West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui is set to spend up to a year on the AFL sidelines, with scans confirming he has ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.
Naitanui suffered the injury while attempting to spoil in Friday night’s 25-point win by the Eagles over Hawthorn at Domain Stadium.
The 2012 All-Australian couldn’t put any weight on his left knee and was on crutches after the match.
West Coast feared the worst after conducting an initial assessment, and scans on Saturday morning confirmed the ACL tear.
It remains unclear whether Naitanui will undergo a traditional knee reconstruction, or opt for the LARS procedure.
The Eagles released a statement saying Naitanui would meet surgeons next week to discuss the best way forward.
The injury is a cruel blow to one of the competition’s most popular and exciting players.
With Naitanui to miss the rest of this season, West Coast’s flag hopes appear doomed.
He played key roles in recent wins over premiership hopefuls GWS and Hawthorn.
The 26-year-old kicked the winning goal against the Giants, and he was pivotal in the ruck against Hawthorn before getting injured in the third quarter.
West Coast struggled for form earlier this season when Naitanui missed six games with an achilles tendon injury.
Although the Eagles ended up winning five of those matches, they were mostly against easier opposition.
But Eagles coach Adam Simpson is adamant his team can still cause some damage this year, even if it’s from outside the top four and without Naitanui.
“He’s one of our best players, and we saw the influence he’s had in the past few weeks,” Simpson said.
“But we need to mature to a point where we don’t have to rely on just one player to get it done.
“It’s another test for us, which our boys are looking forward to. It’s been a different year, but we’ve found a way to win 15 games.
“Don’t write us off. The season’s still alive and we’re up for the challenge.”
West Coast face off against the Crows in Adelaide on Friday night in a match that will be crucial to the top-four hopes of both sides.
The Eagles need to win and rely on other results to fall their way if they are to sneak into the top four.