West Coast coach Adam Simpson admits his team’s been on the back foot without Nic Naitanui, but he won’t be expecting instant miracles once the star ruckman makes his AFL return.
The Eagles’ five-match winning run has catapulted them into equal second on the table, but their recent form line is a concern.
West Coast only scraped over the line by seven points against Carlton in round 17, and they were lucky to win against Melbourne in Perth on Saturday.
The Demons won the inside-50m count 66-37, contested possessions 160-143, and the tackle count 98-83 – but the Eagles somehow walked away with a six-point win.
West Coast will start as favourites against Collingwood (MCG) and Fremantle in the next two weeks, giving them an excellent chance to lock down a top-four berth and the double finals chance that goes with it.
Naitanui has missed the past five matches after undergoing surgery to remove the plantaris tendon from each foot.
The 2012 All-Australian is now back in full training, and is a chance to return for Saturday’s clash with Collingwood.
Scott Lycett has performed admirably as the No.1 ruckman during Naitanui’s absence, but Mitch Brown and Jonathan Giles have struggled to fulfil the back-up role.
Simpson says his team have learned invaluable lessons about how to deal with opposition ruckmen without Naitanui.
But the third-year coach can’t wait to have his ace tap specialist back in the thick of things.
“It puts you on the back foot a little bit without him there,” Simpson said.
“But for him to miss probably six or seven weeks by the time he comes back, the expectations – it’ll take him a while to get back into form.
Naitanui said he’ll try his best to prove his fitness for the Magpies clash.
“It will probably depend on how I pull up over the next three or four sessions,” Naitanui said.
“I’m doing full match sim and training with the boys now.”
Eagles defender Sharrod Wellingham will be assessed after copping a heavy knock to his leg against the Demons.
Wellingham’s disposal efficiency was woeful after copping the cork, and Simpson joked: “I’m hoping that’s the reason why he butchered the ball so much.”
Simpson faces a tough call on the selection front when he tries to find room for defender Will Schofield.
Schofield was rested against the Demons, and his inclusion for the Magpies match means either Eric Mackenzie or Tom Barrass could be squeezed out.
Mackenzie held Jesse Hogan goalless in a successful return to AFL ranks, while Barrass has been a strong contributor since being called up in round 12.
West Coast’s hopes of finishing in the top four were boosted when the Bulldogs suffered a shock loss to St Kilda on Saturday night.