Senior coach Adam Simpson is calling for West Coast's midfield to rise collectively to again fill the void left by Luke Shuey as the star skipper faces another stint on the sidelines.
Shuey’s hamstring setback after a stunning return match is in the same area as his previous injury, meaning the dynamic 30-year-old will face a lengthier period out of action than a standard three-week recovery.
The Eagles held their own against Gold Coast in round one without Shuey and contested beast Elliot Yeo (groin), and were competitive after half-time in the narrow round two defeat to the Bulldogs before Shuey returned for the win over Port Adelaide.
With the likes of Nic Naitanui, Tim Kelly, Dom Sheed, Andrew Gaff, Liam Duggan and Jack Redden all in good form, the Eagles possess engine room depth and will lean on that group against St Kilda at Marvel Stadium.
“You’d like to think we don’t rely on one particular player, but it’s hard to replace A-graders,” Simpson said.
“As a collective I think we’re building. As a whole team, I think relying on one particular player is really dangerous.
“We lowered our colours against the Bulldogs, I thought we had a really good go against Port.
“That battle is always priority, isn’t it, in terms of success. If you can win the midfield battle, you’re going to give our forwards good supply – they’re pretty dangerous.
“That will be the same this week.”
The Eagles have options to come into the side, with Brendon Ah Chee facing a test after a hamstring scare, and Jarrod Brander could play more midfield time following his best game for the club with 21 touches and a goal in the win over Port Adelaide.
Promising youngster Xavier O’Neill is also a chance to be recalled after a 31-disposal effort in the WAFL season-opener, while last year's draftees have all shown their potential.
“He (O'Neill) went out of the side because Luke came in. He’s still got some things to work on, total football type of package we’re looking for, but he’s finding the ball,” Simpson said.
“It’s the next step for him as a young midfielder is to get his 30 at WAFL and keep working on the other areas of the game.
“The kids we drafted last year too, young (Isiah) Winder kicked five in his first WAFL game, Zane Trew has been really good for us and Luke Edwards as well. We’ve got options.”
The Eagles have plenty to play for on Saturday after a 2-1 start to the season, and will have added motivation to mark ever-reliable defender Brad Sheppard’s 200th game with victory against a St Kilda outfit on the rebound following consecutive defeats.
“He’s just grown into probably someone who was a bit maligned at the footy club to one of the crowd favourites to what he does for us,” Simpson said.
“He plays on the best small forwards and he’s a really good rebounding, intercept player as well.
“He’s been so good for us.”
While St Kilda's ruck has been an issue in recent weeks, Rowan Marshall could return for a key battle with Naitanui this Saturday, and Simpson expected a fierce contest under the roof.
“I think they’re going to come out swinging,” he said.
“I know ‘Ratts’ (St Kilda coach Brett Ratten) reasonably well, I know he’s a proud man, I know they’re a proud club and they’re coming off a really good base.
“They’ve had two weeks that they’ve been a bit off – that doesn’t mean they can’t play anymore.
“He’ll be looking for a bit of motivation and so are we.
“We’ve got a lot to play for as well, so we need to play at our best.”