The hardness of the Optus Stadium turf has again been thrown into the spotlight following the heartbreaking ankle injury suffered by West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui.
Naitanui is in danger of missing the rest of the AFL season after suffering a syndesmosis injury to his right ankle in last week’s one-point loss to Collingwood.
West Coast premiership defender Liam Duggan also suffered a syndesmosis injury at the same venue a week earlier, ruling him out for up to six weeks.
Naitanui’s injury could be more serious, with the club still awaiting the results of scans.
A serious syndesmosis injury could rule him out for up to four months, but he could return in time for finals if it’s on the minor end.
Fremantle and West Coast have been plagued by foot and ankle injuries since the opening of the $1.6 billion stadium before the 2018 season.
Star Dockers forwards Matt Taberner and Rory Lobb have suffered foot stress fractures this season, while defender Alex Pearce fractured an ankle.
Eagles defender Tom Barrass and forward Willie Rioli have missed big chunks this year with stress reactions in their feet, while Elliot Yeo and Jamie Cripps battled foot issues over the summer.
Even though some of the injuries haven’t occurred at the stadium itself, the clubs believe that the harder surface there may have left the players prone to these types of injuries down the track.
Both West Coast and Fremantle have stopped training at Optus Stadium at various points this year, with the clubs working with venue management to address the turf issue.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson acknowledges that things are heading in the right direction, but he’s well aware it’s still an issue.
“We’ve had this dance before,” Simpson told channel 7 when asked about the turf.
“We lost Liam Duggan last week to a syndesmosis. We’ve had a bit of a spike in the last 12 months.
“VenuesLive are working really hard. We’re working hard with the curator to try to get this right. But unfortunately we’ve lost another player, and we’ve got to move on.”
Simpson said Naitanui’s injury was disappointing for the “whole football world”.
“We saw glimpses of what Nic could produce,” Simpson said.
“He got injured in the first three or four minutes of the game, and he carried that all night. He fought on really well.”
Naitanui’s absence will heap huge pressure on Tom Hickey, starting with Sunday’s clash with Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn in Alice Springs.