West Coast coach Adam Simpson has issued a challenge to his key players, declaring that up to eight had been short of their best football this season and, as a result, the Eagles were where they deserved to be on the AFL ladder.
As West Coast attempt to keep their slim finals hopes alive by beating Richmond at Patersons Stadium tonight, Simpson rang the changes, bringing in Dean Cox, Mitch Brown, Josh Kennedy and Brad Sheppard to the team that carved out a hard-fought win over Brisbane two weeks ago.
The return of Cox meant that young ruckman Scott Lycett will be rested, while Jacob Brennan will miss with an ankle injury and Callum Sinclair and defender Blayne Wilson were dropped.
Simpson promised that tonight's match will not be the last appearance this year for champion Cox, who will retire at the end of the season.
However, Simpson also said the Eagles were yet to map out a plan for how many of the last six games Cox would play.
For Brown, who picked up a knee injury in the western derby against Fremantle more than three weeks ago, an immediate return to AFL level was evidence of his growing stature in the team under Simpson's reign.
"He was in really good form and we were really happy with what he was doing so if he is available he will play," Simpson said.
"He has always had speed and probably what we have given him this year is more opportunity to play on the smalls and he hasn't let us down once. The biggest part of his game is that he is aggressive and he is 95kg."
Simpson was not as pleased with the form of several other senior players who were doing "enough" without him feeling that they were at their best.
"It feels like there are six to eight players who can play better but are playing well enough to hold their spot so I am working on a balance on who is available and also to continue to give opportunity," he said. "I think our top-end players have got another level to go to and I think our kids are going to be up and down. McGovern is a classic. We want to give him opportunity but he has also got to earn his spot.
"We are not in the top eight because we don't deserve to be in the top eight. We have beaten one team above us, the Gold Coast, so we are exactly where we should be but we think there is some good upside."
Richmond brought in Matt Thomas and Nathan Gordon to replace the injured Daniel Jackson (glute) and Ricky Petterd (finger) but have arrived in Perth confident after three wins on the trot.
Simpson said the retirement of players like Cox was part of life in football.
"It is probably part of a transition that started before I got here to be honest," he said.
Meanwhile, Sheppard and Sinclair have both signed two-year contract extensions to keep them at West Coast until the end of 2016.
"It feels like there are six to eight players who can play better … I am working on a balance …"" *Adam Simpson *