Mark Duffield: Kennedy holds key to Eagles flag tilt
Josh Kennedy. Pic: Lincoln Baker/WA News

A successful return from power forward Josh Kennedy holds the key to West Coast converting their top-of-the-table status at the halfway point of the season into a grand final berth.

At 9-2, with six games at a Patersons Stadium fortress to come, a top-four berth is almost a lock.

Early-season injuries to Mark LeCras, Mark Nicoski and Andrew Embley have been covered. Josh Hill slid into a small forward role without missing a beat. An improved Chris Masten, a more attacking Scott Selwood and a fit and in-form Matt Rosa have enabled the Eagles to cover Embley well.

Ashton Hams has stepped into Nicoski's shoes and provided the Eagles with another ground-level attacking presence.

But while Dean Cox has spent more time forward and kicked 14 goals to become an attacking threat, you suspect the Eagles are going to need Kennedy fit, available and in something approaching peak form to test the competition's best at the business end of the season.

The Eagles can still get it done against almost any opponent at Patersons, with or without Kennedy.

They have won their last 17 games there and have seen off finals contenders Hawthorn, St Kilda, Fremantle and Carlton there this season. All but one of those wins was achieved without Kennedy.

Winning big games, and finals away from home, to make sure they nail a top-two berth is a different matter.

West Coast have already tripped up twice on the road this season and were lucky to crawl clear of Richmond in round five.

They got hammered by Essendon by 61 points in round seven - a game in which their only multiple goal kicker was half-back Beau Waters, who booted two.

With Cox seconded into ruck duties that night because Nic Naitanui was injured, the Eagles' forwards found the task beyond them.

At least the Bombers were considered contenders. Three weeks later, also-rans Brisbane did them at the Gabba. The Eagles' leading goal kickers that afternoon were Matt Priddis (three), Cox (two) and defender Shannon Hurn (two).

Both matches are timely reminders that, for all his talent, Jack Darling is still a 191cm 20-year-old and that Quinten Lynch, as faithful a servant as the day is long, has not kicked 30 goals in a season since 2007.

Kennedy's return would complete the Eagles, who have most other bases covered. Their ruckmen are feared, and rightly so. Their midfield is good and on the improve, their defence is rock solid and they have depth and coverage in both areas.

At the back, Mitch Brown can't get a game as Eric Mackenzie, Will Schofield and the ever-dependable Darren Glass rule.

You suspect only the loss of Daniel Kerr would unhinge them as Koby Stevens, Tom Swift, Brad Sheppard and others scramble for opportunity.

The West Australian

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