West Coast coach Adam Simpson has urged his players not to give up on their premiership hopes, saying the season is well and truly alive despite the team’s patchy form.
The Eagles’ top-four hopes are hanging by a thread following last week’s upset loss to Collingwood, which saw them slip to sixth on the ladder.
West Coast will start as hot favourites against Fremantle in Sunday’s western derby at Domain Stadium.
But they face a brutal run home after that, with games against premiership hopefuls GWS (away), Hawthorn (home), and Adelaide (away) to round out the season.
It means West Coast face an uphill battle just to lock away a home final, let alone push for premiership glory.
But Simpson is a glass-half-full type of coach, and he knows the return of star ruckman Nic Naitanui has the potential to dramatically help the team’s cause.
“We’ve still got plenty of optimism for the season,” said Simpson, who led West Coast to the grand final last year.
“Where we’re at on the ladder is not to the point where we’re giving up, and that needs to be known throughout our players.
“The season is very much alive. We’ve got to be very clear about that.”
Naitanui has been sorely missed since undergoing surgery to relieve Achilles tendon soreness in June.
The 2012 All-Australian has lost 3kg and strengthened his calves during his injury lay-off, with the Eagles claiming Naitanui’s trademark big leap has gotten even bigger.
If Naitanui comes back firing, West Coast’s flagging premiership hopes could be turned around in an instant.
But Simpson said it was also important for the club’s second-tier players to start pulling their weight.
“Our role players are really important for our club, and at the moment they’re not holding up their end of the bargain,” Simpson said.
The Dockers sit in 16th spot on the ladder following a horror season in which they’ve only won three games.
Injuries to key players, plus an inability to adapt to a new attacking game plan, have been the major reasons behind the team’s slide.
Fremantle’s plight was evident to see last week when they copped a 90-point hammering from Sydney in Matthew Pavlich’s 350-game milestone.
The disappointment on Pavlich’s face was clear to see as he was being cheered from the field after the game.
But Dockers coach Ross Lyon said the focus of this week had been on the team performance, rather than the milestone letdown.
“We’re not a club that just wants to go down eulogising individuals,” Lyon said.
“As important as they are, we’re all passing through.
“I’ll pass through. Matthew (will). Luke McPharlin’s gone. (Nat) Fyfe will go at some point. It’s about achieving team success.
“So as important as that was for Matthew, Matthew would say the same thing – it was about the team performance, and we ultimately didn’t get the four points and play the way we wanted to.”
The Dockers will be boosted by the return of ruckman Aaron Sandilands (broken ribs) and goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne (fractured cheekbone), while Naitanui and Elliot Yeo are among the ins for West Coast.