WHEN Adam Simpson led West Coast to an improbable Grand Final berth in 2015 the 'Weagles Web' received widespread acclaim. 

But the Eagles' radical zone defence told only part of the story as the club rose from ninth on the ladder the previous season.

What is often overlooked is that West Coast's success was built upon a rock-solid foundation of contested ball dominance. 

Other parts of West Coast's game – including stoppage potency and immense forward pressure – flowed after the contest was won.

But in the two seasons since their Grand Final loss to Hawthorn, the Eagles have steadily declined in that key area. 

It's a problem that senior coach Simpson knows must be addressed after his side fell to 17th for contested ball differential last year, sparking a raft of issues - including a lack of supply to a hungry forward line. 

So this off-season, midfield assistant Adrian Hickmott's role was tweaked to 'contested ball coordinator' and there has been a hefty focus on generating more output from an evolving engine room.      

"We can't just rely on a (Nic) Naitanui-type to get us going across the midfield," Simpson told AFL.com.au.

"To get good forward-half pressure you need supply … we've been unable to do it consistently for over a year.

"So our challenge is to keep it simple because we've got a younger list and a younger profile. 

"But hopefully with that youth comes a bit more energy with the contest and the ability to lock it in our front half is no doubt where the game is. 

"We've been aware of that since '14 but our ability to do that has been inconsistent, so we're not shying away from that.

"We’ve got to get better at the contest."


The Eagles showed promise in their opening JLT Community Series clash against Port Adelaide, winning contested ball (+13) and the supply battle (42-34 inside 50s) in a two-point victory.

But, after a weekend off, the senior players Simpson is counting on were woefully out of touch against Fremantle last Sunday, and West Coast was thumped in the contest (-17) and inside 50 count (33-61).

"We're really clear about the brand we want to play, now the next step is to deliver it," Simpson said. 

"But with this youth coming through, we've really got to rely on our senior boys."

The Eagles could have 10 different players in their round one team from last year when they host Sydney at Optus Stadium next Sunday. 

Liam Ryan, Daniel Venables, Jake Waterman, Willie Rioli and Brayden Ainsworth are in the mix to debut, while six-game back pocket Tom Cole seems certain to start.

With so many new faces the Eagles are excited about the possibilities to kick off their new era.

However, Simpson acknowledged it could be a gamble playing a large contingent of youngsters. 

"There's a definite risk. We've just got to probably pick the best team and if that means there's four or five kids in it because they've done the work and are in front of others, we've got to play them," Simpson said.

"We go in probably holding our breath a bit, because what we're used to is just rock-solid performers.

"Then (last year) you chuck in a (Drew) Petrie and (Sam) Mitchell where you know what you're going to get. 

"Now we've got this whole different look on a new stadium. So there could be some great times, there could be some tough times." 

In the fishbowl of a two-team town, Simpson learned plenty about dealing with adversity last year.

For the first time since taking over from John Worsfold in 2014, he came under genuine pressure from some outside the club as West Coast's season looked in danger of running off the rails.  

While the Eagles produced epic victories in round 23 and in the elimination final against the Power to salvage something from the season, an overhaul of the AFL's oldest list was already in the works.

With two years left on his current contract, Simpson's task is to manage a regenerating team while continuing to push for finals at a club which doesn't believe in lengthy rebuilds. 

"I learned a lot last year. Relationships and just to block out the white noise from the outside," he said. 

"Some of it is justified and some of it is ridiculous.

"So how do you deal with it? You've just got to do your job.

"It is what it is. The Perth media is the Perth media, so I'm not going to fight it. 

"But what I learned is the club is a tight-knit club from the board down.

"There's some solidarity there I'm really impressed with. 

"I think our players as well really tried to create an environment where it was OK for them to come into the club and express how they were feeling as well. 

"So, if anything, it galvanised the whole group. Not my personal criticisms, but just the whole group in general going through Priddis (form struggles), retirements, form, we couldn't win two in a row and we (still) finished sixth. 

"There's worse places to be."

Key West Coast statistics 2015 2016 2017
Clearance differential +0.9 (8th) -0.9 (9th) -2.8 (17th)
Centre clearance differential +1.1 (4th) +0.8 (8th) -0.9 (13th)
Scores from clearances - Diff +14.7pts (1st) +8.8 (3rd) +1.8 (8th)
Scores launched from D50 (Pts per game) 14.5 (8th) 15.6 (7th) 15.5 (7th)
Contested possession differential +9.8 (2nd) +0.4 (9th) -5.9 (17th)
Time in forward half +8:05 (1st) +3:17 (4th) -4:58 (14th)
Tackles inside 50 12.8 (3rd) 11.7 (10th) 11.7 (eq 10th)

Statistics provided by Champion Data