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Naitanui with Willie Rioli

The West Coast Eagles have confirmed that Nic Naitanui has a torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on his right knee. His left knee was reconstructed in late 2016 and kept Naitanui out of the competition for all of 2017. American specialist Bill Knowles, who assisted Naitanui with his recovery in Philadelphia last July, has suggested that this second reconstruction could require a longer recovery period. It is expected that Naitanui will undergo reconstruction surgery as soon as the initial swelling subsides. He will miss the rest of this year and most of the 2019 season. The twenty-eight year old has played 160 games for West Coast; he will be nearly 30 when he returns to the game.

Naitanui has played 16 games this season, putting in some strong efforts and initially appearing to have returned at close to his best. As the season progressed, he struggled against some of the premier ruckman of the competition. In the game before his latest injury he took a mark that will be a contender for Mark of the Year.

The injury places increased pressure on the Eagles to re-sign Naitanui’s back-up ruckman Scott Lycett, who will be a free agent at the end of this season. Lycett is two years younger than Naitaniu and there has been strong interest in him from teams in Victoria and in his home state of South Australia. West Coast have the luxury of third ranked ruckman Nathan Vardy (also coming back from injury) playing well in the local Western Australian competition, but Lycett’s signature will remain their priority. The Eagles will also have to put big money on the table to retain star midfielder Andrew Gaff and intercept marker Jeremy McGovern, who both become free agents at the end of this season. Rumors are circling that Gaff has had strong interest from St Kilda, and other clubs, in his home state of Victoria. 

AFL West Coast v GWS, 2018 Optus Stadium.
Jeremy McGovern

It is believed that McGovern’s agent has had a huge offer from the Eagles’ cross-town rival Fremantle, to tempt him to play for the club where his father Andrew was an inaugural Docker and played 63 games. If the Eagles were to lose any of their free agents, because of salary cap restrictions, McGovern would be the player most likely to go.

In other news from the West, Fremantle Dockers’ veterans Michael Johnson (239 games) and Danyle Pearce (258 games) have announced that they will retire at the end of this season. Both players are putting in strong games for Peel Thunder in the Western Australian competition but have played limited games (8 and 3 respectively) this year, due to the Dockers’ focus on rebuilding with younger players. The Dockers could play their tenth debutant this year as young ruckman, Sean Darcy, limped off with a groin injury against Port Adelaide; and first-choice ruckman Aaron Sandilands requires another week to get over a calf strain. If Darcy can’t play then Lloyd Meek will debut against Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers at Etihad Stadium this week. The 29 year old Bellchambers who has played 108 games in his ten years at Essendon and is enjoying his best season for Bombers.

Ryan Nyhuis’ suspension for the sling tackle on Port Adelaide’s Robbie Gray could make room for the long awaited return of Harley Bennell for Fremantle. Bennell has put in some good games for Peel Thunder and appears to have overcome the calf issues that have plagued him since transferring from the Gold Coast Suns to the Dockers two years ago. The struggling Suns finally have some good news and will consider playing ball magnets Michael Barlow and Pearce Hanley this week. Barlow has dominated in the Queensland local competition since recovering from a broken jaw. The Irishman Pearce Hanley has overcome his shoulder issues and put in an encouraging display in his first game back in the reserves.

Other top-line players in the mix to return from injury this week are the big American, Mason Cox, for Collingwood, Brett Deledio for the Giants and Tom Boyd for the Western Bulldogs. Collingwood will be aiming to straighten their attacks after going down to the Eagles last week. The return of their big marking target is just what they need up forward. The Giants will be strengthened by Deledio’s mid-field experience and are desperate to stay in the race for a precious finals berth. With the successful return of Toby Greene the Giants have what they need to overcome Port Adelaide Power who will be with Ruckman Paddy Ryder (hip flexor injury) and possibly Robbie Gray (concussion).

Article last changed on Thursday, July 19, 2018 - 3:10 AM EDT

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