Bailey J. Williams celebrates during the round eight match between West Coast and Essendon at Optus Stadium, May 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

WEST Coast's focus on being a strong contest team that is comfortable in a scrap has helped ruckman Bailey Williams evolve his game, with the improving big man bringing a valuable ground-level presence this season.

Williams, who was preparing for a key forward role in 2024 until recruit Matt Flynn's pre-season injury, has been a top-five ruckman for ground-level impact this season as he forms a new ruck partnership with young tall Jack Williams.

The Eagles have embraced chaos in the game this season and prepared themselves as a team that can hold its own in a midfield scramble, with Williams pleased with his ability to follow-up ruck contests and support his midfielders this year.

"Sometimes you've got to do it the hard way, and that's what we prepared for this year. We've got quality players who are ready to roll their sleeves up and just get it done whatever way we need to, so I enjoy that," Williams told this week.

Bailey J. Williams celebrates during the round eight match between West Coast and Essendon at Optus Stadium, May 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"We've embraced that chaotic contest-based game, and to have your ruckmen buying into that style and being able to join in has been working, and that's the way we want to go about our footy.

"I want to use my aggression, my leap and my strength, and my follow-up to my advantage because I think that's where I can get a lot of opponents, and once the ball hits the deck I can try and act as another midfielder for us.

"Getting the hitouts is all good and well, but it's how I impact the game in the second phase, in that scramble."

Williams' focus this season is reflected in his stats, with the 24-year-old averaging career-high clearances (5.0), contested possessions (10.4), and groundball gets (4.8), while his hitouts (18.3) are well down on 2023, when he carried a heavy ruck load and finished sixth in the best and fairest.


Across the AFL, his total groundball wins (38) and contested possessions (83) ranked top five for ruckmen leading into round nine, with his around-the-ground clearances (28) ranked third.

Williams' ability to contribute for longer in the clearance battle has been encouraged by stoppages coach Luke Shuey, who has pushed him to use his speed and power once the ball hits the ground.

Champion ruckman Nic Naitanui also remains a sounding board at the club this season after years of supporting Williams' development since arriving with pick No.35 in the 2018 National Draft.

"Nic was obviously a terrific ground-level player too, so I've been very lucky to have such quality mentors around me," Williams said.

"That ruck craft is something that does take a while, so homing in on that is one thing, but then also playing to your strengths and playing a well-rounded game is another thing.

Bailey J. Williams handpasses during the round five match between West Coast and Richmond at Optus Stadium, April 14, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"I feel like I'm getting to that stage where it's less about craft and more about impact on games by being a more mobile ruckman and being able to follow up, tackle and chase, and use my aggression."

With the addition of Flynn to West Coast's list at the end of last season as a free agent, Williams put his ruck work to the side almost entirely through the summer and focused on developing as a tall forward.

The Eagles' plans were thrown out the window in February, however, when Flynn suffered a freak hamstring tendon injury while jumping into a ruck bag at training, resulting in surgery that will sideline him for another three weeks.

"It's obviously really disappointing. to see one of your teammates go down, and I knew that, given the situation, that I'm the next man up," Williams said.

"I was still prepared to do a lot of rucking this year, so it wasn't a shock to me or anything. It just meant that I was going to have to do more.

Bailey Williams and Matt Flynn during the West Coast Official Team Photo Day at Mineral Resources Park, January 30, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"He (Flynn) is starting to look fitter and stronger on the track, so hopefully it's not too long until he's back playing and it'll be great to welcome him back and see him in action.

"He's been good for us rucks to bounce off and been really involved in meetings and training, so he's getting around the boys and his dedication to his rehab has been really good."

On Jack Williams, who has emerged this season as a promising forward/ruck for the Eagles, Williams said it had been enjoyable forming a partnership with the 20-year-old, who booted three goals in last Saturday night's clash against Essendon in a breakout performance.

"He's coming off probably his best game in his career so far, so he's in a really good space at the moment. The work he's put into his career so far, it's no coincidence that he's starting to play some really strong footy," Williams said.

"I enjoy going to work with him and to have a bit of a Williams ruck duo has been nice. He's a ripper.

"It's obviously a very taxing role and not many players can do it for a whole game, so he comes up and he does a great job in there as well. I think we're only scratching the surface with him."