West Coast coach Adam Simpson has declared the season starts now for his injury-hit and COVID-ravaged team, but concedes it may take time to get some players up to speed.
The Eagles are 0-3 and facing a second consecutive season out of the finals after enduring a horror few months.
Injuries to key players over the summer put West Coast behind the eight ball, and the club has been left decimated in recent weeks after a wave of COVID-19 swept through the player list.
West Coast put up a brave fight in a 15-point loss to North Melbourne in round two when 12 players were ruled out due to the AFL’s health and safety protocols
But the toll of the virus combined with mass injuries was clear to see in Sunday’s 55-point western derby loss to Fremantle.
West Coast were missing key players Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed, Luke Shuey, Tim Kelly, Tom Barrass, Jamie Cripps, Oscar Allen, Tom Cole, Liam Duggan, and Willie Rioli against the Dockers.
Shuey, Barrass, Duggan and Rioli are all strong chances to return for Saturday’s clash with Collingwood at Marvel Stadium, while Yeo, Kelly, Cripps, and Allen aren’t far behind.
Simpson expects to have the majority of his best 22 back out on the park within the space of three weeks.
But he knows names on paper won’t automatically translate into success.
Last year, West Coast regained a bunch of their best players in the second half of the season, but they went on to lose seven of their last nine games to miss the finals.
“We went through this last year – we had some significant injuries that were long term,” Simpson said.
“They came back, I think it was the Bulldogs game (in round 15). On paper, we looked great. Then there was no ‘go’ on them when they came back (and lost by 55 points).
“We have to work hard not only to get them back, but to get them fit and match-hardened. It’s hard to do at this time of year, but we have to find a way.”
With the worst of the COVID wave now behind them, Simpson won’t give up on his team’s finals hopes despite the dire situation.
“There are a lot of stats about 0-3 and whatever percentage chance you are of not making finals, but you never know. We’re up for the fight,” Simpson said.
“We have some very good players on our list that we’ll get back and we’ll have a swing.”
Jamaine Jones is set to miss the Collingwood match after being subbed out of the derby with a hamstring injury.
Simpson says Kelly will miss at least one more match with a hamstring injury.