Naitanui AFL comeback hopes gain pace
The Nic Naitanui roadshow is gaining pace, with the star ruckman's chances of playing again this year given a boost after he moved freely at West Coast's training session on Tuesday.
Naitanui suffered a syndesmosis ankle injury in round 17 and it was initially feared he might miss the rest of the AFL season.
But the 29-year-old was able to avoid surgery and has been steadily building up his workload ever since.
Naitanui's appearance at training on Tuesday was his most significant public display to date.
The 201cm ruckman completed some skills work with his teammates before doing a series of individual 100m runs and agility tests.
He also led and marked strongly in attack during a team drill.
Naitanui still has more than three weeks before the start of the AFL finals, leaving him well placed to make an uplifting return.
"It's just great to see him out there," teammate Oscar Allen said.
"He lifts the spirits of the whole group. Everyone knows what a game changer he is for us.
"We just want him to get back as quickly as he can, because we know how impactful he is and how much difference he can make to the team."
Naitanui has missed West Coast's past three finals campaigns after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in each of his knees.
The 164-game veteran has only managed three games this season so far - but his influence in each of those matches was profound, averaging 31 hitouts and 6.7 clearances.
West Coast sit in third spot on the ladder, but will guarantee themselves a top-two finish with wins over Richmond and Hawthorn in the final two rounds.
A fit and firing Naitanui would be a huge weapon to West Coast as they attempt to defend last year's premiership.
Allen has been used as a pinch-hitting ruckman in Naitanui's absence.
The 20-year-old, who can play up forward or in defence, said he wasn't worried that Naitanui's return would change his role in the team.
"If I"m asked to play in the ruck, I'd love the opportunity because it gets me around the ball and gets me involved," Allen said.
"But if not and I'm playing up forward, then I'm equally as happy."
Defender Liam Duggan is set to make his own return from an ankle injury via the WAFL this week.