A 25-disposal, 15-mark, six-goal WAFL masterclass from Jake Waterman looks set to propel him back into the AFL against Melbourne in Alice Springs on Sunday as the Eagles contemplate pitting 191cm makeshift ruck back-up Oscar Allen against giants Max Gawn and Braydon Preuss.
Waterman played 16 games in 2018 for 13 goals but has played just five times this season and has spent more than a month at WAFL level after being dropped following the Eagles’ round 12 loss to Sydney.
But he has kicked 14 goals in that time, peaking with a stunning performance against West Perth last weekend. He was one of eight players named on an extended bench yesterday. Potential first-gamers Francis Watson, Bailey Williams and Matthew Allen were also named.
Forward Jack Petruccelle, veteran Will Schofield and defender Jackson Nelson are others vying for the four interchange spots.
Coach Adam Simpson yesterday said the final Eagles team make-up boiled down to ruck options. They either pick Williams, 19, to play his first game, or back Oscar Allen to support Tom Hickey in the ruck.
The Eagles must replace injured pair Jamie Cripps and Nic Naitanui which means at least one and possibly both of Waterman and Petruccelle will play.
“I think we will be playing one if not two of those blokes,” Simpson said.
Simpson acknowledged Waterman’s form yesterday.
“He is 21 and probably too good for WAFL and not holding up in the AFL, which happens a lot in a young person’s career,” Simpson said.
“It is about opportunity and confidence and getting that breakout five or six weeks.
“I don’t think he is too far away from having a consistent AFL career.”
Williams, the 35th player taken in last year’s national draft, was “in the mix”, Simpson claimed.
“Playing Oscar as the second ruck is in the mix as well,” he said. “We are going to have to try a few things to see what is the best combination for us.
“Bailey Williams is an 18 or 19 year old 200cm prospect for us. Is he ready? He is not far off if he is not ready now and then Oscar Allen has done the job for us as a back-up ruckman probably four or five times for us this year.”
“It is probably about whether Hickey can carry the load like a lot of ruckman do. He can play almost the whole game, so if we played Oscar we would have to do that. Most teams do just play one ruck.
“We are aware of Gawn’s ability to win a game off his own hand, so that is going to be a challenge.”
Simpson said the Eagles had not yet given up hope that Naitanui (ankle) would play again this year, with the best-case scenario a six-week lay off making him ready for the start of the finals.