West Coast coach Adam Simpson has described his team as “hurting” for Willie Rioli amid concerns for his mental health in the wake of his provisional suspension for a breach of the WADA Drug code.
Simpson praised his leaders for their ability to galvanise the playing group to compete strongly before going down by 20 points to Geelong at the MCG on Friday night.
He revealed the Eagles had no inkling that Rioli was about to be suspended until they arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
Rioli was provisionally suspended immediately by the AFL pending the outcome of an investigation into allegedly substituting a urine sample during a drug test on Tuesday August 18.
He faces a ban of up to four years under the WADA code if the charges are sustained. He has flown to the Northern Territory to be with family and friends with Eagles staff escorting and supporting him.
Simpson said he couldn’t say if the shock of losing Rioli and the severity of the ban he faces had been a factor in his team’s performance against Geelong which included a slow start and a fadeout in the final quarter to end their premiership defence.
“It is hard to tell,” he said. “They are human. We really care about Willie. We still do. We addressed it on Wednesday night. They looked pretty tight. Pretty galvanised but we are hurting. We are hurting for him.
“We were up for the fight and I am not surprised about our group doing that but unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it.
“I think you have got to give Geelong a bit of credit. We thought they were going to do a couple of things and they did and we just couldn’t stop it.”
Simpson said he had backed the closeness of his group to overcome the jolt of losing Rioli.
“We have been through a lot our group. Our campaigns have been over six years. They are a mature group. We have got the utmost care and respect for Willie,” he said.
“We got together. We are two days out every second week. They are a very tight group. We don’t need to catch up outside of the club because we spend so much time together. I think the leaders stood up in that sense like they always have.”
But he admitted the Eagles only had a short period of time to come to terms with the loss of one of their most talented and popular players.
“We knew nothing until Wednesday night. We found out when we arrived at the hotel. We are really worried about his mental health and making sure he has got a lot of family and support around him. He is a gentle soul, a lovely man, partner with a child and another one on the way so we will just throw our arms around him at the moment,” he said.
He confirmed speaking to Rioli but could not say if he would travel to the Northern Territory to see him.
“I haven’t thought that far,” he said.
Asked how Rioli had seemed in the conversations he had with him he said: “You can only imagine. It is probably not the time to talk about this. It is under investigation and we will work through it in the coming weeks.”
“It has just been a bit of a shock that it has happened so quick and now we have got to deal with it as a club and Willie has got to deal with it himself.”