He already boasts a 360-degree range in his ruck taps, but West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui is working overtime to make his hit-outs even more unpredictable for his AFL rivals.
Naitanui’s leaping marks and cat-like work at ground level have dazzled AFL fans around the country since his debut in 2009.
The 22-year-old’s deft ruck taps have also become something to behold, with his unique ability to palm it anywhere over a 360-degree range forcing rival ruckmen to employ some dubious tactics in a bid to curb his dominance.
Physically monstering Naitanui or blocking his run at the contest have become the tactics of choice to halt the spring-heeled Fijian.
But rather than sook about the rough treatment, Naitanui is devising ways to counter the strategy.
In a bid to further confuse rival ruckmen and their ground-level midfielders, Naitanui is training his left hand to be just as good as his right in the tap contests.
Naitanui usually jumps off his left leg and taps with his right hand, but is fast becoming proficient in jumping off his right leg and tapping with his left hand.
And it’s not just Naitanui who’s trying to improve his opposite hand, but also premiership ruckman Dean Cox and emerging Eagle Scott Lycett.
“So it’s not just hitting to that stock-standard spot that most right handers or most left handers would hit to,” Naitanui told AAP ahead of Sunday’s elimination final against North Melbourne at Patersons Stadium.
“We use both hands and we’ll change up our angles.
“We like to mix it up to catch the other mids off guard. It’s just another element we want to add to our game.
“We spend a truckload of time on it, and our ruck coach Simon Eastaugh graphs it all up.
“After each game, Simon documents where we’ve tapped the ball and whether we won it or not.
“With Coxy, and Scott Lycett at times, we sit down and watch clips of ruck taps from the weekend, from us and other ruckmen as well.
“Then we’ll come out in the middle and we’ll just practise those taps that most people wouldn’t think of, like the one over the back of your head from where you came from, and vary it up with both hands.”
Kangaroos midfielder Jack Ziebell was confident the Roos’ on-ball brigade would be able to deal with any trick taps Naitanui might dish out.
“We’ll devise a plan and try to deal with it as best as we can,” Ziebell said.
“It’s a little bit unpredictable, but if we all play our role, it’ll look after itself.
“We have great confidence in big Goldy (ruckman Todd Goldstein).
“We expect Goldy to give a great contest and win his fair share of ruck taps.”
The Eagles recalled forward Quinten Lynch and welcomed back defender Eric Mackenzie for the do-or-die clash, while the Roos were bolstered by the return of Daniel Wells, Nathan Grima and Sam Wright from injury.
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