West Coast coach Adam Simpson will take a cautious approach with Nic Naitanui as the star ruckman prepares to play his first game since the death of his mother.
Naitanui missed two games following his mum’s death in Fiji, but he will return for Sunday’s top-four showdown against the in-form Western Bulldogs at Domain Stadium.
“I think he has enjoyed being back in our environment and trying to get some sort of normality to life,” Simpson said on Saturday.
“His sleep has been interrupted. We’ll go in with a bit of caution.
“He has missed two games and he is not the type of athlete who handles a break in the season, let alone his mental state.
“So we have to be careful and manage him in the right way. We want him for the rest of the year, not just the one game.”
Small forward Murray Newman will also make a high-profile return in what will be his first AFL game since serving six months’ jail time for assault in 2014.
Simpson hopes this will prove to be just the start of a long career for Newman, who in 2012 was twice beaten by then-coach John Worsfold in 2km time trials.
“I think Woosh was really fit at that stage – he was running marathons,” Simpson said.
“The first day I spoke to (Newman) when I got to the club, I said, ‘I’m going to judge you from now on’.
“It hasn’t been an easy road. He’s earned his spot in the side, and full credit to him.
“He’s got bigger fish to fry than just playing one game.”
Hawthorn’s shock loss to Port Adelaide on Friday night means West Coast can all but lock up second spot with a win over the fourth-placed Bulldogs.
But the Eagles’ hopes largely rest on their pint-sized defence after Will Schofield (hamstring) joined Jeremy McGovern, Eric Mackenzie, and Mitch Brown on the sidelines.
Simpson resisted the urge to recall two-gamer Tom Barrass, meaning West Coast enters the match without a recognised key defender.
It’s a risk that Simpson hopes will pay off against a Bulldogs forward line featuring Jake Stringer, Stewart Crameri, Jarrad Grant, and Jack Redpath.
The Eagles will welcome back Mark LeCras from suspension, but the two-match ban handed down to Chris Masten for biting robs West Coast of one of their best ball winners.
Fremantle’s Nick Suban was put on a course of antibiotics after receiving the bite, but Simpson stood up strongly for Masten’s character.
“He’s quite worried that there will be a stigma about him, but I have assured him there won’t be from our end,” Simpson said.
Meanwhile, West Coast are a step closer towards building their new home after Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a $10 million funding commitment to the Lathlain Park Precinct Development.
The Eagles want to build a new $60 million training and administrative facility at Lathlain Park, with hopes it can be completed by 2018.