WEST Perth has the Round 1 bye ahead of a derby next Sunday and coach Bill Monaghan is looking forward to seeing his strong key position player stocks in action along with how some emerging players step up in 2017.
The Falcons made the finals again in 2016 on the back of playing in two of the previous three WAFL grand finals, and winning the premiership in 2013. Monaghan is again hoping the Falcons are around the mark in 2017 but there are a lot of unknown quantities heading into 2017.
Following last year, West Perth has lost some significant experience and quality with the retirement of Luke Tedesco, and departures of Laine Rasmussen, Drew Rohde, Rohan Kerr, Joel Leeson and Max Duffy.
As a result, Monaghan is looking for the next wave of Falcons to step up in their absence including Ben King, Kris Shannon, Dean Munns, Corey Chalmers, Blake Wilhelm, Aidan Lynch and Brayden Antonio.
Then the core group at the Falcons including Aaron Black, Shane Nelson, Nick Rodda, Tyler Keitel, Luke Meadows, Kody Manning, Trent Manzone and Joe Morrow are all entering their prime.
With them topped off with strong veteran leadership from Jay van Berlo, Andrew Strijk, Chris Keunen, Steven Browne and Matt Guadagnin, Monaghan sees no reason why West Perth can't be around the mark again in 2017.
"We are fortunate that other than Luke Ted we haven’t lost anyone right at the top end of experience. Whilst we lost Rohan Kerr, Laine Rasmussen and Drew Rohde who are three guys who played a lot over the last two or three years, they are all 24 or under," Monaghan said.
"It's that middle tier that we've taken a bit of a hit in but our top end with van Berlo, Guadagnin, Keunen, Strijk and Browne are still there, and that has been one of the strengths of the West Perth Football Club to retain and have those guys guide the way.
"It's probably just accelerated for the next group with those guys who left so Corey Chalmers, Brayden Antonio and Kris Shannon are the ones we'll be looking to stand up because they are now in that middle section where they need to take over a little bit from where some of those guys who left were.
"Then what's also good about our squad is that guys Black, Nelson, Rodda, Meadows and Manning are all still relatively young in the big scheme of things. The eldest of that group is 24 so they do need to take their game to another level.
"If you look at Black and Nelson in particular as Sandover Medallists, club champions and premiership players, it's hard to see if they can take it to the next level but you would think at 24 they are entering that phase of their career where the next two, three and four years they should be at their absolute best."
Quality key position players are becoming harder and harder to find for any WAFL, which is why Monaghan is so glad to have Michael Lourey, Rodda, Keitel and Mark Hamilton at the Falcons.
Now the addition of former AFL-listed and VFL key position player Scott Simpson tops that group up nicely.
Simpson looks like settling in defence to play on the opposition's biggest key forwards allowing Rodda and Hamilton to likely help out down back with Lourey and Keitel settling in attack.
The good thing about all five players, though, is that they are versatile and can be moved around. To have five such key position players is something Monaghan is looking forward to working with.
"We are still fairly buoyant about our list and with Rodda and Keitel as young talls are still going to improve, and adding Scott Simpson this year is a little different to how we generally recruit. All of a sudden we have another big bodied, experienced player along with Mike Lourey," he said.
"That gives us a little bit more flexibility with some of our key positions and gives us some flexibility in how we use our ruckmen, and how we use Joe Morrow. Just adding that one extra genuine tall who can play forward, back or in the ruck has meant that we have been using Keitel forward.
"That's probably going to continue and all of a sudden with Keitel and Lourey up forward, and Simpson and Rodda down back we're hoping that will work out well for us and we can mix that around at times. We will have the chance to stretch opposition defences as well at times."
Another player who will be a virtual new recruit for West Perth is premiership midfielder Matt Guadagnin. After injuring his knee midway through 2015, he wasn’t able to get back for a league appearance last year despite his best efforts with hamstring troubles hindering his return.
He might again be a slow starter in 2017, but Monaghan has no doubt that once the 191-game tough on-baller is right to go, he will be given his chance to show he is still more than capable of being a strong contributor at WAFL level.
"Guady has got through the majority of the pre-season and the stuff he's done, he's done very well. He is a quality leader, a quality person, he has good skills and his organisation is outstanding," Monaghan said.
"He will probably be a slow starter to the season and one of the issues is that he works his own farm and the other week he pulled up sore after crutching sheep all day. He then sits in the car for a couple of hours. In terms of the soft tissue stuff, it's always going to be a battle for him.
"We think we're on top of that but we won't rush him. We think Matt at his best has a place in our side and can make us improve, but we haven’t put any set expectations on what we need from him or when he'll play.
"We'll let him find his feet and when he's comfortable he'll put his hand up to play, and we'll select him on merit. We're really excited to have him back in the fold and hopefully he will play some really solid footy for us."
West Perth will also be without premiership defender Browne for the start of the season as he battles a back complaint. Monaghan is unsure on a return date for the 139-game veteran.
"Browney's back is an on-going thing. He is tentatively booked in for some surgery at the end of the month, but he has a disc problem and by the time it gets to that, it might have settled down," Monaghan said.
"My understanding is it's very similar to what Kerry battled a couple of years ago, and Kerry took two or three months off to let it settle and gradually built back up. That's where the similarities probably end though because they do have very different body types.
"Kerry is a lightly framed, running player who could afford to avoid contact at times to help his back. But then you have little stocky Steven Browne who might be prone to carrying a kilo or two, but puts his body in spots where most people won't go and cops the contact accordingly.
"The injuries might be similar but the style of player and physique of the players might mean it has a different outcome for Browney than it did for Kerry."