AAP AFL

Eagles thrive off Simpson’s ‘brotherhood’

By AAP Newswire

West Coast coach Adam Simpson likes to run his team like a proud father - and the approach could be rewarded with premiership success.

At the start of 2018, West Coast's squad was considered to be so bad that AFL legend Robert Walls tipped them to finish last.

And as for the coach? Simpson was widely regarded as being too nice to get the best out of his group.

Fast-forward to the current day and West Coast are just one win away from securing a spot in the grand final.

So how did this happen? How could the pundits and experts get it so wrong?

A large part of West Coast's success deserves to go straight to Simpson, and the "brotherhood" mentality he has helped instil in the player group.

As a tactician, Simpson is highly regarded. His 'Weagles Web' in 2015 helped West Coast reach the grand final in just his second season.

But it's his heart-to-heart approach to his players that has gone mostly unnoticed to the outside world, and could in fact be the most significant aspect of his coaching.

Simpson has been able to create a family culture at West Coast, where care for the person is at the forefront.

It's this approach that has convinced players to give their heart and soul to Simpson's cause.

When Tom Cole's father Russell was dying in a Bendigo hospital, Simpson made a four-hour round trip from Melbourne to pay a visit to the family.

Simpson told Russell that his son would be selected for round one, with the news bringing a smile to the face of the proud father.

After Russell passed away, Simpson was among a number of Eagles representatives who flew to Melbourne for the funeral - despite it being just two days out from the season-opener against Sydney in Perth.

When Nic Naitanui ruptured the ACL in his right knee in round 17, Simpson burst into tears after the match.

It wasn't the thought of losing Naitanui that hurt Simpson the most - but rather his empathy for the player, who would now have to undergo a second knee reconstruction in what was meant to be the peak of his career.

Naitanui says seeing Simpson's tears was the perfect example of the genuine care the former North Melbourne skipper feels for his players.

Simpson tries his best to get to know each and every player on a deeper level, especially those who haven't had an easy ride.

At the end of last season, Simpson flew up to the Tiwi Islands with his son and assistant coach Jaymie Graham.

The mission? To spend time with Willie Rioli in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the goalsneak's culture, land, and family.

Rioli hadn't even played a game for West Coast at that point, and was blown away by Simpson's genuine interest in him.

"Him coming up to the Tiwi Islands and getting an understanding of where I've come from - that's made us really tight," Rioli says.

"It was a special moment not for just him, but for me and my family, and also the community.

"We took them out bush, to the waterholes, and took them out to my country where we go hunting. They loved it. The kids loved it too. They made the trip so enjoyable."

Rioli has a 17-month-old son, and says he has learnt plenty about fatherhood through Simpson.

"Having a little boy of my own, Simmo's been a great mentor for me," Rioli says.

"He treats me like one of his own kids. He's helped me translate from being a young boy to being a role model for my own son."

So does Simpson ever unleash on his players? Can he be ruthless when the moment requires it?

"He can give a good old spray, there's no doubt about that," Eagles midfielder Luke Shuey says with a smile.

"Over the years he's been able to find the right balance with that. There's no doubt he's the big reason why we're in the position we're in."

Former Cat Nathan Vardy was a broken-down player when he arrived at West Coast at the end of 2016.

Vardy has been able to rebuild himself while at the Eagles, and says the way Simpson cares for each individual player is special.

"He knows more about me as a player and a person in my two years here than probably the coaches at Geelong knew the whole time I was there," Vardy says.

"The thing with Simmo is he wants to know the person, and help the person just as much as he wants to help the player."

West Coast face a tough task to win the flag without stars Naitanui, Andrew Gaff, and Brad Sheppard.

But the "brotherhood" mentality Simpson has helped forge has given the player group confidence that anything is possible under a united front.