West Coast coach Adam Simpson is refusing to put Nic Naitanui and Elliot Yeo on ice for the remainder of the season, as the injury-plagued pair push for a return in the remaining five rounds.
Naitanui won’t return to face St Kilda on Sunday, while the Saints will also be without their own star ruckman in Paddy Ryder (calf), while Yeo is firming to play against Gold Coast in round 20, following a hamstring setback.
Connor West, Greg Clark and Josh Rotham have been added to the extended squad, while Tim Kelly (corked thigh) and Callum Jamieson (adductor) both proved their fitness ahead of the Optus Stadium clash on Sunday.
Mid-season recruit Jai Culley has retained his spot after an impressive debut against Hawthorn.
Naitanui and Yeo have each mustered just AFL five games for the year, with Naitanui managed last week after battling through knee soreness against Carlton the round prior.
“We’ll make the right call for him (Naitanui) but we’re not packing up and going home, there’s still five rounds to go,” Simpson said.
“If these guys are available, in particular Nic and Elliot Yeo, I think it’s good for them to play.”
The club has already ruled out Dom Sheed, Jeremy McGovern and Tom Joyce, while Oscar Allen, Luke Edwards, Campbell Chesser and Tom Cole remain on the inactive list.
Willie Rioli is set to miss another match, having been granted indefinite personal leave following the passing of his father last week.
Simpson revealed the 2-15 Eagles will use the final rounds of the season to experiment with positional changes, warning senior players won’t be immune to having their magnets moved.
“Exploring guys in different positions is something we have to look at, and not just for first-gamers but also guys who perhaps need to look at something different with their careers as well,” Simpson said.
“Those opportunities will come, maybe not this week but maybe we might try a couple of things over the next month that’ll look a bit different in terms of positioning.”
Simpson admitted he had intended to swing in-form defender Tom Barrass to the other end of the ground but that plan had to be abandoned due to a season-ending rib injury to McGovern.
”I actually was keen to see Barrass forward there for a while and then Gov went down,” he said.
“We actually started to train him up a bit for it and then unfortunately we lost a few more soldiers.
“So our hands are tied a little bit but we’ll try a couple of things.”
The round 19 clash looms as a must-win fixture for St Kilda, who have unceremoniously dropped out of the eight following just one victory from their last six matches.
“It’ll be game on,” Simpson said. “I’m sure Ratts (St Kilda coach Brett Ratten) has been disappointed at stages in the last five or six weeks and expectations are high, that they’ve put on themselves.
“Not that we can worry too much about what St Kilda are doing, we’ve got our own purpose and what we need to get out of our year but our expectations are that they’ll come in and have a real swing.”
Simpson admitted it will take a team effort to nullify the influence of St Kilda forward Max King, who kicked six goals the last time the two sides met in round 19, 2021, with the Eagles claiming an eight-point win.
“He’s a very good player. Our backs at stages this year have been left high and dry by our lack of support and pressure up the ground,” he said.
“The overwhelming supply has hurt us as well. When we’re conceding 60/70 inside-50s, it’s really difficult… If we can nullify the supply, that would be the first priority in taking away his opportunity.
“But he’s a very good player, so he doesn’t need too many opportunities to score.”