West Coast must resist the temptation to allow star ruckman Nic Naitanui to make a stunning return for Saturday’s knockout final with Greater Western Sydney.
The Eagles’ enforcer is ready to play after 55 weeks in recovery following a full anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction to his left knee which he ruptured in August last year in a stirring home win over Hawthorn.
Whether Eagles coach Adam Simpson, his football advisory staff and, most importantly, medical experts clear Naitanui to play or not, will be a one of the biggest storylines heading into the cut-throat semi-final clash.
It would be the biggest gamble in Eagles finals history if the club was to play him against the Giants.
But it is simply a risk too big to take, and an unnecessary one too.
It makes more sense to hold such a key player back for next season.
Naitanui can then complete an entire summer training schedule and gain match conditioning with pre-season appointments before returning for the opening of the 2018 season.
However, if Simpson and West Coast powerbrokers seriously believe they can beat GWS on the road, then an inspired Richmond at the MCG a week later to keep on track for a highly unlikely premiership tilt at the end of the month, then the prospect of a Naitanui return rises.
If he had played at least some game-time before now, Naitanui would have critical match conditioning which would help him cope with the extreme physical and mental pressures of a tough finals match-up.
Even if Simpson and his analysts gamble heavily and play their prized ruckman, he would only be able to manage restricted game time.
He could not possibly be expected to play in the region of 70 or 80 per cent of a full match in his first game back from injury.
If West Coast was genuinely considering playing him during this finals series he should have played in the emotional last qualifying home-and-away win over league leaders Adelaide when West Coast celebrated their last ever outing at Subiaco Oval.
Naitanui is believed to have wanted to play for East Perth late last month, which was further confirmation that he was ready to resume at AFL level.
When the 2012 All-n is in full flight he is pivotal to Eagles stoppages and clearances prospects.
He is back in full training and is understood to have been a standout performer in match simulation last week against in-form pair Drew Petrie and Nathan Vardy.
Petrie and Vardy continued their highly admirable roles as stand-in ruckmen with superb performances in the stunning final win over Port Adelaide.
Any temptation to recall Naitanui despite him playing no games this season, can be countered by the continued courageous performances from Petrie and Vardy.
Petrie was among the top few Eagles players against the Power, along with after-the-siren goal hero Luke Shuey, the incomparable Priddis and intercepting defensive maestro Jeremy McGovern. The dream is still alive! How’s the carry on pic.twitter苏州夜网/awOUsYdjpD??? Nic Naitanui (@RealNaitanui) September 9, 2017