Nic Nat's record stat has AFL Cats wary
For a footballer whose qualities rarely translate to raw numbers, Nic Naitanui's AFL return produced one statistic which has Geelong on red alert.
The superstar West Coast ruckman looms large over Friday night's sudden-death semi-final against the Cats at the MCG.
Naitanui had moments of dominance in his comeback from an ankle injury during the Eagles' elimination-final victory over Essendon.
Playing in just his fourth game for the season, Naitanui - who missed out on the Eagles' 2018 premiership after undergoing a second knee reconstruction - played limited minutes but looked to have lost none of his athleticism.
It was in the middle where his influence was most profound.
The Eagles booted seven goals from centre bounces - a finals record and a stunning number considering the AFL average per game is just 10 points.
Geelong are set to recall ruckman Rhys Stanley after their decision to withdraw him from last week's qualifying final against Collingwood backfired.
But with the new six-six-six rule affording Naitanui greater space than ever to set up an attacking Eagles chain, coach Chris Scott conceded the Cats midfield had virtually no choice but to set up defensively at the centre bounces.
"You need to consider it, don't you, the Naitanui impact in there," Scott said.
"He's not out on the ground a lot but the centre bounces become really crucial.
"I guess it becomes a bit of a game of how much do you defend - and it needs to be a fair bit - versus how much do you take the chance to counter-attack?
"We have had the experience over the years that sometimes being too proactive in there can go against you. It either goes really well or it goes against you really badly.
"We have some players that can punish any opposition team that gets a little bit too proactive. There's a bit of risk-reward there."
Stanley has been in and out of the Cats' line-up this season but Scott was adamant he wouldn't be down on confidence after his latest omission.
"We're very confident Rhys is in a good place if he plays on Friday night," he said.
"He's in a big group of players that didn't play on Friday night who we think are capable in the right circumstances. I don't think it's really fair to isolate it to Rhys, necessarily."