Star West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui will make his long-awaited return from a second knee reconstruction through the WAFL.
Coach Adam Simpson has confirmed that the Eagles will not rush Naitanui back for Thursday night’s home AFL game against Essendon.
Naitanui will play for the Eagles’ reserves side on Saturday and the match will be televised locally because of the interest in him.
“We went down a similar path last year and that set him up pretty well for the start of the season,” Simpson told Channel Seven about playing Naitanui first in the WAFL.
Naitanui made a successful return last year, playing 17 games before suffering his second anterior cruciate ligament rupture and needing another knee reconstruction.
Teammate Will Schofield says Nic Naitanui looks “explosive” and he doesn’t envy the opponents who will confront the ruckman in his AFL comeback match.
Schofield has been impressed by what he’s seen from Naitanui at training, saying he would love to have him back in the senior side as soon as possible.
“He’s looking good,” Schofield said on Monday.
“I probably don’t see as much in the middle (at training). But when he’s been down forward he’s looking explosive.
“I think he learned a lot from the first reco (knee reconstruction) he had, and he’s been able to put that into a more practical sense.
“When he’s come back into training, he was more ready than he was (the first time).
“I wouldn’t like to be on the back end of copping him first game back, I’ll tell you that.”
West Coast had the bye last week, meaning they had extra time to stew over their 45-point loss to Sydney at the SCG.
The Eagles are set to be boosted by the return of Shannon Hurn (hamstring) and Elliot Yeo (calf) against the Bombers.
Essendon are sweating on the availability of Jake Stringer, who injured a leg in last week’s win over Hawthorn.
Schofield spent the bye week working on his AFL management accreditation.
As for the players he hopes to manage when he gives up footy?
“Naitanui, McGovern, Yeo, Darling – the high earners,” Schofield said with a laugh.
“I’m sure they’ll come my way. Nah, no one teed up. The current managers do a pretty good job, so I’ll just stick to playing for the time being.”
West Coast have tabled a new three-year deal to Naitanui, but on a reduced amount.
Schofield said it was an interesting situation given Naitanui’s injury history.
“It’s no secret, he’s done two knees and is a big unit and there’s no guarantees for him,” Schofield said.
“But you see the upside as well – he’s an All-Australian and he changes the game when he’s playing.
“It will be a bit of a balancing act. But as a teammate I want him on my team, so hoping to get that done sooner rather than later.”