Here’s something that will scare the life out of the AFL’s best ruckmen – Nic Naitanui has boosted his trademark big leap after losing 3kg during his injury lay-off.
Naitanui has missed the past six games after undergoing surgery to relieve Achilles tendon pain, but the West Coast star will return in Sunday’s western derby against Fremantle at Domain Stadium.
Eagles coach Adam Simpson says although Naitanui’s leap is bigger than before, the team can’t rely on him to be their saviour.
West Coast’s form has been patchy during Naitanui’s absence, with last week’s upset loss to Collingwood putting a huge dent in their top-four hopes.
Naitanui started the season in sizzling fashion.
But his output started to wane as the pain from his Achilles tendon got worse.
The 26-year-old was even reduced to using crutches after some games in a bid to ease the inflammation around the area.
Naitanui eventually bit the bullet and had the plantaris tendon removed from each foot in a bid to avoid any future Achilles pain.
And after losing weight and increasing the strength in his calves, Naitanui has surprised Eagles ruck coach Dean Cox with the size of his leap.
“I think it might have increased a little bit,” Simpson said on Thursday.
“Losing a bit of weight and (being) pain-free, you can imagine what he can do.
“It’s really exciting for him and the club.
“He almost put his foot through Coxy’s nose at training last week, so it probably told us he’s ready to go.”
Naitanui’s minutes will be limited against the Dockers as the Eagles ease him back to full match fitness.
West Coast’s midfield looked one-dimensional during Naitanui’s absence.
But Simpson knows the inclusion of Naitanui won’t fix all of his side’s woes.
“You want your good players playing, and he’s a game-changer at his best,” Simpson said.
“But to think he’s going to be the saviour – I think it’s a stretch. If we have to rely on one player, that probably shows you’ve got a bit of work to do.”
West Coast sit one win adrift of fourth spot following last week’s shock loss to Collingwood.
And with tough games against GWS (away), Hawthorn (home), and Adelaide (away) to come, the Eagles will need a major form reversal if they are to get themselves back into premiership contention.
Fremantle also received a big boost on the selection front this week, with ruckman Aaron Sandilands and goal-sneak Hayden Ballantyne both set to return.
Sandilands hasn’t played since suffering a punctured lung and broken ribs during a marking collision with Naitanui in round three.
Ballantyne has missed the past two games because of a fractured cheekbone.
Sandilands has a history of performing strongly following long lay-offs.
The 211cm ruckman tallied 18 disposals and 33 hit-outs in a win over Richmond in 2012 after missing the previous nine rounds through injury.
“He came in and dominated, so we’re hopeful of that,” Dockers coach Ross Lyon said.
“And Hayden will be fresh, so that’ll be interesting.”