Preseason derby preview: West Coast Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui to play half a game against Fremantle

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West Coast coach Adam Simpson says Sunday’s pre-season rematch against Fremantle will help decide the team for round one, as the Eagles look to re-energise following a flat showing last weekend.

Ruckman Nic Naitanui will play half a game against the Dockers at Optus Stadium, in his only match preparation for the regular season.

Veteran forward Josh Kennedy (calf) and midfielder Tim Kelly (thumb) won’t be seen at all before the Eagles’ season-opener against Gold Coast on March 21, though the club is confident all three key components will be there.

Naitanui, who has been slowed by a hamstring strain, will get an important tune-up for the regular season but the identity of his ruck partner for round one remains one of the team’s major selection issues.

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Bailey Williams had been in the box seat after a strong summer but quad and ankle setbacks in recent weeks have him racing time to be fit, while Nathan Vardy will be given another chance to push his case.

West Coast Eagles Training at Lathlain this morning: Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui. Photo by Michael Wilson
Camera IconWest Coast Eagles Training at Lathlain this morning: Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui. Photo by Michael Wilson

Defender Tom Barrass has told the Eagles he wants to play in the AAMI Community Series fixture, following the death of his father Tony.

Captain Luke Shuey, defender Jeremy McGovern and veteran Shannon Hurn have also been earmarked to play full games against Fremantle after being managed in last Saturday’s convincing 47-point loss to the Dockers at Lathlain.

Small forward Zac Langdon has been declared fit after rolling his ankle and will hope to press his claims for a round one appearance with his new club.

Simpson said it was crucial the Eagles stepped up after being exposed last weekend.

“We had a team that probably wasn’t full strength, but I just thought our intensity was off, we were on the back foot for the whole day,” he said.

“So we need to lift. Obviously Fremantle are in a really good space. So it will be a real challenge to play them again and great prep for round one.

“There’s a few spots up for grabs and unfortunately not many people put their hand up last week. So this is an important game for a lot of players.”

Simpson said he was not worried by Kelly’s setback because of the strong summer base he had laid, but he conceded Kennedy would need his minutes managed through the early rounds.

Elliot Yeo is still struggling with groin pain after training, but Simpson said the star midfielder looked “powerful and strong” at a recent session and had made significant progress over the past month.

West Coast Eagles Training at Lathlain this morning: Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui. Photo by Michael Wilson
Camera IconWest Coast Eagles Training at Lathlain this morning: Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui. Photo by Michael Wilson

Yeo, 27, is certain to miss the start of the season and had no return date targeted.

“We’re still working through the ups and downs of the recovery, but we’re making progress,” Simpson said.

“He’s way more advanced than three or four weeks ago. We’re still tracking in the right direction. It’s slow though.

“We need him in our side. He’s one of our best players. I’m in a rush to get him back, but we won’t rush his progression. When he’s right, he’s right.

“His body will tell us when he gets to the next level and importantly how he pulls up after each session.”

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