Why Harley Reid is just one drawcard of an impressive, improving young group at the Eagles


Harley Reid may be the headline act, but West Coast has plenty of long-term prospects that have taken strides forward in 2024.

It’s been a tough few years for the Eagles and the AFL world has treated the club as more of a punchline, than a club going through a down period.

The style was uninspiring, largely without purpose, and the effort simply wasn’t there a lot of the time. The improvement is so clear.

Their contested possession rate has improved from just 35 per cent to 40, they averaged eight disposals per inside 50 which is now 6.9 in 2024, and last year, they hit the scoreboard just 40.1 per cent of the time they entered the forward arc, which is up to 41.5 per cent this season – that’s better than Essendon.

Despite missing their best offensive threat, co-skipper Oscar Allen, their ability to hit up marking targets in the forward 50 has improved significantly, averaging two more marks inside 50 per game.

The improvement in attack has predominately come from the massive breakout season for Jake Waterman, who has kicked 30 goals in 10 games and is ranked second in the league for marks inside 50, sixth for contested marks and 13th for overall score involvements.

Now Waterman himself at 26 years of age is hardly a youngster, but the undersized key forward is representative of the new generation of aggressive, hungry Eagles that truly, we haven’t seen in a long time.

Reid’s been awesome and has been provided a spark that has inspired some incredible performances by veteran teammates who’d previously looked a bit lost.

Harley Reid and West Coast teammates. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The 19-year-old is averaging 17 disposals and five clearances a game, but his impact can’t purely be numerical.

He brings energy, he brings a raw power and presence that has made the likes of Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly protect him and the likes of Jack Darling and Jamie Cripps to keep working hard up the ground and offering options, or just clearing space.

His suspension is disappointing but comes at a good time in the season for him to have a break. It was one of the very few examples in the last two months where his teammates didn’t support him well enough, having been tagged and getting frustrated.

For the most part, in recent times, the Eagles have done more to help Reid than he may even be providing the Eagles.
Kelly is an elite midfielder who gets no love because of who he plays for.

At Geelong, year after year he was rated elite for clearances, contested possessions, pressure acts and well above average for score involvements and tackles – and if he’d stayed, now he’d be lauded and even promoted as a regular fringe All-Australian.

Yeo’s been better than anyone could’ve asked for, as an injury-prone quasi-defender, but really just a great inside midfielder.

They’ve been Reid’s partners in crime, and it’s affected some on-ball minutes of Reuben Ginbey, but they’re giving their young teammates instruction through action.

Ginbey’s an interesting one, profiling as a pure inside midfielder, yet having some versatility in his junior days.

The numbers aren’t great, but there are moments in games that have been hugely positive. At times, he has been in the defensive 50 and, whether it be through planning or just happenstance, has had to defend a dangerous small forward and outmarked them.

Even through the midfield, it’s noticeable that the 19-year-old’s confidence is growing and uses his power to good use. It can be easy for young players to become timid in these situations, but it’s becoming the opposite for Ginbey.

In attack, there have been some really nice signs from Jack Williams as a young tall, and Ryan Maric has played a variety of roles in the forward 50 and has his moments.

Liam Duggan and Elliot Yeo lead the team from the field. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The concept of missing two extremely inexperienced players seems silly, but Noah Long’s shiftiness and cleanliness have been noticeably absent since he went down with a season-ending injury, while Elijah Hewett might be the second-best young talent the Eagles have.

A lot of West Coast’s improvement though, has been driven by defensive strides taken and they are not really attributable to Reid, as much as we like to celebrate him.

Brady Hough deserves some attention in this regard, as one of the big improvers that has lifted the quality of the young group.

He’s another one where the numbers aren’t very special, but they undersell his obvious development.

Physically, he’s a lot stronger and is getting confident in that fact. He’s often defending one of the more dangerous prospects of the opposition and while he can get beaten, his closing speed is causing issues for the opposition, as is his general length.

He’s become a mainstay in a defensive 50 that, while it still concedes at far too high a rate, has continued to be quite aggressive in its attack on the opposition.

The Eagles have gone from conceding the most inside 50s per game, to the sixth-most, conceding fewer than the Cats, Demons and Giants.

Jeremy McGovern is a brick wall ????#AFLEaglesSaints pic.twitter.com/NKF5LxSnb6

— AFL (@AFL) June 1, 2024

Jeremy McGovern is obviously the lynchpin of the defensive group, as an elite interceptor and the only, actual quality stopper – Tom Barrass is a good player but has historically poor one-on-one numbers.

But in having the likes of Hough, the mix of Harry Edwards or Callum Jamieson, and even the transforming Alex Witherden, the Eagles have shifted tactically to an aggressive style that tries to minimise isolation and promotes their own players attacking the ball.

It doesn’t always work and can result in huge scores against, but coach Adam Simpson giving younger players a license to attack the ball and the man, we’ve seen a mostly hungrier Eagles team that has their game more congested than in recent seasons.

We’ll get to see the returning Jai Culley, who just needs a good run at it to show that he has high-range AFL qualities. There’s a bullishness in seeing what mid-season draftee Jack Hutchinson can add to the forward line too.

Allen’s due to return sooner rather than later, it feels like we’ve forgotten about him.

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It has all led to an incremental rise up the ladder for the Eagles but most importantly for coaches and fans alike, a decidedly large step in the right direction overall, stylistically, tactically and in the numbers.

Now, without Reid for a couple of weeks, the Eagles will need to self-motivate, whether they’re favoured to win or face an uphill battle.

Results are largely inconsequential, regardless of how much noise people want to make. It’ll be about how the team plays and how individuals continue to find their paths, while the veterans guide them through.

There’s a lot of upside in these Eagles and they’re well worth shining a light on, especially without the main man there.
He might be their marquee player, but Reid isn’t the only young Eagle that has helped turn his team around.

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