West Coast coach Adam Simpson has thrown his full support behind Jack Darling, saying even an injury-free list wouldn’t have convinced him to drop the premiership forward this week.
The 17th-placed Eagles (1-7) are battling one of the worst injury crises the AFL has ever seen, with at least 16 players currently unavailable.
Former skipper Shannon Hurn is the latest to join the list after succumbing to an adductor injury, ruling him out of Friday night’s clash with Gold Coast at Optus Stadium.
Jai Culley will undergo surgery after tearing his ACL in last week’s loss to Richmond, while stars Nic Naitanui, Jeremy McGovern, Liam Ryan, Luke Shuey, Jamie Cripps and Elliot Yeo are still injured.
Darling has kicked 10.11 from eight games this season with a significant chunk of those goals coming late in games when the result was already decided.
West Coast great Peter Sumich was so scathing of Darling’s recent form he suggested the Eagles should drop him even if it meant they wouldn’t have enough fit players to field a sub.
But Simpson is throwing his full support behind Darling and hopes the 30-year-old will bounce back to form against the Suns on Friday night.
“It’s not the first time he’s worked through some form. He hasn’t let us down too often,” Simpson told reporters on Thursday.
“We’re going to keep backing him in, as much as the criticism is there.
“We’ll just keep working with him. We’ve got his back.
“If we could have everyone available, we’d still look to back him in.
“He’s one good game away from turning it around. He’s a veteran, he knows how to do it.”
West Coast chairman Paul Fitzpatrick penned an open letter to the club’s fans this week, revealing experts are working with the club to help look into the injury crisis.
The Eagles, who returned a 2-20 record last season, are still in the early stages of what’s shaping up to be a long and painful rebuild.
Simpson, who is contracted until 2025, is determined to lead the club out the other side, and says big changes have already been made in a bid to achieve future success.
“It’s no quick fix. We keep getting dealt some pretty big blows,” Simpson said.
“Winning by 10 goals this week won’t change what happens on Monday.
“It’s still not a quick fix. We’ve still got to work through getting as much talent as we can through the door, through the draft, through the trading period.
“We must have made 10 to 12 changes (to the staff) before this season – new GM, new dietician, new strength coach, new development coach, new head of development.
“That tells us the path has started.
“We want to win, we want to get that feeling back, but it won’t change that direction (we are taking) in the long term.”