If there was such a thing in the AFL as ‘most improved’ then emerging forward-ruckman Bailey Williams would almost certainly have won that mantle in 2023.

During a year where there were few highlights amid a devastating run of injuries, Williams provided a degree of joy for West Coast Eagles fans.

With champion ruckman Nic Naitanui cut down by an Achilles injury that prevented him from playing any football, Williams was thrust into the role of No.1 ruckman.

He relished that challenge to such an extent that he finished sixth in the Club Champion Award after progressing from a key forward pinch-hitting in a support role to the main man.

Thrown in at the deep end, he carried that responsibility with aplomb. Now the 23-year-old, 201cm powerhouse who has signed a two-year extension is looking to continue his evolution as a front-line player.

“There was obviously no doubt in my mind that I wanted to stay at West Coast,” Williams said enthusiastically.  “To be given the opportunity for a couple more years to play here, I was stoked, it was a no brainer for me.

“It did a lot for my confidence, just being able to play week in and week out. I was obviously given a huge opportunity and enjoyed every bit of it. Now I’m looking to build on that this year.”

Over the pre-season Williams has been working on developing a rapport with recruit Matt Flynn, who came to the club as a free agent from GWS in the trade period, and the chemistry has been obvious on the track.

Flynn, 26, is likely to lead the ruck while Williams spends most of his time forward and offers a chop-out to his new teammate when required.

“It’s definitely a step up; playing number one ruck at any level is a decent load, and then the step up to AFL level, it was challenging at times but I felt once I got used to it I was starting to thrive there so it was good,” Williams said of his 2023 campaign.

“To be honest, I was quite stoked (that Flynn was recruited). That forward side of my game is something that I’ve always been looking to bring into the AFL team. To have the opportunity to do that now and then come up and play in the second ruck spot, it’s the ideal world for me so hopefully that will work nicely.

“It’s been working quite well, we’re trying to work together, wax a little bit so that he (Flynn) can have a stint in the ruck and I’ll come up for five minutes and then get back forward and have an impact there.

“I’m confident it’s going to create a headache for the opposition, having the two of us working together. It’s going to be good.”

Williams had played just 26 games in three seasons since making his debut in 2020, but added another 23 last year as he developed a sense of belonging at the level.

Now, all things being equal, he will look to slot more into the forward half and work in tandem with the likes of co-captain Oscar Allen, veteran Jack Darling, work horses Jamie Cripps and Jake Waterman as well as lively small forwards Liam Ryan, Noah Long and Tyler Brockman.

“There’s so much talent there in the talls department in the forward line, just being able to work together is so important,” he said. “I’ve been leaning on ‘JD’ and Oscar and Jake a fair bit, so if we can get that chemistry going it will be sweet.

“It’s (pre-season) been a little bit different, a few little tweaks with new personnel and a new style of conditioning. The boys are really fit, I feel fit, we’ve done a lot of match play compared to other years, so I think when the season comes around we’ll be ready to go.”