West Coast coach Adam Simpson says he’ll need to adopt a careful approach with Nic Naitanui as the Eagles attempt to get their “fragile” star firing on all cylinders in time for the AFL finals.
Naitanui made a successful return from foot surgery in Sunday’s 46-point win, tallying seven disposals, 26 hit-outs, and a goal on limited minutes.
The 2012 All-Australian will increase his workload when he comes up against Shane Mumford in Saturday’s crunch clash with GWS at Spotless Stadium.
West Coast currently sit in sixth spot with a 13-6 record.
But with games against premiership hopefuls GWS, Hawthorn (home), and Adelaide (away) to come in the final three rounds, the Eagles face an uphill battle to secure a home final.
West Coast desperately need Naitanui to quickly regain the form he displayed earlier this season.
But Simpson knows it could come back to bite the Eagles if they try to push him too hard.
“We’ve got to be really careful about it. He’s fragile sometimes,” Simpson said.
“He’s such an animal when he plays. We’ve got to manage his time the right way.
“I thought we did that OK (on Sunday), and there’s not many bigger and stronger than Aaron (Sandilands) – although Mumford is probably up there.”
West Coast struggled early against the Dockers, trailing by 15 points midway through the second quarter before Josh Kennedy’s seven-goal haul inspired them to a 17.8 (110) to 9.10 (64) win.
The Eagles’ midfield didn’t get on top until the second half, but Simpson hopes that will improve as Naitanui gets rid of some of his rust.
“Probably the connection with our mids was something that was a tiny bit off,” Simpson said.
“I can see that getting back to hopefully where it was (before), and his fitness too.”