West Coast star Nic Naitanui inspires Eagles’ WAFL side to victory in fairytale football return

Samantha RogersThe West Australian
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Nic Naitanui was inspired in his WAFL comeback.
Camera IconNic Naitanui was inspired in his WAFL comeback. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

A dominant performance from West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui inspired the Eagles’ WAFL side to their first win of the season in a 41-point upset victory over South Fremantle.

Less than 24 hours after the club’s senior side defeated Essendon at Optus Stadium, the bottom-placed Eagles ran out winners 13.12 (90) to 7.7 (49) at Mineral Resources Park on Saturday night.

Strengthened by 14 AFL-listed players in their line-up, the Eagles snapped an 11-month losing streak, with the club last singing the song in July 2021.

It took less than two minutes for Naitanui to make an impact in his return to football, scoring the opening goal for the home side after earning a free kick in the goal square - his first of two majors for the night.

The three-time All-Australian managed 26 hit outs playing limited minutes across four quarters, assisted in the ruck by Luke Strnadica (16), while the Bulldogs were without in-form ruckman Hamish Free, who was ruled out late with illness.

But the biggest tick for Naitanui was that he got through the match unscathed, his first outing at any level since suffering a medial ligament injury in the AFL side’s round four win over Collingwood that sidelined him for 11 weeks.

“Everyone grows a bit taller with Nic in the side,” West Coast WAFL coach Rob Wiley told The West Australian.

“But having Nic back and getting through the game, that’s the most important thing.

Nic Naitanui grabs the ball out of the ruck.
Camera IconNic Naitanui grabs the ball out of the ruck. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

“It’s great for his confidence in himself but also for West Coast people to see how he went about his footy and to get himself ready for next week.

“I’m sure he’s putting his hand up.”

The Eagles resisted the temptation to rush the 32-year-old back against the Bombers, which proved the right call after back-to-back wins at both levels over the weekend.

While Wiley was delighted to write the club champion’s name on his team sheet, he doesn’t think he can pencil Naitanui in for the next reserves game in a fortnight.

Nic Naitanui signs autographs after the game.
Camera IconNic Naitanui signs autographs after the game. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

“We were fortunate to have him for one game this year; I don’t think I’ll have him again,” Wiley said.

West Coast defender Harry Edwards also put his hand up for senior selection against Richmond on Sunday, taking an equal competition record 23 marks.

Edwards was dominant across the Eagles’ back half, notching up 30 disposals in a best-on-ground performance after serving as an emergency against the Dons.

Mature-age recruit Greg Clark (27 touches) and Jai Culley (14 disposals) had stand-out performances while also nullifying the influence of South Fremantle’s midfield.

First-year key forward Jack Williams impressed up forward with three goals, while Patrick Naish managed two from the wing to go with his 25 touches.

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