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Nic playing 75-80 minutes anywhere, let alone the ruck is pipe dream stuff.Thanks all for the positive feedback.
Many of the points being raised will be discussed in parts to come.
The proposed tactical approach that shall be put forward sees Naitanui to spend 75-80 minutes in the ruck, with Allen and Darling providing about 25-30 minutes and 10-15 minutes respectively.
Allen would be conserved through rotating solely within the defence when not rucking and reducing his total time on ground to about 70%.
That Simpson came out recently to the press and stated that Nic will ruck for 85 minutes helps to validate the potential viability of this.
He is about to complete his first full preseason in at least four years, his fitness should be much improved over recent seasons.Nic playing 75-80 minutes anywhere, let alone the ruck is pipe dream stuff.
Part 2 of Simmo's interview with the west. Interesting comments about players, especially NicNat, Oscarallen and Brander.
West Coast Eagles coach Adam Simpson’s must-read interview ahead of 2020 AFL season: New captain, and why goals won’t define Josh Kennedy
MD: What do you expect from Josh Kennedy?
AS: He has had a good pre-season because he has been on the track. He is a champion of the game and expectations of him are always at a level that are very hard to meet. He went 60-plus games kicking at least a goal every game. The week he didn’t kick a goal I was asked if I was going to drop him. He is getting to the back of his career. He will still have games when he will blitz. He will have games where he just contributes and hopefully we still win. I look at what JK does in a similar vein to what Jack Riewoldt does for Richmond. You wouldn’t say the team is centred around Riewoldt but you would say that he is an important part of their team. That is how I see Josh. I don’t look at how many goals he kicks and he doesn’t either. The way he trains is the way he plays. He just smashes himself and backs couldn’t keep up with him. That is going to drop a bit at 33 but that doesn’t mean he can’t deliver. Expectations just shouldn’t be as high as they used to be.
Jack Darling finding another level in the last two seasons has helped with that hasn’t it?
You need support. Jack has been in pretty good form for his whole career. He elevated so quickly that there became this expectation of performance that is difficult to reach all of the time. Those two boys probably play the two hardest positions on the field. Jack has put together a magnificent career. He has played nearly 200 games, hasn’t missed too many and he hasn’t let us down too often.
What do you do with Oscar Allen this year?
We have been looking both forward and back and it is not locked away yet. People keep saying he could be a great swingman. As much as I think he can play at both ends we probably need to settle him a bit. He is 20. We have got patience. He has had a bit of an interrupted pre-season. He had a hernia around Christmas time. We will find out in the next couple of weeks where we need him and we will try to settle him down a bit.
Brander is going really well. He had a bit of a hamstring setback a couple of weeks ago. He just turned 21. He is six foot five, great tank, work ethic and he has set himself up for a good year. Whether we play him midfield or forward would be the two areas we will look at. He could be a really good wingman. He fits the profile we are looking for. Chris Masten is going to be a loss because he was very selfless for us. One of his strengths was his running patterns and the way he helped our team. He was maligned sometimes but he was very important to our system. We need to look at who is going to replace that and that might be a Brander. In the course of the Marsh series we would say he will have a stint there.
Willie Rioli has two doping infractions to answer but the one that is very serious is the tampering with the sample. Will the club make sure it has chaperones with players when they give samples in future or is it up to the player?
I probably shouldn’t comment because I don’t know what the process is now. The whole situation is something I can’t comment on.
How is he?
He is OK. He is with his family, he has got another baby due on March 13. It was really important that he came back to the club because no one had seen him since the semifinal. If he was a WA boy he would have been popping in at some stage but because he has been at Tiwi and Darwin it was really important that he came back. He was back for a few weeks. He trained and now he has gone back to his family. That was an important few weeks for him and for our players as well.
It has been mentioned that he had to rebuild trust. Was that overstating things?
That is a natural question. The players needed to hear Willie talk. I wasn’t in there when he spoke to the players but I am assuming he would have expressed remorse for the whole situation. Then the players needed to follow up on how they respond.
Will you be a two-ruck team this year?
That will depend on Nic. He has completed a lot of the pre-season and hasn’t had too many missed seasons. He still won’t be able to ruck 110 minutes of footy. Often without Nic we have played two rucks but that second ruck has got to be able to play forward.
This is one of the riddles with Oscar Allen isn’t it because he played that role at times last year?
He was second-ruck to Hickey for a big part of the year and Tom Hickey is a 110-minute ruckman so Oscar had to handle 25 to 30 minutes in the ruck and plus he had to play forward and for a 20-year-old that was a big ask. I don’t know if he can sustain a full year doing that and that was with a ruckman who rucked 100 minutes. Nic will ruck for 85 minutes. To have Nic and Oscar working together we would have to really elevate Oscar’s ability to play a full game. That will come but it will take a while to get that continuity and ruck craft. I haven’t got an answer for that yet. We are still working on it.
What is the biggest issue facing the game. What concerns you the most?
The general consensus is that we would like the scoring to go up so what buttons do you need to push for that. If you really want to change the game you are probably going to have to change the numbers on the field. You are going to have to reduce it. There are too many ways to work around ruck rules. Every time we play 14 on 14 or 16 on 16, the game opens up and scoring increases. It is not an issue for me right now but if it continues to be the brief, that they want to increase scoring, then what rules are the AFL going to manipulate to get that. That is not a concern for me. It is just an observation on where it might go. I think the game is in a pretty good position. I think it has elevated again in terms of a spectacle and the players are at the forefront on how they represent themselves as characters and personalities. It is marketed well. But if the purists want to get the game to another level they are probably going to have to do something drastic.
Mental health has become a key issue in the AFL. Are you concerned?
I am proud to be at a club that really values mental health not just for players but for staff as well. The stigma of support as a hindrance to selection is gone. There is no longer players thinking I have an issue but I don’t want to tell the coach because I won’t get a game or I will get delisted. We are working towards a position where no one feels that is a threat. Hopefully we are in that spot now. We want the mechanisms and resources we provide to not only help them get better as footballers but also that their mental health and well being in the long term is really important to us. We have evolved to a position where it is OK to ask for help and we try to provide as much help as we can. I learnt a few years ago how much support the players need and how much pressure they are under. It doesn’t give them an excuse to under perform but we have got their back in every situation and that is important. No one is perfect. Mistakes will be made. We don’t stick our head in the sand with issues but they are all good people and we are here to support them.
It is almost nine months since Daniel Venables’ concussion and he is still not 100 per cent. How concerned are you for him?
That is the priority. He has been like this for probably six months. It is not a new issue for us and it is a waiting game. It is not a quick fix and he has to take his time. We are not thinking about the football aspect. I am trying to respect his privacy on this as well. There is no rush to act on anything related to footy at this stage. It is a sensitive issue. It is just making sure he wakes up feeling good every day.
Are you proud of the style you have been able to develop?
It doesn’t matter as long as we win. We want a system that is sustainable. That is what we look for. The question early days on us was inconsistency. There was the flat track bully conversation. I don’t think that is about the style. It was about us developing resilience as a playing group. They complement what we are trying to push out there as a way of playing but they do it their own way. I can’t sit here and say this is exactly the way we want to be playing. The players take away a description and make it their own and you have to have the confidence to let them develop it. That is what has happened with us. Our leaders have really taken charge with some of the things. We look back on certain things and think that is in a good space and the players have really driven those things. But we have to keep evolving. We finished sixth last year. We need to get better.
Was it the right time to change the captain?
I think so. We have got a list that has got a lot of maturity. It is not an ageing list. We are getting older but we are not just hanging on. Luke Shuey is still at his peak and we have four or five guys like that. Once Shannon (Hurn) makes a decision he makes it. We moved pretty quickly. Players voted, Luke Shuey was a stand out. I thought the club handled it pretty well. Shannon is still here and Luke hasn’t changed at all.
AS has always given optimistic estimates regarding Nic's TOG and rucking time. In reality he just doesn't get close. Naitanui is a burst weapon. 65 - 70 % max is more realistic which means a second ruckman, not OAllen. Allen was backing up Hickey who Simpson correctly described as an 'all day ruckman'.
85 minutes is 70%AS has always given optimistic estimates regarding Nic's TOG and rucking time. In reality he just doesn't get close. Naitanui is a burst weapon. 65 - 70 % max is more realistic which means a second ruckman, not OAllen. Allen was backing up Hickey who Simpson correctly described as an 'all day ruckman'.
Totally agree.I think Vardy started to really find some form at the end of last year in WAFL.WC should have played him in the elim against Geelong we could have used his presence.Very few people hit a pack as hard as he does.A fit and firing Vardy in 2020 may be vital. NN unlikely to spend the amount of time rucking to rely on Allen as the only chop.out, Hickey should only be in the team if he is sole ruck. Vardy in 2018 form would gives us a genuine forward threat when NN is in the ruck and can ruck up to 50% game time if required. His 2019 form was sub WAFL standard so I hope he gets back to what he was. We can't play NN and Hicky together.
Whilst a fit and firing Vardy would be useful, I just don't think he is that good. He is solid backup but I would be going Williams if we are wanting two rucks. Agreed that Hickey should preferably only be in as a first ruck (i.e. if NN is out) unless form and injury dictate otherwise.A fit and firing Vardy in 2020 may be vital. NN unlikely to spend the amount of time rucking to rely on Allen as the only chop.out, Hickey should only be in the team if he is sole ruck. Vardy in 2018 form would gives us a genuine forward threat when NN is in the ruck and can ruck up to 50% game time if required. His 2019 form was sub WAFL standard so I hope he gets back to what he was. We can't play NN and Hicky together.
What has Williams done to show he is better than Vardy? He is a good prospect and that is all. Vardy in form and fit is more than useful 2nd ruck. If it weren't for.him we don't win the 2018 flag.Whilst a fit and firing Vardy would be useful, I just don't think he is that good. He is solid backup but I would be going Williams if we are wanting two rucks. Agreed that Hickey should preferably only be in as a first ruck (i.e. if NN is out) unless form and injury dictate otherwise.
Edit: Noting that the reason i don't thing Vardy is that good being largely injury driven. He just hasn't had a good run at it and I am not sure his mobility is as it should be as a result.
Thanks for this incisive write-up. Stats can be misleading unless they're put in the right context, which you've done. I'm ready for the season now. February is the definition of bleak in this part of the world. The sun is about to start shining again, only 30 more sleeps until it rises.The Positives
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Despite the negatives listed previously, the club did do some things very well in season 2019.
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Genuine Inside 50s refer to team inside 50s minus opposition rebound 50 totals.
The control-orientated gameplan was still largely effective during matches – the team were able to retain possession and dictate play for large periods. But it was the efficiency of the attack that stands out.
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When other parts of the team faltered at times, it was the potency of the forward line that led the charge and kept the team ahead of the bulk of the competition in 2019. The Kennedy-Darling axis combined to kick 100+ goals in a season for the sixth time in the club’s history and for the second consecutive season, four other players were able to contribute 20+ goals (Cripps, Ryan, Petruccelle and Allen) – that three of those four were playing in just their second season is very promising for the longer term future of the club. More than any other team in the competition, West Coast was able to convert territory gains into goals.
The opposition may have opened up some wounds, but the defence still maintained its functionality from 2018. McGovern still led the league for intercepts in spite opposition tactics against him and Hurn also placed inside the top ten for that statistic. The defensive unit still remains very strong if the opposition ball movement further up the ground can be thwarted.
The top-line quality of the Eagles’ midfield rated as arguably the strongest in the competition during the 2019 season. Shuey, Yeo, Sheed and Gaff each excelled and drove the team forward – but apart from Redden there was insufficient support for their efforts. The addition of Kelly for the coming season may be what the group needs to go to the next level.
2018 Premiership player Chris Masten has been delisted into early retirement, whilst the fringe has seen a clean-out with M.Allen, Bines, Brooksby, McInnes, Mutimer, Riach and Smith each cut from the squad. Ah Chee and Brayshaw were also removed with the assurance they would be given spots on the rookie list.
One of the biggest trade events in a decade finally brought Tim Kelly to his desired home at West Coast. With business done early, the rest of the exchange period was quiet with no other players going in or out.
By virtue of the Kelly trade, the club’s first selection in the draft was not until the third round. The new additions came as follows:
Ah Chee and Brayshaw were picked up with Rookie selections 33 and 39 respectively as previously assured by the club.
- Pick 49: Callum Jamieson – raw, mobile ruckman from Claremont.
- Pick 58: Ben Johnson – small half back from West Perth with reputation for impressive disposal by foot.
- (Rookie) Pick 11: Anthony Treacy – mature-aged livewire small forward from Cable Beach via Claremont.
- (Rookie) Pick 25: Mitch O’Neill – dual U18 All-Australian midfielder from Tasmania.
With Rioli likely due to miss the season due to his ASADA infraction and Venables still struggling to recover from the severe concussion injury that prematurely ended his 2019, it remains probable there will be two list spots available for the supplementary and mid-season drafts – with a replacement small forward being the priority.
Hurn made the surprise move to step down from the captaincy in order to focus more on his own game in a year where he will be turning 33. Shuey, as expected, was elevated to the role – a move that perhaps also aligns with a potential refocus of team approach from the defence to the midfield for the coming season.
The squad was strong and has been strengthened further. Defence, midfield and attack all have very high quality. The club should certainly be in the premiership race this year.
Uncertainties Going Into Season 2020
There remain several points of uncertainty as we approach the 2020 season. Some are regarding the performance of individuals, whilst others are more generalised, relating to how the team can be optimally pieced together. I shall discuss some of these in this next section.
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He is an icon of the sport; probably the most recognisable player in the competition and in marketing terms is the face of the club. He is also one of the most polarising of players in regard to people’s opinions. After all, we are describing a player that is averaging less than 12 disposals and 2 marks per game since 2012. A record that also over the same period only averages a goal for every second match played. Even Jack Watts easily outperforms him across each when considered like this.
I don’t consider Naitanui to be overrated – he has an outsized impact upon the game when on the ground that benefits his team-mates and improves the overall output of the team. I do however consider him to have not reached near what his potential could have delivered though. It is this perceived underachievement upon potential I believe, which drives much of the ire of his detractors rather than the actual output of his performances.
There was once the promise of a modern-day Polly Farmer that could have redefined the sport itself. However, he never developed his football brain, on-field smarts, situational awareness – whatever you want to call it, in addition to technical ability – he remains the same player, just bigger and older. For example, he is about to enter his 12th season in the AFL system yet still exhibits the following going back to the day he was drafted:
The result is a player who may have peaked at just 22 years of age before being impacted by injury. Even if fully fit, it is folly to expect for Naitanui to improve his game to a new level – the best that can be hoped is for a return of his form pre-ACL #1
- Gets lost in general play away from the stoppage
- Provides very little on the outside running through the midfield
- Simplistic forward craft – straight line leads towards ball
- Unable to make effective use of his body strength in one-on-one marking contests
- Kicking on the run resembles a baby giraffe taking its first steps
On the contrary, he is now approaching 30 with a history of two ACLs, having played only 20 games over the last three years – spending less than 60% time on ground across those matches when he has played. It’s likely that Naitanui is in decline and will require careful management over the season in order to prevent injury and burnout prior to the end of the season.
That said, despite injury and aging, Naitanui remains the most impactful player in the competition when he is on the ground:
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And that impact has a direct effect upon the outcomes of the team:
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The problem of course, is keeping him involved – his average time on ground figures have been declining steadily since 2012. This trend has accelerated after 2015 to such an extent that his overall impact is becoming severely limited:
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In addition, there is a knock-on effect elsewhere that negatively impacts the team and its rotations when it must carry a player that is spending almost half of each match on the bench.
Without question, finding a means of having Naitanui fit and available for longer durations within matches will be a major priority and factor in the coming season.
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Two first round picks and two second round picks, with a couple of third round picks coming back – that is the high price the club paid for Tim Kelly.
The farm has been sold and the future mortgaged in order to get him in blue and gold and bring one of the most drawn out and controversial trade sagas of recent times to an end.
But is the price paid worthwhile? Only time will tell. If the club goes on to win the premiership this year then it will be (rightly) argued that the end justifies the means. On the other hand, they will be judged to have passed up access to four good opportunities to secure new talent in exchange for a player who is turning 26 in July, thus limiting the regeneration of the squad for seasons to come.
There are also other considerations worth noting that may factor into acquiring Kelly at such a price:
So how good is Tim Kelly?
- Gaff’s impending free agency at the end of this season with Kelly doubling as an insurance policy against the worst
- The delisting of Masten, combined with Naitanui’s renewed terms allowed the club the opportunity to offer a sizeable contract for a player of Kelly’s ability without needing to sacrifice too much.
- It is without precedent for a top-level midfield talent to be traded to a club that is already established within a “premiership window” – particularly when it is an interstate club.
- After last season’s prolonged debacle, (and the disappointing end to the season on the field) the club may have been willing to pay more in order to ensure the deal was completed without delay.
In his two years at AFL level, Kelly has been a revelation. In seasons 2018 and 2019 he was a 22/22 player (i.e. averaged 22+ disposals per game and totalled 22+ goals for the season) – only two other players managed that feat in both years – P.Dangerfield and D.Martin.
This is a significant indicator for elite ability – since 2000 players with multiple 22/22 seasons have a 75% likelihood of also being a premiership player.
Just three Eagles players have managed this since 2000: Cousins, Judd and Shuey – with Judd being the sole multiple entrant. Each are premiership players and have won Brownlow or Norm Smith medals (in Judd’s case both) – not a bad list. Kelly in as many seasons has already managed this level twice – he has demonstrated both consistency in addition to ability – there is no better candidate in all the competition currently that can demonstrate this output at his age profile. To put it in Moneyball terms “Because he gets ball and kicks goals”.
Here is a list of every 22/22 player from the past 20 seasons:
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Gold dots denote premiership.
Black dots denote trade.
In 14 of those 20 years, the premiers had at least one player that went 22/22 that season – and all of the remaining 6 had players that had achieved 22/22 in a prior season.
The game may shift and evolve tactically, but the fundamentals remain the same: “Because he gets ball and kicks goals”.
If one considers comparable players (at least two 22/22 seasons in the last four and under the age of 30) who have changed clubs, then there are only four other instances since 2000 where this has occurred. In none of those exchanges was the receiving club placed in the top half of the competition. Kelly also represents just the second time a player has changed clubs directly after consecutive 22/22 seasons – Ablett leaving Geelong to join Gold Coast’s inaugural season being the only other example.
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Kelly joining the West Coast Eagles is thus unprecedented in the footballing modern era – a player that has gets high possessions and hits the scoreboard, and has done so over multiple seasons, joining a club that was already placed highly among the premiership favourites.
It’s hard not to get excited about that.
Furthermore, the club already had in place a strong midfield prior to Kelly’s addition. The six comprising of Shuey, Yeo, Kelly, Sheed, Gaff and Redden is arguably (on paper) the strongest in the competition by some margin and is comparable to midfields that have brought dynastic success in the past.
The club has invested in the recruitment of Kelly, a consecutive 22/22 player that is in the group most likely to accomplish it in 2020 – and may potentially continue to do so for another 3-4 years again thereafter. In this context, gaining Kelly may be a bargain despite the initial cost.
He may have taken a long time in coming, but all the signs are pointing to Kelly being very much well worth the wait.
“Because he gets ball and kicks goals”.