West Coast veteran Sam Butler is the last man standing – and he feels very weird about it.
Butler’s strong form this season was rewarded on Friday when he signed a new one-year deal with the Eagles, tying him to the club until the end of 2016.
When Carlton midfielder Chris Judd was forced into early retirement in June, it left Butler as the last remaining active member of West Coast’s 2006 premiership side.
Butler was just 20 years old and playing his 40th game when he tasted flag success as part of West Coast’s star-studded outfit.
The 29-year-old has only been able to add a further 95 games in the nine years since then, but he has the chance to taste premiership glory all over again as part of a new-look Eagles outfit.
West Coast will host either North Melbourne or Sydney in a preliminary final next week, and Butler said it felt strange to think that all his old mates from the 2006 premiership class are no longer playing.
“It feels very weird. I never thought it would come down to that,” said Butler, who has battled a string of injuries throughout his 12-year career
“It definitely doesn’t feel right.
“I’d love to have a few of those guys with me to lean on, the main one being Beau Waters.
“He’d still be playing if his shoulder could bear the brunt of it.”
Waters was forced to retire on the eve of the season after his reconstructed right shoulder failed again.
Butler and Waters have been close friends for more than a decade, and the bond remains strong despite Waters’ retirement.
“I still see him whenever I can. He’s always been the greatest of team men,” Butler said.
“The way he trained and played – he put his teammates on his shoulders a lot of the time.
“He can’t be more excited for the boys.
“It would be very easy for him to feel a bit bitter and feel like he’s missed out.
“But he doesn’t come across like that at all.
“He can’t wait to watch us play. He’ll be rooting for us as much as anyone.”
Butler, who was snared with pick No.20 in the 2003 national draft, has played an important role in West Coast’s rejigged defensive unit this season.
The Eagles were tipped to struggle once Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown suffered season-ending knee injuries.
Instead, West Coast are now warm favourites to win this year’s flag, with their undersized defence proving to be a strength rather than a weakness.
Midfielder Matt Priddis, who was on the Eagles’ list in 2006 but didn’t feature in the premiership, is expected to return from a thigh injury for next week’s preliminary final.