West Coast are flirting with the idea of deploying ruckman Nic Naitanui as a virtual centre bounce specialist in a surprise comeback from his knee injury against Essendon at Optus Stadium on Friday night.
While the Eagles have increasingly taken the WAFL route for player comebacks on the back of their COVID and injury woes, Naitanui’s ability as a centre square weapon even on limited minutes means they have given consideration to a direct return.
West Coast also have the option of bringing Naitanui back through their reserves team, which hosts South Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park on Saturday.
The 32-year-old trained strongly on Tuesday.
Midfielder Tim Kelly and forward Liam Ryan are expected to return to face the Bombers as the Eagles eye snapping their club record nine-game losing streak; however, Dom Sheed, who has only played one game in 2022, is in doubt after a scan revealed a hot spot in his foot.
The home game against 16th-placed Essendon looms as a chance for a rare win, despite Ladbrokes installing the Bombers as $1.42 favourites with West Coast paying $2.95.
The last-placed Eagles have not won a game since Naitanui last featured against Collingwood in round four and current ruck partnership Bailey Williams and Callum Jamieson have been regularly overwhelmed.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson conceded it was hard to shake the feeling of being underdogs, despite improved player availability since the bye.
The Eagles pushed Geelong to within 18 points last weekend, and were level at half-time after the returns of a string of senior players.
“Getting that winning feeling back would be nice, but that takes time and it’s not as easy as you think,” Simpson said.
“Getting belief and expectation and all those things in play, I think the last couple of games we’ve played we’ve been better.
“But we haven’t had a win. So we’re desperate for a win.”
Essendon coach Ben Rutten said a decision on whether star midfielder Darcy Parish (calf) flew west would depend on how he pulled up following Wednesday’s training session.
Rutten said the 3-10 Bombers had been energised by their upset win over St Kilda.
“We’ve certainly internally seen growth in parts of our games that hasn’t translated into the results so much for us,” he said.
“Last week was a good one for our confidence. Getting a result was really pleasing and hopefully we can take some belief and momentum out of that.”