West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui has retired. Nic, 33, was contracted through 2024 but has not played this season due to an Achilles injury. He played just eight games in 2022 due to knee injuries. In making the announcement, NIc said, "I feel like I have exhausted every avenue to work my way through my injury, but my body is sending a strong message that it is time ... I’m content in the knowledge that I have given it everything ... Being a power athlete who has relied on my ability to jump throughout my career this injury was probably going to take that away from me. I am also looking at a lengthy rehabilitation from my latest surgery and there are no guarantees of making it back to AFL level even if everything goes to plan." He said he had given plenty of thought about his future and decided retirement was the best decision. Simpson also described him as one of the all-time great ruckmen.
Coach Adam Simpson said, "Nic has been a legacy player for our football club and has been one of the most influential players of his generation ... it is the end of an era and we will certainly miss Nic. In the last couple of years when he has been limited in the amount of games he has played his impact around the group has remained significant. There have been few ruckmen in history to have a bigger impact on the game and he will always hold a special place in the history of the club." He was also a marketing powerhouse for the club as well as a multicultural ambassador."
He was drafted in 2008 and debuted in 2009. He became an instant hit with fans. Several highlights: in one of his early games in 2009. In torrential rain against Hawthorn, with the game hanging in the balance, he evaded several Hawk opponents near the goal line to kick his first career goal. In 2013, he took a huge mark (catch of the ball) and kicked the winning goal. Another match winning goal came against GWS in 2016 when he gained possession from a boundary throw-in with two seconds on the clock. Athletic and mobile, it was his ability in the center bounce that became his great weapon, after honing his "360" tap work with the use of wheelie bins as a young player and learning to hit the ball in any direction with varied force. He said in 2012, "I pride myself on that. At the start I could only go to certain spots, but now I reckon I can use all 360 degrees of the circle. That's helped me out a fair bit." Midfielders Matt Priddis and then Luke Shuey headed a long line of midfielders who benefited from those deft taps which they described jokingly as "soft little snowflakes" .
One memory which Naitanui said will stick with him is his debut game at the MCG against his childhood hero Ben Cousins (then playing for Richmond), Nic said, " ...I was wearing No.9 (Cousins wore the number at West Coast) and 'Cuzzy' was standing on the other side of the circle ... He told me to take his jumper off and not to be wearing it. That was his first game for the Tigers against West Coast and that is something that will always forever stay in my mind. We lost that game ... but it's something I have fond memories of, and I think that will probably be the one thing I will show [my kids] over and over."
The other side of Naitanui's career was his off-field presence as a role model. It was a responsibility he took seriously, including visiting children in hospitals during his free time with no publicity or fanfare, "I think the greatest joys I got ... was going to some of those oncology wards at Princess Margaret Hospital and the power that we had. I spoke to the boys about a little kid who wanted to eat his veggies because a player had told him to do it, not the nurses or his parents. It holds so much weight and so much value .I'm so proud to call myself a role model or an idol to some people. It's something I never take for granted." A multicultural ambassador for the AFL, Naitanui said his role in the game had been "as much about what I do on-field as off-field".
Ed. note: An example of his speed and agility: in one of his early games. he took possession of his own tap out just in front of the center circle and ran in to kick a goal. To show off his leaping prowess, he was at a basketball game and, during a break in the action, he left his seat and jumped over a standing ringside commentator.
All-Australian 2012, 2020, 2021
Best and fairest 2020., 2021
Article last changed on Sunday, September 10, 2023 - 3:19 PM EDT