Noah Long, Harley Reid, Adam Simpson, Alex Witherden and Oscar Allen. Pictures: AFL Photos

ADAM Simpson sets the tone for the balancing act that will follow in West Coast's match committee room. "I don't want today to be a punch in the face," the coach tells his seven assistants and analysts as they prepare for a pre-season match review.

The Eagles coaches are about to pick apart their loss to Fremantle in a match simulation, which highlighted some obvious flaws they were aware of but also showed the team is making progress in areas they have focused their recent attention.

"I need to make sure the positivity is at the right line today," Simpson continues as the group take their seats and plug in their laptops around a semi-circle table in front of a big screen, "but we can't paper over the cracks."

West Coast is at the start of an aggressive rebuild on and off the field, having changed 18 list spots in two years and 14 football department positions in that same period, with new chief executive Don Pyke in place to guide the new era.

To observe the work going into that rebuild, was granted behind-the-scenes access to the football department between the Eagles' two pre-season games as a young group of players and an energised coach embraced the task ahead.

For Simpson, there is a clear purpose to the Eagles' 2024 season after thinking as recently as last year that a bounce back to finals contention was still possible. This year is different.

"There's a sense of reality that we know what we're trying to do, and we want to get better with things on-field that will take time," Simpson told

Adam Simpson at West Coast photo day ahead of the 2024 AFL season. Picture: AFL Photos

"The minimum stuff you need to make yourself competitive is where we're heading – better in the contest, manic pressure, and front-half footy. Until we tick those boxes we can't take the next step.

"The clarity you see now, it's really evident that we’ve gone to the draft again and the locker room feels different. The kids have taken over."


To balance the coaches' feedback in this crucial pre-season week, Simpson is coding "appreciation clips" that he will later show the players. They include Reuben Ginbey pushing forward to apply pressure, co-captain Liam Duggan picking Harley Reid up off the ground, and every player celebrating a goal kicked by young ruck Coen Livingstone. All relate to an 'identity' the players are building for themselves.

Every player has also answered two questions after the Fremantle game to help guide the review – one about themselves and another about a teammate – and there are positives to be found in those answers, with ruckman Callum Jamieson particularly valued by his teammates after stepping into a new backline role.

Callum Jamieson and Jack Petruccelle pictured during a meeting at West Coast. Picture: West Coast Eagles

The flip side will come from a structural breakdown at long, down-the-line plays that will set up one of the coaching focuses for the week, and a lack of communication and connection in team defence.

It is clear from the scope of clips the coaches go through together that they are well aware of the varied issues highlighted in the 52-point loss, but there is a careful filtering process at play as they select which structural vision is most important to highlight to the players.

"I don't want to break 'em," Simpson says, describing the loss as "an opportunity to educate" and locking in a small handful of clips to present and talk through in a 30-minute team meeting that will follow shortly. Duggan's repeated care and encouragement for Reid is among them.

"We’ve just got to reward that, knowing we've got work to do," the coach says.

When the team meeting starts, Simpson opens with a reminder of the on-field identity the Eagles are chasing – 'manic pressure, contest, front-half footy', and a list under each of how the team achieves them. He's energetic and walks up and down the steps along the side of the auditorium.

West Coast coach Adam Simpson takes charge of a meeting. Picture: West Coast Eagles

There's a positive to kick off the meeting with a special mention for injured midfielder Elijah Hewett, who was at every break with the team, including those that weren't attended by line coaches. "That's a really good 'one-team' mentality," Simpson says.

The coach now wants the players to talk for 20 seconds among themselves about why the team lost the game, seeking feedback from the floor. For premiership forward Jamie Cripps it was fundamentals, while young goalkicker Ryan Maric has a structural observation the coaches had noted.

The fundamentals will be addressed on the track, where Simpson asks his players to focus on how well they prepare and train every session. The structure against Fremantle will be addressed now, as players and coaches go back and forth, working through specific scenarios from the game.

"You'll get better at this if you care about it, and I know you do," Simpson says.


Between pulling apart the Fremantle loss and preparing for the final practice game against Adelaide, football manager Gavin Bell is delving into the Crows' own rebuild in a detailed address to football department staff that gives context to West Coast's position in 2024.

Using Brisbane under Chris Fagan as another case study, Bell is outlining the two rival teams' list demographics, how they changed over four years of draft-led rebuilding, and what the Eagles can learn from them.

West Coast football manager Gavin Bell. Picture: West Coast FC

The club has also analysed its own history and list demographics through successful rebuilds that led to the 2006 premiership and a later run of six consecutive seasons in finals, that included the 2015 Grand Final and 2018 premiership. 

Bell's presentation in the club auditorium at 8am on a Tuesday shapes as a vision and blueprint for the Eagles' rebuild and provides valuable context for everything the club's staff, players and coaches are doing ahead of the 2024 season.

There is now a clear acceptance right across the club, including at board level, that West Coast is essentially at the start line of a build to top-four contention that will take years.

"We've got a picture through history of what these builds have looked like, and it's given us a bit of a blueprint of the path we need to take," Bell said.

"The key work we have done is getting a clear picture of what that top-four club needs to look like, being really aware and accepting of where we're at, and not sugar-coating anything. We're chipping away at the key gaps between where we are and where we want to get to."

Harley Reid poses for a photo during West Coast's team photo day on January 30, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Adelaide finished 18th with three wins in its first year under Nicks, the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, while Brisbane managed five wins under Fagan in 2017 on its way to a wooden-spoon finish.

Like West Coast leading into 2024 – albeit without changing coaches – both clubs had started the process of rebuilding through the draft by using two top-10 draft picks in the two years leading up to their first seasons under Nicks and Fagan.

They shape as good blueprints to follow, given the deeper than usual list cuts both undertook and how those changes are now also mirrored at West Coast after farewelling its 2018 premiership core.


Of the 18 players West Coast has welcomed in the past two off-seasons, 16 are aged under 21. With that change, Simpson has also adjusted his coaching methods and the game style he is teaching.

A change that co-captain Oscar Allen has noticed is Simpson's willingness to let players mould the on and off-field direction the club wants to head, with players of all levels helping to "formulate the style we want to play".

Eagles with experience at other clubs who also happen to be footy heads, like Matt Flynn, Alex Witherden and Jayden Hunt, are tapped into through a 'footy sub-committee' that gathers weekly to share its insights with Simpson.

Young players have also provided feedback in meetings that have prompted some of the best adjustments the Eagles have made to their plans this pre-season, according to Allen.

"In the position we're in," Duggan adds, "it would be really easy for him to just want to take over everything and have control over every moving piece. But I feel like he's had a great approach to that side of training."


Allen and Duggan are fresh off a breakfast appointment with the Western Australian Governor, the Honourable Chris Dawson AC APM, highlighting how their lives have changed since taking over the captaincy as a duo following 2018 Norm Smith medallist Luke Shuey's retirement.

They've been influential in their first three months as co-captains, particularly through their work in guiding the players on a new identity – essentially a trademark or set of standards – that the group wants to hold itself to.

Oscar Allen poses for a photo during West Coast's team photo day on January 30, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Broadly, the Eagles players want to be a connected group that turn up for each other and pick each other up, bringing their personal strengths to the team. There is a final element to their identity, however, that they are still working through ahead of round one.

"They are pillars that we're going to live by. It's new to us this year and mainly driven by the players," Duggan said.

"We're still figuring out that middle one, and part of that is still learning what our identity is. We know the direction we're heading, but what does that look like on and off the field and what does it mean to us?

"The best part of having 22 blokes under 22 is that they really want something to grab a hold of and sink their teeth into. They want to listen, they want to be around, and they want to be a part of something bigger.

"That's been really pleasing that everyone's bought into that so much, and we’ll finalise it in the next week or so and have that ready for the season."

Duggan and Allen, 27 and 24 respectively, are ideal co-captains for the rebuilding Eagles, with their careers including the most recent successful era but their ages keeping them connected to all sections of the list.

Liam Duggan leads West Coast out against Adelaide in the 2024 AAMI Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

It's a trait Simpson draws on when he meets with the pair and vice-captain Tom Barrass for a weekly check-in.

He gets their thoughts on everything from game style ideas, how he thinks the players will respond to a specific selection idea being floated, and how the confidence of the player group is after the Fremantle game.

He's keen to hear from Duggan on how his partnership with Reid, in which they swap between half-back and the midfield, is going, and what they can do to support their No.1 draft pick more and get the ball in his hands.

Four days later, Reid will have 20 disposals and five clearances against Adelaide, rebounding in a big way and showing all his strengths in the Eagles' final pre-season game before round one.


The ability to read a room, engage the players, and make the complex simple remains at the core of Simpson's coaching. Stopping a team meeting to host a maths quiz is just one example of the coach re-engaging the players after sensing they were becoming restless.

Then there are his standards, which he directs the players towards in individual catch-ups three times a season.

They are summed up under the banners 'head, heart, and gut', and they broadly encapsulate a player's processes as a footballer, their love of the game, and their will to win.

"How they're matching up to that is important," Simpson says. "The gameplan is the gameplan, the way they treat each other is very important to the locker room, but what I judge our players on is something I'm really clear about.

"What I've been holding really true to me, I don’t need to reinvent that. You might change and need to work on different parts of your coaching, but who you are at your core needs to stay there, otherwise you second-guess yourself."

West Coast players pictured during the pre-season. Picture: West Coast Eagles

Young ruckman Harry Barnett and first-year ruck/forward Livingstone are scheduled for their catch-ups with the coach on this Tuesday in a meeting room by the club's café at Mineral Resources Park.

Barnett, who has completed the most training minutes of the club's ruckmen during the pre-season and turned a corner in recent months, is first and the feedback that comes through from his line and development coaches makes Simpson proud.

The coach digs into a determined attitude that's been observed in Barnett, who tells him a recent 'bins out' session had helped. The 'bins out' concept involves the players splitting into age groups to give and receive feedback in a trusting environment.

When it comes time to mark Barnett under the 'head, heart and gut' criteria, Simpson highlights two of the sub-categories to focus on – play with spirit and play to your strengths. "Well done mate, you're part of the future."

Livingstone is next to 'paint the bridge' – a name the Eagles give their reviews, given the job is never done. Simpson quizzes him about his experience playing against Fremantle, and whether he got nervous lining up for a set shot goal. He didn't, which pleases the coach.

West Coast's Coen Livingstone pictured during a meeting. Picture: West Coast Eagles

First Nations player development manager Chance Bateman then shares with Simpson that Livingstone has been seeking out a variety of coaches for advice, studying Noongar culture, and exploring other parts of the Eagles' program that he couldn't access through the Next Generation Academy.

In the sub-category of 'control what you can control', the young ruckman gets the maximum points. Before he finishes, Simpson wants to know how Livingstone would have gone in the maths quiz and if he's coming out of his shell? "I would have won it," he replies.

"If it's OK with you, I'll call you out to get you involved more, unless you don't want me to," the coach says, using the maths quiz again the following day in a pre-training meeting to deliver.


If there was one statistic highlighted more than any other during the Eagles' team meetings, it was a defensive actions rating that is coded and scored for every player, every match, ending in a collective team score.

Witherden, a defender who communicates and organises teammates as well as any Eagle on-field, consistently scores highly in the rating and describes it as: "The decision you make when the team goes from offence to defence, or the ball is in dispute."

 The scoring system essentially measures how well a player performed their role in team defence, with players awarded a point for decisions like folding into a position to support a teammate or cover a role, or pushing forward to intercept an opposition kick. Being slow to react or making the wrong decision results in losing a point.

Analyst Luke Hyde codes the defensive actions rating, which has been a focus at West Coast for a long time, but it takes on particular importance now with a young team. For midfield coach Jarrad Schofield, it's a section of the game he spends a significant amount of time on during the first midfield line meeting of the week after skimming straight past the standard individual stats summary.

"The best players generally make the best decisions with or without the ball, so we have to be able to educate that," Bell says. 

West Coast midfield coach Jarrad Schofield speaks during pre-season. Picture: West Coast Eagles

Watching the coaches break down edits of the team's defensive actions from behind-the-goals footage, and seeing opposition players sneak into gaps for uncontested marks, it is clear why the team has to place a high value on this part of the game.

When it comes time for selection, it is also clear why the Eagles see a clear role for Witherden beyond what he is doing with the ball or against his direct opponent, given his ability to concentrate on the broader game and direct others.

In his fourth season at West Coast, Witherden also brings a valuable perspective from his time at Brisbane where he played through the four seasons that Bell has analysed as part of a rebuilding blueprint (2017-2020).

Alex Witherden handballs during the R18 match between West Coast and Richmond at Optus Stadium on July 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The 25-year-old played in two wins in 2017 and five the following year, but just as he hopes will be the case at West Coast now, it was a fulfilling period at the club.

"I'll bring up little things that we might have done there, but I just see a lot of similarities in how the groups are tracking and I'm really bullish on the group at the moment and what 'Simmo' and the coaching staff are trying to implement," Witherden said.

"There were roadblocks and setbacks [at Brisbane], but you understood the greater purpose and where you were trying to get to, and that was what kept motivating you and kept getting you to turn up and buy into the system. That's a strength of ours now.

"I think when we can get it right and we can get everyone moving in sync and understanding each other's strengths, we'll be able to execute really well in the future."

Witherden can see the Eagles' young players beginning to take ownership of the club in the same way Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry and Cam Rayner were at Brisbane after bringing energy and spirit to the early years of the Lions' rebuild.

At West Coast, it is Hewett driving energy and competitiveness, Ginbey setting training standards, and Noah Long adding leadership and ambition. Others like Rhett Bazzo and Brady Hough bring significant football smarts as part of their overall package.

"As young players this year, we've been encouraged just to be ourselves whether it's on the field or in the meeting room," Long told

"It's a powerful tool for us to be able to be vibrant and bring the laughter around the club, and I think the older boys have started to really feed off that energy.

Noah Long poses for a photo during West Coast's official team photo day on January 30, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"But it's also recognising because we're such a young group that we've still got so much learning to go to take the next step."

The task ahead of West Coast to take that next step is a big one, but it’s a challenge that will be made easier by the clarity now evident at all levels of the club.

From the coaches' planning meetings to the co-captains' work on a new identity for the group and the rebuilding models that are being followed, the future is at the centre of the Eagles' planning in 2024.

"You'd love to be winning games of footy, and we know that's where we need to get to, but there also is the excitement factor of hopefully all our young boys can stick together and improve and drive the club back to a better place," Long said.

"It's quite obvious that we're getting young, and with a big group of young players there's a feeling now of 'We can build it again'."