A nightclub visit that breached player guidelines, with subsequent heavy fines, is just a symptom of much deeper problems that require a massive overhaul of the club on the field and off, AFL experts have said.
On Monday, the Eagles announced that Jackson Nelson, Josh Rotham, Jake Waterman, Hugh Dixon, Patrick Naish, Campbell Chesser and Rhett Bazzo had been fined $5000 ($2500 of which was suspended) for going against club directives to avoid Covid high-risk environments like nightclubs.
The AFL cellar dwellers have been ravaged by Covid-related absences that have seen the club use an extraordinary 43 different players in just eight games this season.
Jackson Nelson and Josh Rotham were the first to players to be identified after this image circulated on social media. The other five were not named until this week
The players were sprung partying at Perth’s Hip-E Club with Richmond players just 24 hours after the Tigers belted them by 109 points.
When asked if the players involved in the breach had put their careers in jeopardy, West Coast’s long-serving chief executive Trevor Nisbett said ‘I think so’ on ABC Radio Perth. But he added that head coach Adam Simpson was in no danger of suffering the same fate.
‘There is no chance that he won’t be coaching this football club going forward,’ he said.
The dreaded vote-of-confidence from head office has led many former AFL players, journalists and analysts to say Simpson’s chances of being in charge of the Eagles in 2023 are lengthening with every defeat.
Even his former North Melbourne premiership teammate and now commentator David King was publicly questioning Simpson’s tenure.
‘Does it impact his thought process as to whether to roll on through this rebuild process? Because a fair percentage of these seven are going to be the players that are involved in the rebuild,’ King said on SEN.
Senior players Josh Kennedy and Shannon Hurn discuss ways they can try and turn their fortunes around at halftime against Richmond, 24 hours before the nightclub incident
‘I don’t imagine it is Josh Kennedy and Shannon Hurn at the nightclubs. So they seven that have been fined are the seven that are going to be a major part of the rebuild.
‘Adam Simpson may say ‘well if you’ve lost faith in me and my message, well then I’ve lost a bit of faith in you as well’ – It’s a two-way street.
‘He does everything for those players. They love him, he’s got them eating out of the palm of his hand and then suddenly bang, this comes.
‘I honestly think that Adam Simpson will sit back this morning and say is this such a bad starting point for the rebuild that maybe it has to be done without me? Maybe they are sick of my voice, maybe it is time for the divorce.’
AFL analysts don’t think the message Adam Simpson is trying to get across to his players is being heard and that he might not be the right man to lead the required rebuild
Kennedy spoke to 6PR Perth today and said there were no formal rules preventing players from going to nightclubs, but there were guidelines and an expectation to use common sense.
‘There’s no rules on certain things, it was more talk about guidelines and just common sense, is probably the biggest thing that a lot of us have put down to the players,’ he said.
‘We just had to make sure there were certain guidelines in place to make sure that we could minimise the risk of contracting Covid which then spreads through the club.
‘We’re all adults here … they make decisions based on what’s best for themselves and what they’re doing. It was basically a lot of common sense.
‘Guys obviously didn’t understand the ripple effect of their actions. Everyone makes mistakes, we understand that.’
Kennedy said there were no hard and fast rules banning players from attending nightclubs, but they had been provided guidelines and were expected to use common sense
Footy Classified panel member and Port Adelaide champion Kane Cornes said that King had declared Simpson the right man for the rebuild as recently as last Friday.
‘He’s turned in the space of three days. I will challenge him on that on Friday,’ he said.
“Clearly the standards have slipped … that is a direct reflection of the coach.
‘I don’t think he is the man to rebuild this club because of the tenure that he’s been there for and how long it’s going to take.
Hurn is one of the few senior players left on the field for the Eagles with the roster decimated by Covid protocols and injuries
Five-time All Australian Matthew Lloyd also suggested the divide between players and coach at West Coast is too great now.
‘You just wonder whether Adam Simpson feels its the biggest slap in the face that you can get as a coach when you speak to them about behaviour, boys we’re under the pump already, and seven players go totally against what you ask for,’ he said.
‘You must sit back and go, is my message just not being listened to anymore?’
Wilson said the current situation at West Coast was worse in a football sense than the illicit drugs scandal involving Ben Cousins [left] and a host of other players a decade ago
Veteran AFL journalist Caroline Wilson told Footy Classified it was the Eagles lowest ebb since the illicit drug scandal that tainted one of the club’s most successful eras when West Coast made back-to-back grand finals in 2005 and 2006, winning the latter.
‘That was probably their lowest point culturally and socially, but this in a football sense is much, much worse,’ she said.
Wilson said the divide had gone past just the players and the coach. She said senior players were resenting younger players being given games they had not earned while there were also other senior players who would have been delisted under normal circumstances.
‘There is a collective issue at that footy club,’ she said
‘It’s much bigger than players not taking Covid protocols seriously. But when seven players get together for a drink and they decide to go out when they’ve been told not to — it’s a bigger issue.
‘There’s a lot more going on at West Coast than just injury and illness. It’s to do with list management and conditioning a disconnect clearly between players and coach.
‘There really is a problem at the Eagles. And it’s just really weird to see the behaviour, the game style, the body language that we’re seeing at the moment. It’s not something we’re used to.’
West Coast once again struggled to compete against the Lions at the Gabba at the weekend and only had 21 fit, healthy and eligible players for the clash.
Gerard Whateley told AFL 360 that the club should have just suspended the players anyway and gone in undermanned against Melbourne this weekend to send a message.
‘It makes me wonder if the players fully buy into the circumstances that have afflicted their club over this period of time,’ he said.
‘They should just play short suited against Melbourne for the message it sends to their standards and their culture.
‘I understand the preservation aspect to it, but I’d cop the 220-point hiding.’
For now, Simpson is trying to be forgiving.
‘They’re very remorseful. Obviously it’s an error in judgement and we’ll move on,’ Simpson told Channel 7.
‘With the current environment and where we’re at, it’s just really poor judgement from those boys.
‘They’ve got a bit of trust to earn back from the playing group and the club.
‘Some of the guys should know better, some of the guys are young and are learning as they go through their careers.
‘It’s just the timing. Where we’re at right now as a football club, we need all hands on deck, we need to be on the same page.’