West Coast will be hoping Nic Naitanui has lost none of his magic when the star ruckman returns in Thursday night’s elimination final against Essendon.
The Eagles feared Naitanui’s season was over when he suffered a syndesmosis ankle injury in the round 17 loss to Collingwood.
But the 29-year-old has been given the green light to resume against the Bombers, with Naitanui to team with Tom Hickey in a powerful ruck combination.
Naitanui has missed the past three finals series courtesy of two knee reconstructions.
Just how well he can perform following his recent ankle injury remains an unknown, but history suggests he can fire from the outset.
Naitanui made stunning returns from his two knee reconstructions.
In his three games this season, Naitanui averaged 31 hitouts and 6.7 clearances per match despite being on limited game time.
Naitanui will again be on limited minutes when he makes his latest return, but the Eagles hope he will have maximum impact when he’s on the ground.
Essendon assistant coach Hayden Skipworth said it would be a major challenge for Bombers big man Tom Bellchambers to counter Naitanui and Tom Hickey in the ruck.
“Tommy’s going to have to really hold his own, and our mids are going to have to be well on their game to compensate for Naitanui’s athleticism and hitout dominance,” Skipworth said.
The Eagles made three changes for Thursday’s match, bringing in veteran trio Naitanui, Will Schofield, and Mark Hutchings.
Swingman Oscar Allen was forced out because of knee soreness, while Jack Petruccelle and Liam Duggan were axed.
West Coast named skipper Shannon Hurn after he overcame a recent hamstring injury.
Essendon welcome back skipper Dyson Heppell (foot), Cale Hooker (illness), Orazio Fantasia (hip) and Jake Stringer (hamstring).
Defender Michael Hurley has been named despite dislocating his shoulder less than two weeks ago.
Michael Hartley, Tom Jok, Josh Begley, and Dylan Clarke were all dropped, while Martin Gleeson goes out with a calf injury.
Essendon haven’t won a final since 2004, and the heat is on coach John Worsfold to break that drought.
Worsfold is contracted until the end of next season, but rumours are bubbling he could be axed if Essendon lose to the Eagles.