Squad strength boosts Eagles but clock ticking on Dockers
Squad strength boosts Eagles but clock ticking on Dockers

Tuesday afternoon's pounding by West Coast of Fremantle was a timely reminder of two things - the West Coast list is not light on for talent, and Fremantle's game plan is heavily dependent on collective will and intensity.

The obvious initial observations to make on the game were about how the Eagles had changed under new coach Adam Simpson.

But while Jack Darling spent some time in the midfield, recruit Xavier Ellis dominated off half back and around the midfield, and Elliot Yeo looks set to slot neatly into a spot in West Coast's backline, let us not also forget that this Eagles squad was considered a flag contender 12 months ago.

John Worsfold's time at the helm might have been up, most people in football thought so. But Worsfold would have liked Shannon Hurn on the park for more than 12 games last year, Sharrod Wellingham for more than 10 and Luke Shuey for more than 14. He could have done without Scott Selwood's broken thumb which sidelined him for four weeks, not to mention the fact Nic Naitanui, who didn't play on Tuesday, missed half the games and played half-fit in the ones he did manage.

The Eagles will evolve rather than reinvent themselves under Simpson. Darling added size and spark to the engine room, Ellis offered poise around the middle and Dom Sheed looked quite at home in his first step into AFL company.

They used the ball astutely going inside attacking fifty and avoided bombing it long to contests. Significantly, primary target Josh Kennedy kicked just one of 20 goals while Jamie Cripps, Chris Masten, Shuey, Wellingham and Mark LeCras all kicked multiple tallies, scored either on the run or off the lead.

Sharrod Wellingham, left, will hope to be more involved in his second season at West Coast. Pic: Getty Images

West Coast handled a stiff breeze at Joondalup far better than Fremantle - a credit to the off-season work Simpson has done on their skills and ability to protect the ball. But they can make considerable ground on the competition just by getting their best out there more often - something they rarely managed last year as their bid to press for a finals berth, let alone the top-four spot predicted for them, ran out of oxygen.

Fremantle, meanwhile, got a stern reminder that their great strength is not allowing opponents to play well. When a drop in intensity or a loss of defensive structure diminishes their capacity to do that, they are as vulnerable as anyone to an opposition scoring onslaught.

The lack of intensity was evidenced by the 123 to 89 clubbing the Dockers took in contested possession before three-quarter time, which in turn saw the ball enter West Coast's attacking fifty three times as often as Fremantle's to that point.

The Dockers, who have so prided themselves on dominating field position under Ross Lyon, found out themselves what it is like to be besieged and bedraggled.

What will it mean come the home and away season? It is a bit early for panic stations at the Dockers. They are late in their preparation because they played in a grand final. On Tuesday they got caught with their pants down against a team willing and able to play at a greater tempo and intensity then they are at this point.

It is a long way from irretrievable but the clock is now ticking for them between now and their season opener against Collingwood on March 14, the start of a brutal two-month burst that could define their season.

West Coast's form, on the other hand, is significant. Their supporters would have fancied their chances in the opening three rounds of the season against the Bulldogs, Melbourne and St Kilda anyway. Having viewed the razor sharp display on Tuesday they would be licking their lips and sensing a flying start.

David Mundy, Michael Johnson and Matthew Pavlich walk from the field after the Dockers had been well beaten. Pic: Getty Images

The West Australian

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