The West Coast Eagles’ night of nights will see the 2021 John Worsfold medallist honoured at Crown Perth’s Grand Ballroom this evening.
Below, westcoasteagles.com.au has profiled leading contenders for placings in the coveted club champion award, which will be livestreamed on the club website from 7.20pm, thanks to Telstra.
Voting system: after every round, each player’s performance was rated out of three by four members of the match committee, meaning a player can poll between 0-12 votes in any game.
The fourth season of Allen's exciting career was his best yet, with the 'Mr. Fix It' of West Coast's side making an impact in attack, the ruck and defence as he continued to blossom. Allen played 21 matches and booted a career-high 28 goals, highlighted by a superb five-goal haul in the uplifting round five triumph over Collingwood. He had 16 goals to his name after six rounds, and continued playing a valuable role in the side as the season progressed, bravely pushing through ailments to do a job for the side. The future is incredibly bright for the West Perth product, who was named in the AFL Players' Association 22 under 22 team this year.
If you’re not at the ground watching Cripps it can be difficult to gauge exactly how important the selfless half-forward is to the team’s structure, but you can be certain the coaches don’t overlook his workrate and pressure. He ranked sixth in the AFL for tackles inside 50 – an area of the game he perennially excels at – and kicked 26 goals. It was the seventh time in the past eight seasons he has kicked at least 26 majors, highlighting his consistent output in a potent forward line. Cripps' best performance was undoubtedly the stunning five-goal haul against Adelaide in round 18, which was an equal career-best bag for the 29-year-old. Cripps led the Eagles for score involvements and ranked third for pressure acts in a consistent campaign where he played every match. His previous best finish in the club champion award was fourth in 2018.
For the fourth time in his career the powerhouse forward claimed West Coast’s leading goalkicker award, pipping stalwart Josh Kennedy in the final round with his third goal against the Lions. Darling finished with an accurate 42.19 and, not including last year’s COVID-impacted shorter season, it was his fifth season in a row of kicking at least 40 majors. Darling, who has finished top 10 in the best and fairest eight times, started and finished the season strongly and could surprass his previous best finish of fourth in the club champion award from 2012.
The ever-consistent running machine was one of the reliable cogs in an injury-hit engine room in 2021, and will almost certainly see his streak of nine-straight top 10 finishes in the club champion award (including eight top-five placings) extended to double figures. Gaff led West Coast for disposals and was third for metres gained and inside 50s, with the wingman enjoying a purple patch between rounds 3-12 when he averaged 31.4 touches. There are few better than the classy Eagle at linking up play between the arcs and the 2015 John Worsfold medallist’s mental toughness is an underrated factor of his ability to consistently perform at a high level.
A blazing start to his second season in blue and gold was a significant factor in West Coast reaching round nine with a 6-3 win-loss record and the nasty-looking knee injury Kelly suffered against Essendon was a cruel blow for both him and the Eagles at the midway point of the season. Kelly’s best was on display in the first RAC Derby, when he dominated with 42 disposals and 13 clearances to claim the Glendinning-Allan Medal. There were also some strong performances on the run home as he regained match fitness and confidence in his knee, and after finishing seventh in last year’s count the 27-year-old looms as a podium contender, despite missing three matches.
After being named as the Eagles’ sole representative in the Therabody All-Australian team following another phenomenal campaign, reigning club champion Nic Naitanui looms as the man to beat for the 2021 John Worsfold Medal. It is a testament to the marquee big man’s hard work and determination that after two knee reconstructions he has missed just one match over the past two seasons, while performing at a mesmerising level on a regular basis. Naitanui leapt to the top of the Official AFL Player Ratings as the best footballer in the competition during the year, and while the statistics make for impressive reading, the eye test of watching him influence the contest makes it impossible to argue that he is not among the game’s elite. His finish to the season with finals on the line was truly astonishing, with the star ruck piling up 24 disposals, 22 contested possessions, 53 hit-outs and 11 clearances in a bid to keep West Coast’s season alive.
With skipper Luke Shuey and bullocking star Elliot Yeo out of action, Redden received more time at the coalface around stoppages in the first half of the season and was a rock for the injury-hit midfield to rely on. His 37 disposals in round five against Collingwood was a career-high and he was sensational between rounds 7-9 as the Eagles got on track with three-straight wins over Fremantle, Hawthorn and Adelaide. Redden was also struck down by the club’s injury curse when he suffered a fracture in his tibia below the knee, but bounced back strongly after just three games on the sidelines. The rugged onballer ranked third for disposals at the club and fourth for tackles per game in what was another excellent campaign as the ‘drummer in the band’ rarely receiving the limelight but instrumental to the performance.
Entering his eighth season, the 26-year-old appeared primed for a big campaign after a standout summer on the training track and Sheed’s opening half of the season was up there with any Eagle as he relished more responsibility in the engine room. His round five performance against Collingwood (28 disposals, three goals) and round 11 effort against Essendon (43, one) were particularly notable, but he was in the thick of the action in most games. Sheed ranked second at the club for disposals and fourth for contested possessions. The 2018 Grand Final hero would appear set for his best finish in the John Worsfold Medal after only cracking the top 10 once before, when he placed eighth overall in 2019.