The Eagles’ Nic Naitanui holds his injured knee on the bench during the match against Hawthorn on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images/AFL MediaPerth: West Coast don’t have to wait long to see how they will go against the top sides without injured ruckman Nic Naitanui.
The Eagles travel to Adelaide to play the second-placed Crows on Friday night in the last round of home-and-away season.
Both sides will need to win, with home finals for each still up for grabs.
Naitanui will miss the rest of this season and probably all of 2017 as well, after he injured an ACL in the Eagles’ 25-point win over Hawthorn on Friday night.
The tall Crows line-up will provide West Coast coach Adam Simpson with a good opportunity to test his limited options for covering his No.1 ruckman.
But key defender Jeremy McGovern is confident the Eagles can carry the momentum they have built in the past two weeks, despite the loss of their key big man.
“It is deflating. Nic is one of my teammates and a ripping fella. I don’t want to see that happen to anyone, let alone one of my teammates,” McGovern said.
“You don’t like seeing it, boys going off injured, especially knees. They are a fickle thing.
“He’s one of our pivotal players. But we’ve had to deal with being without him for a few games this year, which gives you a lot of confidence too – we’ve had to deal with it, so I think we’ll be fine.”
After being criticised for not being able to beat sides above them on the ladder this season, the Eagles have beaten Greater Western Sydney and Hawthorn in the past two weeks.
The win against the reigning three-time premiers on Friday was by far the Eagles’ best four-quarter performance of the year. The week before, they scrambled to a rare win away from home against a top-eight side. That probably cost the Giants a top-four finish.
Those wins did come with Naitanui back in the side after a six-week absence due to heel surgery, and he did kick the match-winner against the Giants, but West Coast won five of the games in which he was sidelined.
McGovern would normally be considered an apt support for Scott Lycett, who will again take over the first ruck position. But with Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown struggling to regain their places in the side, McGovern has become the Eagles’ most reliable key defender. He’s surely in contention for All-Australian selection this season.
Given the forward line that the Crows boast – including talls Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins, Tom Lynch and McGovern’s younger brother Mitch – Simpson may not be able to use McGovern too far up the ground.
But McGovern said he was ready to do whatever was needed to ensure his side progressed deep into the finals.
“Yeah (I pinched-hit) a few times, but Scott Lycett has stood up this year when Nic has been missing and done a great job,” he said.
“I have complete confidence in him, with (Fraser) McInnes and (Jon) Giles also playing good football in the WAFL (as other options).
“But If I have to go in there, I’ll go in and play my role.”
The chance to play that role almost came much earlier than expected, when Lycett also limped from Domain Stadium late on Friday night.
With Naitanui already sitting on the bench with crutches, McGovern wouldn’t have been the only one thinking the worst.
“I was also on the bench when Scott came off and I was thinking, “Far out, I’m going on here”. Throw the shin pads on and I’m going back out,” McGovern said.
“I was pretty glad that he was able to go back out there.”
Probably not as glad as Simpson.
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