Bulked-up Eagles ready for hardened Hawks

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Bulked-up Eagles ready for hardened Hawks

West Coast hope their summer of bulk will lead to spring time success when they confront the ‘unsociable’ Hawks in Friday night’s AFL qualifying final at Domain Stadium.

The Hawks have built a reputation around their hard and tough brand of unsociable football, and Eagles coach Adam Simpson has been a keen observer.

West Coast players were brushed aside last year by the bigger-bodied teams.

But a pre-season focused on bulking up their midfield brigade in the gym has produced handsome rewards for the Eagles.

West Coast shocked most pundits by finishing second on the ladder.

And now they have a chance to put a major dent in Hawthorn’s bid to win a hat-trick of flags.

But forecast rain and wind for Friday night is set to test West Coast’s new-found mettle against arguably the most battle-hardened outfit in the league.

The Eagles rank third for contested possessions, while Hawthorn sit 12th.

But Simpson – a former Hawthorn assistant for four years – is well aware of the Hawks’ ability to lift at the stoppages during the heat of finals football.

“Knowing Hawthorn, they elevate and there’s another level they’ll go to in the finals,” Simpson said on Thursday.

“And our job is to match that and put our own stamp on the game.

“We did recognise last year we were a bit light on for size.

“A lot of people talk about height, but I think size is important and obviously your intent.

“We did put a bit of size on the players without losing too much of our strengths, which is our endurance and work rate. Hopefully, we’re getting that balance right.”

Star ruckman Nic Naitanui was absent five weeks ago during West Coast’s 14-point defeat to Hawthorn.

Naitanui’s presence in Friday’s re-match could prove decisive as both teams vie for midfield supremacy.

About a third of West Coast’s best 22 are yet to taste finals action – a situation Simpson admits creates a bit of the “unknown” in terms of how his side will fare.

But he doesn’t view it as an out-and-out disadvantage.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be two teams battling for the same prize,” Simpson said.

“You can’t buy experience … but we feel we’re just as good a chance as Hawthorn are.”

Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge will have more focus on him than usual after being fined last week for a drink-driving offence.

But Simpson isn’t banking on Hodge to be distracted by the affair.

“I think he’ll play the way he’s been playing for 10 years, which is lead from the front, ‘follow me, boys’ type of attitude,” Simpson said.

West Coast welcome back defender Will Schofield from injury, but midfielder Chris Masten misses out after straining his hamstring in last week’s win over St Kilda.

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