West Coast has rolled the dice on Josh Kennedy to lead their attack after the dual Coleman Medallist was one of two changes to the side for Saturday night’s historic qualifying final against Collingwood at Optus Stadium.
The 31-year-old has not played since round 18 but his presence alongside fellow tall forward Jack Darling will pose structural headaches for coach Nathan Buckley and an inexperienced Magpies defence rocked by injury to key personnel throughout 2018.
Kennedy will replace first-year forward Oscar Allen who was omitted alongside unlucky veteran Will Schofield, with the Eagles match committee preferring the pace of 29-year-old running defender Lewis Jetta to help quell Collingwood’s dangerous blend of gun forwards who have propelled the Pies to their first final series in five years.
The Magpies have also recalled their own stars, with damaging midfielder Adam Treloar, veteran defender Tyson Goldsack and high-flying defender Jeremy Howe flying to Perth for the clash with the second-placed Eagles, replacing omitted trio Jack Madgen, Nathan Murphy and Adam Oxley.
Ex-Giant Treloar has been missing since round 14 when he sustained a rare double hamstring injury, while Goldsack has not played a senior match all year due to a knee reconstruction. Howe has missed the past four games with a corked thigh.
Darling, 26, missed four games from rounds 13-16 but returned to form against Brisbane in round 23, booting four goals to cap off his best regular season for the Eagles since the number 20 draft pick debuted in 2011.
The big-bodied West Coast talls will be complemented at ground level by dynamic rookies Willie Rioli and Liam Ryan, veteran sharpshooter Mark LeCras and the enigmatic Jamie Cripps, who is enjoying the best purple patch of his 141-game career, kicking 15 goals in his past six games in an Eagles forward line at times missing Darling, Kennedy and Ryan.
Collingwood has not beaten West Coast in Perth since 2009 but notched an important victory in the west in round 23 against Fremantle - it's first look at Optus Stadium - and holds an edge over West Coast in recent finals.
In 2011, the Pies prevailed by 20 points in a qualifying final at the MCG on their way to a grand final against Geelong, and then by 13 points against the Eagles in a 2012 semi-final at the same venue.
Will Hoskin-Elliot (39 goals in 2018), Jordan De Goey (36 goals), Josh Thomas (35), Jaidyn Stephenson (34), Brody Mihocek (23) and 211cm Mason Cox (20), who missed his side’s 35-point loss to the Eagles in round 17 at the MCG, have all fired this season and along with West Coast’s Kennedy (34 goals), Darling (42), Le Cras (29), Rioli (25), Ryan (17) and Cripps (33) form one of the league’s most potent and versatile forward lines.