way to aid the losses and then welcome them back later in the year.
"There is a different smell in the air associated with September and finals footy, and playing two games at the MCG last year against quality opposition we realise there was a gap between us and the top two or three sides.
"We hope that we've bridged that gap in the summer and get the chance to play deep into September."
West Coast remained bullish late yesterday that Masten would be available for round one despite suffering a suspected fractured cheekbone in a clash of heads at training on Wednesday.
Waters said he was gradually rebuilding strength in his troublesome elbow and was desperate to play a more compelling role this year.
The Eagles vice-captain was unmoved by last Saturday's loss to Adelaide, but he said the Crows under new coach Brenton Sanderson might have shown signs as to how rivals would attack West Coast's forward press this year.
"The thing that we're seeing now is that the press has been around for two or three years and teams are becoming very good at it," Waters said.
"But now teams are starting to work out strategies to break the press open and get through it.
"Adelaide were risky against it, but keep in mind their coach and assistant coaches are from Geelong and bring a similar game plan.
"Adelaide have got a lot of very skilful personnel who can make it come to fruition."
Waters said the Eagles had targeted the Bulldogs clash as a chance to set the standard for their season.
"We believe we've improved, we believe our structures are better, our list is one year older and we believe we play the same way at home as we do away," he said.