West Coast star Nic Naitanui has completed a fairytale comeback from his second knee reconstruction by tonight being selected as the All-Australian ruckman.
Naitanui was named as the best ruckman in the game in just his first full season since his second knee reconstruction.
There were initially fears that the athletic big man wouldn’t be able to capture the heights that saw become a human highlights reel, but he made a mockery of those predictions this year by tearing teams apart.
Naitanui ranked fourth in the league for hit-outs, and led the all other ruckmen for centre clearances, overall clearances and achieved his feats despite spending just 69 per cent of the time on the field.
It was the second time Naitanui had been selected in the All-Australian team and the third time he was in the 40-man squad. His previous selection in the team of the year came in 2012.
“It’s been eight or nine years. It’s good to be back,” Naitanui said.
Naitanui suffered his first knee reconstruction on the eve of the 2016 finals series and missed the entire 2017 season. Then he injured his other knee in round 17 2018 and that cost him the chance to play in West Coast’s premiership.
He managed just three games last year before a serious ankle injury sidelined him for the last six matches, but he returned for finals.
Naitanui said his determination to win a premiership was driving him this year.
“When you look at some of the players this year who have performed well – myself, Shep and Andrew Gaff as well who was in the squad, we are all driving those boys to go back there again because we want to be part of it this time,” Naitanui said.
Often criticised for not winning enough of the ball and failing to take marks, Naitanui destroyed those arguments this season by reminding everyone that he is an impact player.
His 11 marks from 16 matches were barely even mentioned given his hit-outs to advantage gave the Eagles’ midfielders the freedom to run wild. Naitanui also led all ruckmen for inside 50s as he won his own taps and surged the ball forward.
Now 30 years old and fully fit, Naitanui is at the peak of his powers and hoping to lift West Coast into premiership contention throughout the finals.