West Coast defender Sharrod Wellingham isn’t scared of wrestling a giant – and it’s all thanks to his defensive comrades.
The Eagles’ tight-knit defence has been one of the feel-good stories of the AFL season, with their ability to overcome the loss of key defenders Mitch Brown and Eric Mackenzie proving crucial in their charge to the preliminary final.
Will Schofield and Jeremy McGovern have played out of their skin to hold down key defensive posts this season, with the rest of West Coast’s back seven working superbly together to help stifle rival attacks.
The 186cm, 85kg Brad Sheppard has battled out of his weight division all year, while skipper Shannon Hurn, Sam Butler, Wellingham, Elliot Yeo, Matt Rosa, and Xavier Ellis have done the same at various points.
In last week’s qualifying final win over Hawthorn, Wellingham was pitted against spearhead Jarryd Roughead at times.
Wellingham conceded 8cm and 14kg in that David and Goliath battle.
But with the knowledge that his teammates were looking out for him, Wellingham wasn’t concerned one bit.
“You’ve just got to rely on someone coming over the back to halve the contest. That’s what we pride ourselves on – being able to work as a unit,” Wellingham said.
“We really do work off each other and try not to get caught in too many positions where you have to wrestle a giant.”
Wellingham’s career was at the crossroads at the end of 2014 following two underwhelming years at the Eagles.
But his move from the midfield to defence following season-ending knee injuries to Brown and Mackenzie has helped revive his career.
The 27-year-old premiership midfielder has enjoyed his most consistent season of his career to date, and he was quick to pay tribute to Eagles backline coach Adrian Hickmott.
“The belief and support that Adrian Hickmott has shown for our whole backline group has been awesome,” said Wellingham, whose hot form was rewarded with a new deal at the Eagles.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence going into each game.
“On a personal level, it’s been fun again.
“We’ve got such an amazing job, because we get to do what people do for fun.
“It makes it easier when you’re winning too.”
Wellingham was part of the Collingwood outfit that made a semi-final in 2008, a preliminary final in 2009, before winning the flag in 2010.
West Coast have the chance to go from ninth to premiers in the space of one year, but Wellingham said it was important for the players not to get carried away with their fairytale season.
The Eagles will take on either Sydney or North Melbourne in next week’s preliminary final in Perth.