There was a noticeable spring in the step of four Eagles at training on Wednesday, with Andrew Gaff, Liam Duggan, Jackson Nelson and Jarrod Brander released from quarantine to train with their teammates.
After returning from Victoria following trips home to visit family and friends over the Christmas break, the quartet were required to spend 14 days in quarantine.
While they were granted exemptions to train away from the rest of the West Coast squad, it was a sight for sore eyes seeing them re-join their teammates for a high quality skills session.
Gaff and Duggan showed they are ready to pick up where they left off from last year’s top-five John Worsfold Medal placings with some crisp foot skills in match simulation work at Mineral Resources Park.
Nelson and Brander appeared in terrific nick, and the remainder of West Coast’s quarantine crew – Daniel Venables, Alex Witherden, Bailey Williams, Jamaine Jones and Xavier O’Neill – will be welcomed next week.
“They came back a bit later,” senior coach Adam Simpson told 6PR on Tuesday evening.
“Unfortunately those guys have missed a bit of pre-season training.
“They’ve been allowed to do a few training drills on their own, but largely they’ve been stuck in houses.”
Venables’ return to the club after some time away from football will provide another lift to the squad, while Witherden, Jones, O’Neill and Williams will be keen to put their best foot forward given the brief lead up to West Coast’s opening pre-season clash with St Kilda on February 19.
Ruck-forward Williams appears an especially interesting prospect as a potential sidekick for star big man Nic Naitanui in 2021 given quarters will revert to 20 minutes plus time-on.
Oscar Allen, 21, contributed strongly as a pinch-hitter in the ruck last year, but his longer-tem future appears deep in attack.
“He’s a competitor, which is great, local boy and he’s probably a little bit of an understudy to Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling at the moment,” Simpson said.
“One thing that happened last year is he pinch-hit in the ruck for us, which was good for everyone. It got him in the game and allowed him to play in a different position.
“But I think with the game length going back out to 120-plus minutes we’ve got to look at that and see if that doesn’t burn him out. It’s OK when the game goes for 100 minutes and he’s chopping out for Nic Nat.
“We’ve got to work through that but I think his long-term position will be key position forward.”
Despite the unusual pre-season, including a later start and quarantine requirements, Simpson has been pleased by the motivation and physical condition of his players, keen to improve on last year’s elimination final exit.
“It’s hard to define because every season is a new one, but it just feels like there has been a bit of a gap now between 2018 and ’21,” he replied to a question about the squad’s ‘fire in the belly’.
“I feel like already there’s been a few different levers we’ve pulled in a week that we’ve been here. It’s a different feel and it’s exciting.
“The boys are in a pretty good space mentally, physically they’ve done the right thing on their own.
“It feels like a different journey, a different campaign and I think that’s the first step towards hopefully advancing a bit further and having a different spin on the season.
“I don’t know how well I explained that but it definitely feels like a different step towards hopefully some more success.”