Nic Nat’s 54-minute comeback ‘a success’
NIC Naitanui declared his comeback a success but West Coast will now sweat on how he pulls up over the next 48 hours before the next step of his return is mapped out.
The Eagles believe there is a genuine chance of their star ruckman being ready for the Round 1 showdown against Sydney at Optus Stadium in a fortnight, after Naitanui showed impressive signs in 54 minutes for East Perth against East Fremantle.
He could turn out for the Royals again on Saturday in another pre-season game against South Fremantle at Lathlain Park, which would still leave him with an eight-day break ahead of the blockbuster date with the Swans on March 25.
"I was a bit rusty, but it was great to get out there with the East Perth boys and have a run," Naitanui said.
"My body's feeling good."
Playing without strapping on his reconstructed left knee, Naitanui had 14 disposals and dominated the hit-outs. He didn't take a mark but appeared untroubled as he both jumped off and landed on his left leg.
West Coast football operations manager Craig Vozzo said the 27-year-old ruckman emerged from his limited game time without any soreness in the knee and was due to complete a top-up running session after the game.
Asked whether Naitanui's performance had given the club confidence he could take his place in the season-opener, Vozzo said: "It's certainly a step in the right direction. We'll make that decision as we go along, but the early signs are good.
"We'll see how he pulls up. The plan is to take it week by week. A nice week ahead in terms of the build-up and we'll make a call on whether he plays another game before the season later in the week."
Vozzo said club staff were encouraged by Naitanui's outing, saying he looked "fairly natural most of the time".
"He probably didn't jump as high as we've seen in the past, but there was some encouraging signs. Landed well. I think we got a good outcome," he said.
"I think he was a bit angry on the bench there for a bit (during the third quarter) according to our staff. I think he probably unleashed a little bit more.
"Got a bit higher, a bit more follow-up on the ground, he probably didn't think as much and got a bit of the ball."
West Coast draftee Hamish Brayshaw was concussed after receiving a head knock early in the same game and did not return.
Vozzo described it as a mild concussion.
"We obviously took a conservative approach with a first-year player. He's OK but we didn't want to take any risk," he said.