FRESH off it’s inaugural AFL Women’s campaign, West Coast is the next team under the microscope in our club-by-club reviews.
The Eagles may have landed a couple of handy players at the nest in their maiden recruiting effort, but were one of the expansion sides which struggled to find their feet in faring only better than the winless Richmond with one win for the season. Scoring was real trouble spot for the newcomers, with a competition-low 85 points scored overall, which was far from enough to stay competitive since they would also concede 265 points up the other end.
Despite some hefty losses and a harsh initiation to the elite level, the Eagles’ opening win was a pure footballing highlight, and should give fans and players alike something to look back on fondly. Without further ado, we look back on the highs and lows of West Coasts’ first year in the AFLW, with a focus on the Eagles’ key performers and players to watch for in the future.
R1: lost to Collingwood by 27 points
R2: lost to Fremantle by 45 points
R3: lost to GWS by 28 points
R4: defeated Western Bulldogs by 4 points
R5: lost to Melbourne by 59 points
R6: lost to Gold Coast by 25 points
A solitary win perhaps puts some shine on what was an otherwise lacklustre set of results, with the fact that each loss came by 25 points or more not reading well in any capacity. The first AFLW Western Derby ended in a 45-point defeat just a week after Collingwood dismantled the newcomers first-up, but the Eagles’ lowest point arguably came via a 59-point thumping at the hands of Melbourne in Round 5. Barring that sensational Round 4 win over the Bulldogs, West Coast managed to score multiple goals just twice, while also conceding two totals over 60. Those numbers are hard to put a positive spin on, but the win would have given the Eagles a glimpse of hope.
SEASON HIGH: A thrilling maiden win on home turf
Enough of the dower talk – seeing West Coast hold on for its maiden win in the competition was nothing short of heartwarming. After losses of a combined 100 points in their first three outings, the Eagles somehow pulled one out of the hat against the Dogs, clawing their way back from a half time deficit to get ahead and stay there on home turf. West Coast’s 4.6 was double its next-best total for the season and its only venture past two goals in a game, with stars Emma Swanson and Dana Hooker leading the way. The Bulldogs may only have also managed one win for the season, but you would take the four points on any day ending with ‘y’.
SEASON LOW: Posting the (then) lowest-ever AFL Women’s score
Just eight days after West Coast’s spirit-lifting win came its most crushing loss upon a second trip to Victoria, going down to Melbourne by 59 points. It also marked a record no team wants to hold, with the Eagles managing what was then the lowest-ever total in any AFLW game – 1.1 (7). While that unfortunate feat was later taken by Richmond’s goalless effort, it was a fairly sour note to come just over a week after that incredible win. Hooker and Swanson were again the main ball winners, with Maddy Collier chiming in for her side’s only goal for the day.
FIVE KEY PERFORMERS:
Dana Hooker (19.7 disposals, 2.7 marks, 6.8 tackles, 3 rebound 50s, 2.8 inside 50s)
An out-and-out star of the competition, Hooker proved her worth as the club’s most high profile signing across another stellar year. The durable former-Fremantle midfielder made history by booting West Coast’s first-ever goal, and carried herself with pride in a team which suffered some heavy defeats. Hooker led the club for disposals, contested possessions, marks, and tackles to end the year as the only Eagle to be named in the All Australian squad.
Emma Swanson (17 disposals, 2.2 marks, 4.5 tackles, 2 rebound 50s, 3.3 inside 50s)
Hooker’s partner in crime through midfield, Swanson had arguably her best season since debuting for GWS in 2017 as another ever-present in the Eagles’ best half-dozen. The 25-year-old provided the perfect midfield partnership with Hooker, working hard to push the Eagles forward from the contest. She would end the year leading her club for clearances, inside 50s, and metres gained, perfectly encapsulating her role in the engine room.
Imahra Cameron (13.8 disposals, 2.5 marks, 3.5 tackles, 1.3 rebound 50s, 1.3 inside 50s)
One of West Coast’s best mature-age finds was Cameron, with the 23-year-old growing strongly into her debut AFLW campaign. Often partnering Swanson and Hooker in midfield while also drifting forward, the zippy 163cm recruit was one of the Eagles’ more consistent contributors despite her more flashy style. Her season total of 1.4 in front of goal could have taken her season to the next level if it were for better accuracy, but Cameron was influential nonetheless.
Parris Laurie (9 disposals, 2 marks, 2.7 tackles, 18 hitouts)
Completing the typical centre bounce quartet is Laurie, who fared well in her second AFLW season through the ruck. Another of West Coast’s recruits from rivals, Fremantle, Laurie upped her aerial impact this year with greater numbers in both the marking and hitout department. While she may have liked to find the goals more when drifting forward, 178cm ruck’s tap craft was solid for a someone slightly undersized in the position.
Belinda Smith (11 disposals, 1.7 marks, 2.8 tackles, 3 rebound 50s)
Plying her trade this year at a third AFLW club, Smith was certainly kept busy as one of the mainstays in West Coast’s defence. Across all six games, Smith was reliable at her best with leading numbers in the intercept possession and rebound 50 stakes, while also boasting a respectable disposal efficiency of 68 per cent. It was a solid year for the 24-year-old in a vital role among an under siege back five, and she will only get better as the Eagles work on possession retention.
Mikayla Bowen (10.3 disposals, 5.2 tackles, 1 rebound 50)
One of the first Eagles signed was Bowen, who lived up to the bill as a pre-listed player in her debut year after claiming WA’s MVP award at last year’s Under 18 national championships. In a tough side to start out in, Bowen steadily found her feet and performed consistently with a particular liking for the tough stuff. The young gun was only second to Hooker in tackles for West Coast this season, and has a bright future.
Niamh Kelly (9.7 disposals, 1.5 marks, 2.3 tackles, 1 rebound 50)
A surprise packet in the sense of her unknown ability coming into the season, Kelly became a key member in West Coast’s side with her daring run on the outside and ability to sneak forward. She was hard to stop when on song, and should benefit from more time in the game after transitioning from her native sport in Ireland with sister, Grace.
Others who stood out: Ashlee Atkins, Hayley Bullas, Chantella Perera
Three pretty different players round out the list here for West Coast, with a key defender and two forwards playing their part. Atkins was one of the few Eagles to find the big sticks while also setting up others, and Bullas was the only one to find them twice as her side’s inaugural leading goalkicker. Up the other end, mature-age draftee Perera was a rock at the back across five games, playing her role as a dour defender well upon getting a chance at the elite level.