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Ben Cousins gets backing from his Perth school friend Dr Nick Coatsworth

Ben Cousins gets backing from his Perth school friend Dr Nick Coatsworth 2

Ben Cousins might be one of the greatest AFL champions to ever play the game but as a boy he could not beat Dr Nick Coatsworth in a race over 400m.

The face of the nation’s Covid vaccine rollout and the country’s most famously tortured footballer went through high school together for six years in Perth. 

‘Ben and I were in the same year so I knew him very well,’ Coatsworth told Daily Mail Australia.

Coatsworth and Cousins, now both 43, were at the private Wesley College from 1990 to 1995 and last caught up with each other at their 20-year reunion.

Dr Nick Coatsworth, the onetime deputy chief medical officer and face of the Covid vaccine rollout campaign, attended high school with former West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins. Coatsworth, circled left, says he routinely beat Cousins, circled right, in the 400m

Dr Nick Coatsworth, the onetime deputy chief medical officer and face of the Covid vaccine rollout campaign, attended high school with former West Coast Eagles star Ben Cousins. Coatsworth, circled left, says he routinely beat Cousins, circled right, in the 400m 

Coatsworth is happy to see Cousins now seems to have turned his life around but is scathing about the way he was allowed to descend into drug abuse. Cousins is pictured with Kelley Fergus at the Brownlow Medal awards night in Perth in September last year

Coatsworth is happy to see Cousins now seems to have turned his life around but is scathing about the way he was allowed to descend into drug abuse. Cousins is pictured with Kelley Fergus at the Brownlow Medal awards night in Perth in September last year

Coatsworth and Cousins, now both 43, attended Perth's private Wesley College from 1990 to 1995 and last caught up with each other at their 20-year reunion. Wesley College is pictured

Coatsworth and Cousins, now both 43, attended Perth’s private Wesley College from 1990 to 1995 and last caught up with each other at their 20-year reunion. Wesley College is pictured

At that time Cousins was still in the midst of a long battle with meth addiction which saw him locked up for drug and domestic violence offences six times in 13 years. 

‘We were all worried about him,’ Coatsworth said. ‘We were deeply worried. We all think very highly of him from that year of school.’ 

The former deputy chief medical officer was happy to see Cousins now seemed to have sorted out his life but was scathing about how the AFL watched him descend into drug abuse.

‘I think it’s a crying shame,’ Coatsworth said. ‘What happened to him was a tragedy.’

Wesley has long been an AFL nursery, providing scholarships to aspiring footballers and producing premiership-winners including Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Earl Spalding and Jarrad Schofield.

'We were all worried about him,' Coatsworth says of his old school friend Ben Cousins. 'We were deeply worried. We all think very highly of him from that year of school'

‘We were all worried about him,’ Coatsworth says of his old school friend Ben Cousins. ‘We were deeply worried. We all think very highly of him from that year of school’

When Coatsworth last saw Cousins the retired footballer was still in the midst of a long battle with meth addiction that saw him locked up for drug and domestic violence offences six times in 13 years. Cousins is pictured being arrested in 2007

When Coatsworth last saw Cousins the retired footballer was still in the midst of a long battle with meth addiction that saw him locked up for drug and domestic violence offences six times in 13 years. Cousins is pictured being arrested in 2007

Cousins was a standout prospect from early in secondary school, according to Coatsworth, who started at Wesley in 1985 and was captain in his final year. 

‘He was a star,’ Coatsworth said. ‘He was the most talented midfielder of his time – but I beat him in the 400 metres.’ 

Cousins was good enough to play for Fremantle Football Club’s senior side in the West Australian Football League in 1995, his last year at Wesley.

He debuted for West Coast Eagles the next year aged 17 and in 1998 was selected for the first of six times in the All-Australian team. 

By 2002 he was West Coast’s sole captain and when he won the Brownlow Medal as the competition’s best and fairest player three years later Cousins was one of the highest profile sportsmen in the country.

The first public signs something was wrong with Cousins came in February 2006 when he fled a police breath test by swimming out into the Swan River.

He was forced to resign the captaincy but the club still won the premiership, defeating Sydney by one point in a famous victory.

Cousins debuted for West Coast Eagles in 1996 aged 17.  By 2002 he was captain and when he  won the Brownlow three years later Cousins was one of the highest profile sportsmen in the country. He is pictured after West Coast beat the Sydney Swans in the 2006 grand final

Cousins debuted for West Coast Eagles in 1996 aged 17.  By 2002 he was captain and when he  won the Brownlow three years later Cousins was one of the highest profile sportsmen in the country. He is pictured after West Coast beat the Sydney Swans in the 2006 grand final

Coatsworth watched the rise of Cousins up close and the fall from a distance but has always followed his career. The infectious disease specialist found his own fame fronting press conferences and advertising campaigns during the Covid-19 pandemic

Coatsworth watched the rise of Cousins up close and the fall from a distance but has always followed his career. The infectious disease specialist found his own fame fronting press conferences and advertising campaigns during the Covid-19 pandemic 

What was not widely known outside the club was that behind the scenes West Coast had a toxic off-field culture that included rampant recreational drug use.

‘It was one of the big crimes of sporting governance in Australia what happened to the West Coast Eagles in those years,’ Coatsworth said.  

West Coast ruckman Michael Gardiner, another Coatsworth contemporary at Wesley who had repeated disciplinary problems, was indefinitely suspended by the club when he crashed his car after drinking in July 2006. 

A year earlier Gardiner and Cousins had been told they were on their last warning at the club after being linked by police to gangland figures.

Gardiner, who Coatsworth calls ‘Gardie’, had a second blooming at St Kilda, forged a successful real estate career and became a mentor to three-time Richmond premiership winner Dustin Martin.

Cousins was suspended in March 2007 after missing two training sessions due to a three-day bender and spent four weeks in a California rehabilitation clinic. He eventually resumed playing under an amended contract.

The first public signs something was wrong with Cousins came in February 2006 when he fled a police breath test in Perth by swimming into the Swan River. He is pictured leaving court after being fined for drug offences and breaching a restraining order in December 2016

The first public signs something was wrong with Cousins came in February 2006 when he fled a police breath test in Perth by swimming into the Swan River. He is pictured leaving court after being fined for drug offences and breaching a restraining order in December 2016 

In October that year retired West Coast wingman Chris Mainwaring was found dead in his Cottesloe home after suffering a cocaine overdose. 

Cousins had been in Mainwaring’s home twice on the day he died and 15 days later was arrested shirtless 20 minutes’ drive away at Northbridge for drug possession. 

West Coast sacked him the next day and he was banned from playing senior football by the AFL Commission for 12 months for bringing the game into disrepute.

An investigation by a retired Victorian Supreme Court judge would eventually find West Coast had allowed rotten habits to become entrenched at the club and ignored police warnings about drug use. 

Justice William Gillard found West Coast had for years concentrated on premiership success and commercial riches at the expense of young, vulnerable footballers. 

‘I think that the people who suffered were the players and it didn’t appear that the people who were responsible for the welfare of these young kids really took responsibility for it,’ Coatsworth said. 

Cousins, who had been in and out of jail since 2010, finally found sobriety after completing a seven-month sentence for stalking his former partner Maylea Tinecheff in December 2020. He is pictured leaving Armadale Court in Perth in October 2016

Cousins, who had been in and out of jail since 2010, finally found sobriety after completing a seven-month sentence for stalking his former partner Maylea Tinecheff in December 2020. He is pictured leaving Armadale Court in Perth in October 2016

Coatsworth witnessed the steep rise of Cousins up close and watched the gradual fall from afar but has always followed his storied career. 

He was happy Cousins was among those to attend the reunion of a Year 12 group from Wesley that was tighter than the usual. 

‘There was something about that year,’ Coatsworth said. ‘When your year’s only 110 people and you get nearly 100 at the reunion.

‘Some of us woke up the next morning feeling very clearly that we weren’t 18 any more.’

Cousins, who had been in and out of jail since 2010, started seriously down the path to sobriety after completing a seven-month sentence in December 2020.

Cousins has been back playing on weekends with the Queens Park Bulldogs (above) in the Perth Metro Football League, where he was welcomed by the mainly Indigenous team. More importantly, he could once again see his son Bobby and daughter Angelique

Cousins has been back playing on weekends with the Queens Park Bulldogs (above) in the Perth Metro Football League, where he was welcomed by the mainly Indigenous team. More importantly, he could once again see his son Bobby and daughter Angelique

Through a friend of a friend he met mental health support worker Susan Backshell who had told him: ‘Give your all, or forget it entirely.’

Cousins volunteered at events run by Ms Backshell’s community group KALT Collective, inspiring disadvantaged youths and other recovering drug addicts.

Soon he was back playing on weekends with the Queens Park Bulldogs in the Perth Metro Football League, where he was welcomed like a family member by the mainly Indigenous team.  

More importantly, he could once again see his son Bobby and daughter Angelique.

Cousins, who has worked in the demolition industry, was named as employee of the month at a Perth construction company in October last year.

In September he had made a long-awaited return to the Brownlow Medal awards night when that function and the AFL grand final were played in Perth due to Victoria’s Covid restrictions.

In January, Cousins led an all-stars team in a charity football match at Perth’s Leederville Oval to raise funds for The Happiness Co Foundation and Lifeline WA.  

Last month it was revealed he had landed a gig appearing on a weekly sports segment with Channel 7 news in Perth.  

‘I’m really happy to see Ben back playing footy now and getting his life back on track,’ Coatsworth said. 

‘I’ve really enjoyed seeing it and I’m looking forward to seeing him at the next reunion.’ 

Coatsworth had been a talented debater at Wesley and was part of a team that won the Inter-School Debating competition. 'My AFL career ended in Year Three when I realised I couldn't kick a drop punt,' he says

Coatsworth had been a talented debater at Wesley and was part of a team that won the Inter-School Debating competition. ‘My AFL career ended in Year Three when I realised I couldn’t kick a drop punt,’ he says

As a teenager Coatsworth had been a talented debater, a pursuit which had not particularly impressed Cousins even after Wesley’s team won an inter-school competition.    

As for his own footballing prowess, Coatsworth said it had only recently improved.

‘My AFL career ended in Year Three when I realised I couldn’t kick a drop punt,’ he said. 

‘I’ve only just recently learnt how to kick a footy properly because my son loves it.’

Asked how often he had beaten Cousins in the 400m in their school days, Coatsworth gave his old friend a chance to challenge his memory.

‘I don’t think he ever beat me,’ Coatsworth said. ‘I’m pretty sure. Publish it and we’ll see.’

'I'm really happy to see Ben back playing footy now and getting his life back on track,' Coatsworth says. 'I've really enjoyed seeing it and I'm looking forward to seeing him at the next reunion'

‘I’m really happy to see Ben back playing footy now and getting his life back on track,’ Coatsworth says. ‘I’ve really enjoyed seeing it and I’m looking forward to seeing him at the next reunion’

THE TROUBLED LIFE AND TIMES OF AFL SUPERSTAR BEN COUSINS:

1996 – Makes AFL debut with West Coast and is named the league’s Rising Star

2001 – Named club co-captain of West Coast at age 23. Made sole captain the next year

2002 – Breaks his arm falling down a flight of stairs at a nightclub months after punching his teammate Daniel Kerr

2005 – (May) Is quizzed by police about association with underworld identities

– (September) Wins Brownlow medal as the AFL’s best and fairest player

Cousins after the 2006 AFL Grand Final

Cousins after the 2006 AFL Grand Final

2006 – (February) Swims across a Perth river to escape a booze bus

– (September) Wins AFL premiership with the Eagles

– (December) Arrested after passing out in front of Melbourne’s Crown Casino and spends four hours in custody 

2007 – (March) Suspended by West Coast after missing training session

– (April) Goes to a drug rehabilitation facility in Malibu, California

– (October) Revealed to have visited fellow Eagles legend Chris Mainwaring twice on the night he died of a drug overdose

– (October) Arrested and charged with drug offences that are later dropped 

– (November) Eventually sacked by West Coast and banned from the AFL for one year

2008 – AFL re-registers Cousins and he is signed by Richmond

2010 – Retires from the AFL and releases autobiography and documentary

Cousins has been charged with drug possession and refusing a drug test in 2007, but the charges were later dropped

Cousins has been charged with drug possession and refusing a drug test in 2007, but the charges were later dropped

2015 – Arrested three times before leading police on a slow-speed car chase

2016 – (June) Spotted behaving erratically and directing traffic on a highway 

– (October) In and out of court over drug offences and breaches a restraining order taken out by his ex-partner  

2018 – (January) Released from jail on parole just 10 months into his sentence

Takes up a community support role with the West Coast Eagles – a requirement of his parole conditions 

– (May) Reports emerge he hasn’t been seen at the club for a month

The club confirms Cousins told officials in April he no longer wanted the job

– (August) Arrested and charged with drug possession and breaching a  restraining order

2019 – (February) Fined $1,750 for possessing meth and hiding it up his anus while in jail 

(March) Pleads not guilty to 14 offences including breaching a family violence restraining order and a count each of aggravated stalking and threatening to injure, endanger or harm  

(April) Arrested in Perth and released from jail on bail after eight months inside.

2020 – (March) Tell-all documentary Coming Clean goes to air – Cousins opens up about his meth addiction and time behind bars

(April) Arrested in Perth after allegedly being caught with 2.5 grams of methamphetamine while asleep beside his car 

He is remanded in custody after pleading guilty to possessing methamphetamine and incurring a $1500 fine. 

He is also charged with aggravated stalking of his ex-partner, Maylea Tinecheff

(October) Pleads not guilty to aggravated stalking and 20 counts of breaching a family violence restraining order relating to his ex-partner

(November) Convicted of stalking his ex-partner but acquitted by a Perth court of restraining order breaches.  Sentenced to seven months jail, which is backdated to April

He is released from Hakea prison in late November 

2021 – Returns to the footy field playing for the Queens Park Bulldogs in Perth’s Metro Football League

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