PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA - MAY 20: Jack Redden of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal during the round nine AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Richmond Tigers at Optus Stadium on May 20, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)

When West Coast lost convincingly to GWS in last year’s Semi Final at Spotless Stadium, it spelt the end of three decorated AFL player’s careers.

Two of those were former Brownlow Medallists, Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell and the other Drew Petrie, a brilliant forward at both North Melbourne and West Coast in the short time he was there.

Most experts were tipping that with the retirement of these three stars that West Coast would struggle in 2018, some even tipping the West Australian club to finish bottom of the ladder this year.

Well, haven’t these experts been proved wrong! The Eagles are sitting pretty at the top of the ladder after round 10 of this year’s AFL season, having won nine games in a row after dropping the first game of the year to Sydney at the new Optus Stadium.

One of the main reasons for the revival has been the return from injury of one of the competitions best ruckman, Nic Naitanui. The man known as ‘Nic Nat’ has been superb and whilst it isn’t his best year statistically, it is the influence that he is having on the game that has made the West Coast midfield one of the best in the competition.

during the round 10 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the West Coast Eagles at Etihad Stadium on May 27, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

He is still averaging 32 hit outs and 10 disposals which is pretty good considering he’s coming back from a serious knee injury and only playing 50-60% game time.

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The other man who has crept under the radar is former Port Adelaide Magpie, Scott Lycett. He is in career-best form and the perfect partner for Naitanui. Between the two they have helped West Coast record the second-most hit outs of any team in the AFL.

This has given first use to their star studded midfield including Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, Jack Redden and Chris Masten.

Gaff is one to watch out for on Brownlow Medal night. He always polls well and this year is averaging 30 disposals a game and impressively sitting fourth in effective disposals per game in the competition, which shows his efficiency is elite.

Redden is having his best year since crossing over from Brisbane and he’s another one who is relishing more opportunities this year following the retirements of Priddis and Mitchell.

The Eagles defence is also one of the strongest in the competition. Their fearless skipper, Shannon Hurn has taken 82 marks, the most of anyone in the competition. Jeremy McGovern is having another big year and continuously frustrating opposition coaches with his incredible ability to take intercept and contested marks.

Elliot Yeo is in great form too and he was one of the best against the Hawks last week in round 10 where he had 28 disposals, three marks and five tackles, playing wherever senior coach Adam Simpson needs him.

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Then there are Brad Sheppard, Tom Barrass and Liam Duggan in defence who are also having great seasons for the boys from the west.

Key forward, Jack Darling is in career-best form and he is currently second in the Coleman Medal race on 28 goals, only five behind leader Ben Brown from the Roos.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – MAY 20: Jack Darling of the Eagles kicks on goal during the 2018 AFL round nine match between the West Coast Eagles and the Richmond Tigers at Optus Stadium on May 20, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media)

Darling’s contested marking this year has been a real feature. With his partner in crime Josh Kennedy having injury problems, it has meant that Darling has had to step up and be the main man in the forward line and he has taken that in his stride.

West Coast’s new players in 2019 have also been super. Willie Rioli has been a livewire up forward, Liam Ryan was on fire before he got injured, former Port Adelaide midfielder Brendon Ahchee hasn’t missed a beat since he played his first game a few weeks. Jake Waterman is another one that’s been terrific.

The West Coast Eagles certainly deserve to be right up there with the premiership favourites, and much credit must go to Simpson and his coaching staff for putting them in a great position to win their fourth premiership.