Eagles on the defensive as they march forward
WEST Coast had been written off by many before the season began. The Eagles had been cut off at the knees, so to speak, losing both their key defenders to season-ending knee injuries.
How could they compete without reigning best and fairest Eric McKenzie and partner-in-crime Mitch Brown?
As it has turned out, the Eagles have competed quite well, in fact, too well for most opposition clubs, with them sitting second at 13-3.
And while forward-turned-backman Jeremy McGovern and the unheralded Will Schofield have stepped up in the absence of their more seasoned teammates, every West Coast player has taken it upon himself to fill the defensive void.
Under Adam Simpson, from the Hawthorn school of coaching, they've figured the best form of defence is to attack.
"Whether it's country footy or AFL footy, midfields are quite important ... if they can get the ball going into the forwardline it helps everyone," skipper and halfback Shannon Hurn told APN ahead of tonight's clash with Gold Coast.
"The forward line is working well together and putting on some good pressure - when the ball's in there they do everything they can to keep it in or win it and kick a goal.
"It's been really pleasing that it's a team effort."
The first step is, of course, getting the footy and then using it well.
With three players in the top 10 for individual disposals - the top-ranked Matt Priddis (483), Andrew Gaff (480) and Chris Masten (443) - West Coast is third for team disposals and second for efficiency (74%).
And so while the Eagles are also second for forward-50m entries, they have allowed the fewest by the opposition, conceding less than 10 goals a match (third-least), while averaging almost 16 themselves (second-most).
Highlighting the pressure the side is putting on when it doesn't have the ball, Priddis is also No.1 for tackles (123), with small forward Jamie Cripps surprisingly fifth. On top of his 26 goals, he's laid 100 tackles, many coming in the attacking arc.
"You want to play consistent football and I think that's what we've been able to do," Hurn said. "We've been able to do it for three quarters of the year, so the challenge for us is to be able to do it for the next six games, and then hopefully a few more.
"If we're fortunate enough to finish in the top two, that would be awesome, but every week we need to be making sure we do what we need to be doing, otherwise, as quickly as it goes well, it can go bad quickly if you take your eye off the ball, so to speak."
Having won their past six games, the Eagles are now in the box seat to claim a week-one home final, but it may come down to the result of next week's blockbuster with third-placed Hawthorn.
But, Hurn said the Eagles must heed the old cliché of taking it one week at a time, and focus on tonight's game with the 17th-placed Suns.
"You have an understanding of what's coming up, but certainly it's no more important than this week," he said. "Gold Coast has been playing some good footy. We're well aware it will be a tough game.
"Their forwards (Tom Lynch and Charlie Dixon, who kicked seven goals between them against Adelaide last week) are in good form, so it'll be a good challenge for us."
Hurn, 27, is understandably enjoying his first season in charge after the Eagles finished ninth last season.
"I've been really pleased with the way the blokes are coming along and taking ownership and really wanting to get something out of football," he said. "It certainly makes the job easier."