MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Willie Rioli of the Eagles holds up the Premiership Trophy after the Eagles won the 2018 AFL Grand Final match between the Collingwood Magpies and the West Coast Eagles at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 29, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The impending return of suspended premiership player Willie Rioli has given the West Coast faithful something to cheer about, after a disappointing several weeks has their finals hopes in doubt. 

Rioli hasn't played a game of football since receiving a two-year ban back in late 2019, as he was caught tampering with his urine sample during an anti-doping drug test. 

The ordeal took place prior to the commencement of that year's finals, with the Eagles star made an example of given his history of troublesome behaviour, which included three seperate breaches of the Australian Football Anti-Doping Code. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 18: Willie Rioli of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal during the round 22 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the West Coast Eagles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 18, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Since his return to training in mid-June, Rioli has impressed the Eagles coaching staff with his improving fitness and work ethic, with coach Adam Simpson saying the following.

“He’ll be a conversation early in the week,” Simpson said after his side's loss to cross-town rivals West Coast.

“He’s done nothing but impress us and the players about how he’s gone about it, so we’ll have to weigh it all up and see how we go. But he’s training well and he’s had a really good block of fitness. So we’ll see how we go.”

However, this doesn't look like the only personnel change Simpson will make, as he also addressed the future of his playing group. 

“We know where we’re at. We know what’s in front of us. We know what we need to do,” Simpson said.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 25: Adam Simpson, coach of the Eagles sits on the bench at ground level during the AFL 2018 JLT Community Series match between the West Coast Eagles and the Port Adelaide Power at Leederville Oval on February 25, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

“So we’re working hard behind the scenes on what the next phase looks (like) for us, and it’s not on the basis of the last five weeks or today.

“There’s a lot of planning in place. The list profile will change, like it has a few years ago. We think we’ve got some good kids coming through."

While he was adamant that the mentioned process was inevitable and in spite of the string of poor performances put forth by his side, it’s quite clear this has merely accelerated the impending list-changes as the team has been in a slight and gradual decline since their 2018 Premiership. 

Since winning the Grand Final, the Eagles have finished fifth both in 2019 and 2020 with a semi-final loss to Geelong and elimination-final loss to Collingwood, looking less likely to push for another title with each passing season. 

AFL 1st Elimination Final - West Coast v Collingwood
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: Brody Mihocek of the Magpies celebrates the win during the 2020 AFL First Elimination Final match between the West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies at Optus Stadium on October 03, 2020 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Their disappointing loss to Fremantle on Sunday caps off a dismal stretch of defeats as the club braces itself for a hectic off-season. 

The Eagles currently sit in ninth place with a finals birth still mathematically possible, but are set to take on a red-hot Brisbane who look to make a top four push with a win.