West Coast coach Adam Simpson says he’s excited to see what his young forwards can deliver.Josh Kennedy’s absence and West Coast coach Adam Simpson’s willingness to back young players means Willie Rioli will be unleashed alongside fellow excitement machine Liam Ryan against the Western Bulldogs on Sunday.
Kennedy has been the spearhead of the Eagles attack since arriving from Carlton as part of that famous Chris Judd deal way back in 2007.
In 185 games at West Coast he’s kicked 508 goals so is not easy to replace while recovering from ankle surgery but it’s a decidedly new-look Eagles forward-line in 2018.
Last week against Sydney, the exciting Ryan and father-son draftee Jake Waterman made their AFL debuts and now another will be unleashed.
Rioli will join Ryan, Waterman and Daniel Venables at Etihad Stadium in a forward-line that has played three AFL games together but Simpson is excited about what they can deliver.
“(Rioli) was almost available last week so it’s not a punt at all,” Simpson said.
“He has done all the numbers to catch up really well and his pre-season form with training and the couple of little snippets of games he played, was good. He got some really good minutes in at AFL like intensity so he’s ready to play.
“It’s funny how different our front half looks with Ryan, Venables, Waterman and now Rioli. There’s not a heap of experience there but it’s exciting. The exposure we are giving these young forwards is really exciting.”
Rioli’s journey even to get to West Coast from the 2016 AFL Draft is a remarkable one. Way back in 2013, he was significantly overweight at WAFL club South Fremantle.
He returned to Darwin but it was when he went to South and Glenelg where he began to make the most of his talent.
After two seasons of SANFL football, the Eagles took a punt on him and after injury ruined his 2017, Simpson is ready to reward him with a debut.
“He’s always had AFL qualities and it feels like a short journey but he missed 10 or 12 weeks last year with a hamstring injury,” Simpson said.
“Battling to get fit and keep fit has been a bit of a struggle when you have injuries like that but he’s a bit more mature-aged than most recruits.
“He’s 23, has a long-time partner and a child so he’s a man. He has been all over the country playing football so I don’t see him as raw as a 17-year-old just out of home.
“His journey is short in the AFL but he’s had a long journey to get here.”