Jake Waterman celebrates a goal during the match between West Coast and Essendon at Optus Stadium in round eight, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

WAALITJ Marawar star Jake Waterman's health battle in the second half of last season served as a reminder that his time in the game was limited, helping "crystallise" the key forward's goal to make the most of his opportunity.

The jovial Eagle with a loveable "rogue" element to his personality has been one of the stories of the 2024 season, returning from the serious auto-immune condition ulcerative colitis to help transform Waalitj Marawar's fortunes and claim an equal lead in the Coleman Medal race.

Manager Paul Peos watched as Waterman recovered physically in the second half of last year and grew stronger from his health challenge, with the determined 26-year-old setting a goal to return for day one of pre-season to help guide his rehabilitation.

"That was his target that he worked towards through the sickness and the rehab, and his whole purpose was, 'I need to be ready for day one pre-season so I can do what I've done for the last seven years, which is go out and be right up the front'. And he was at the front," Peos told AFL.com.au.

"I think it really gave him that goal to strive towards, and it wasn't day 100 of pre-season that he was looking at, it was day one for him. That's the way he works and how he operates.

"It also really crystallised for him making the most of his window and thinking 'this is not going to stop me and finish me here, but it is going to finish at some point in time'. He was thinking about his longevity."

Waterman has kicked goals in every game he has played this season for a total of 29, but his form has elevated since a career-best six-goal performance against Richmond in round five, booting 23 goals across his most recent five games.


Peos describes Waterman as a "working athlete" who loves to extend himself and see what is possible. Jovial off the field, he transforms once the ball is bounced and there is something on the line.

"He presents with the biggest smile you've ever seen in many situations, so he can sort of catch you a little bit off guard if you don't know him," Peos said.

"You think, 'look at this friendly, jovial, welcoming big fella'. But as soon as there's competition in it, he can step all over you and he's got that real determined nature where he just wants to win.

"He's so team-orientated that he just wants his team to win, he wants to play his part, and he wants everybody else to play their part."

Jake Waterman is happy with West Coast's win over Fremantle at Optus Stadium in round six, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Assistant coach Matthew Knights has been credited this season for the work he's done with Waterman, with the pair quickly forming a strong relationship after Knights moved from the midfield to the forward line.

Knights said he had enjoyed the "rogue" element to Waterman's personality and admired the key forward's ability to then switch on quickly when it came to improving his game.

"He's got that balance right, which is certainly assisting his form," Knights told AFL.com.au.

"He's a bit of a rogue and he loves to have a good time and a laugh, and I really enjoy that about him as a person.

"But he then has a nice switch on, so he knows when to focus, when to learn and when to grow as a player and have a bit of fun when the time's right.

"I say rogue in the nicest possible way, and he's a really good person with good values coming from a great family, and his interaction with his teammates and staff around the football club make him a really popular figure."


Knights remembers being impressed immediately when Waterman returned for pre-season and finished in the top three of the club's first time trial, recognising it as a sign the 26-year-old was determined to have a consistent season.

He has since been impressed by the athletic forward's leadership and ability to buy into the team's new game style, which prioritises contest, pressure and front-half footy.

"Often the team has got goals or good play off the back of some of the little things he's doing, so he's continued to add that part to his game," Knights said.

"And the second part is the leadership and the way he's looked out for Jack Williams, Jack Petruccelle, Noah Long and Ryan Maric, both during the week and on game day.

"That was happening when Oscar (Allen) was in the team and it's probably just grown a little bit since Oscar's been out … so I think both Jake and Jack Darling have served us well in that area."

Jack Darling and Jake Waterman during the round six match between West Coast and Fremantle at Optus Stadium, April 20, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Darling has had a front row seat to Waterman's brilliant run of form for the past five weeks while also turning his own season around through a focus on applying pressure.

The premiership goalkicker said it was Waterman's work ethic and ability to grind down his opponents with repeat leads that had impressed him this season, with the hard work resulting in 35 marks inside 50 (No.2 in the AFL).

"He's working his opponents over and then timing his leads so well and using his craft with his bodywork," Darling told AFL.com.au.

"He's always been like this, but he's had to play in different roles, and selfless team roles, like high half forward. But now he's a genuine key forward and he's got it all with his pressure, a great mark and good set shot.

"We've got cohesion in the forward line and players are now used to what he does and where he wants it, so he's going really well and it's good to see him showing what he can do at AFL level."