West Coast coach Adam Simpson hopes he’ll see the Eric Mackenzie of old when the star defender returns in Saturday’s AFL clash with Melbourne at Domain Stadium.
Mackenzie, one of the competition’s best defenders during his best-and-fairest campaign of 2014, has been noticeably down on confidence since missing all of last year through a knee reconstruction.
The 28-year-old has spent the past month in the WAFL trying to regain his mojo, and Simpson feels Mackenzie is ready to produce the goods.
“He’s earned his spot,” Simpson said on Friday.
“I think we all know what Eric can provide as a defender, in particular when he has a specific match-up.
“It (going back to the WAFL) was just getting some confidence and form with his body as well as his mind.
“There’s nothing wrong with going back and getting some touch and confidence at East Perth. It’s not a mortal sin to do that, especially coming off a knee reconstruction.”
Mackenzie is in line to get the job on Demons rising star Jesse Hogan.
Simpson was able to squeeze Mackenzie back into the side after opting to rest Will Schofield (soreness).
But with Schofield set to return for next week’s match against Collingwood at the MCG, Mackenzie will need to perform well to hold his spot.
Ruckman Nic Naitanui could also return against the Magpies after recovering well from the procedure to remove the plantaris tendon from each foot.
“He’ll be close,” Simpson said.
“He trained again today. He’s jumping now.
“It’s probably just building his fitness base back up, and making sure there’s no hiccups. He’ll be a decision next week.”
West Coast start as hot favourites against Melbourne.
But the Demons will have the edge in the ruck battle, where Max Gawn has been in stunning form this season.
The Eagles have called up journeyman Jonathan Giles to lend a hand to Scott Lycett in the ruck, and Simpson says they face a big challenge against 208cm Gawn.
“He’s probably the No.1 ruck in the comp at the moment,” Simpson said.
“A lot of the numbers Melbourne have got this year are off the back of what he’s done.”
West Coast (11-5) can shoot into the top four with a fifth straight win, but Simpson says his team won’t be taking Melbourne lightly.