West Coast Eagles lose two more stars in Shannon Hurn and Andrew Gaff for Melbourne clash
A pair of West Coast veterans are the latest to be sidelined, with the Eagles once again down to bare bones ahead of Sunday’s clash with reigning premiers Melbourne at Optus Stadium.
Former skipper Shannon Hurn and star winger Andrew Gaff were both ruled out by coach Adam Simpson on Friday afternoon, with the pair failing to overcome ‘niggles’ to their calf and quad respectively.
It leaves the Eagles again calling on their WAFL top-ups to complete a 26-man squad.
West Coast confirmed their final 22 later on Friday afternoon, with the omitted Patrick Naish joining Hurn, Gaff, and Jake Florenca as outs from last week’s loss to Brisbane. Midfielder Greg Clark was confirmed to return for his second game, with Alex Witherden, Bailey Williams and Jackson Nelson also in.
Hurn and Naish were the only two players to have started in all eight of the club’s games this year, with Naish looming as a likely substitute.
“He’s just done so much for us and as much as we would have loved to have managed him better this year, he’s got a little niggle with his calf,” Simpson said of Hurn.
“A very, very small one. But we don’t need to take the risk with him.”
WAFL top-ups Tom Blechynden and Sam Fisher join Naish and Hugh Dixon among the emergencies.
Simpson also said Willie Rioli would be sidelined for at least the next six weeks as he works to overcome his hamstring injury.
Simpson returned to the club on Thursday after spending time in isolation, with the coach reclaiming the reins from stand-in Matthew Knights ahead of Sunday.
“So many people have gone through it. So I’m no different than everyone else,” Simpson said of COVID.
“Crook for a few days, crawling up the walls by the last day and back in business yesterday.”
West Coast will start a rank outsider against a Melbourne outfit that has reeled off 15 consecutive wins, with the two clubs at opposite ends of the ladder and availability stakes.
“I know there’s a lot going on at the moment and we’re clearly not where we want to be. I think we’ve got 17 injuries today and add a couple of COVID cases on top of that,” Simpson said.
“So we want to produce a better output on field, but it’s a challenge. There must be at least 10 or 12 players that are unavailable that are in our starting 22.
“But that has given us opportunity and it’s given some of our younger players a chance to put their hand up at senior level. A couple probably underdone and not quite ready, but a couple of guys are going to grab that opportunity.
“We look at that as a positive, because I think it’s a short-term issue. It’s just where we’re at at the moment. But longer term, we’ve got a lot of work to do with our list and how we want to play and getting back on the winners’ list is important for us as well. But right now it’s a challenge.”
Melbourne are likely to field 21 of their starting 22 from last year’s grand final win in what will be the club’s first trip to Optus Stadium since their premiership triumph.
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