West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui has transformed how he tackles his trade, according to coach Adam Simpson.
Naitanui returned from a second knee reconstruction in late 2019, and won All-Australian honours in his first full season back along with the Eagles best and fairest award.
Simpson says he is thinking about his game even deeper as he grows older.
“He’s become really crafty,” Simpson told Sportsday.
“I think doing the knee gave him a bit of perspective on what he needs to do going forward.
“Now he’s got the athletic profile but he also puts so much work into the opposition.
“He tries to work out their weaknesses, and he’s a good educator so he’s got our mids on the same page as well.”
Simpson noted that Naitanui’s physical limitations present challenges at selection for the Eagles.
“It’s a challenge for us, Nic can’t ruck the whole day. He’s not a (Todd) Goldstein or (Brodie) Grundy type,” he explained.
“Sometimes you look at his game and think ‘okay, you can only handle 60 ruck contests’ and once you get to that level you need to look at his on-field management.”
The Eagles are puzzling out how best to support Naitanui, and a young forward is central to the conundrum.
“There’s less stoppages which means Nic can probably play more game time, which allows us to get (Oscar Allen) running through the ruck," Simpson detailed.
“We’re wrestling between playing another ruckman and leaving Oscar forward the whole day, though he was swinging back a little bit on occasion.
“The other option is you play Oscar as second ruck like we have the last two weeks, and he gets an opportunity to give Nic a chop out and we have a smaller forward line.
“Both have worked for us this year, (but) if we do it with Ossie all year, it probably won’t help him in the long run with his body.”
Simpson said he is only “a little bit” nervous about putting the precocious goalkicking talent in the engine room.
“He had a rough hit against the Bulldogs and his shoulder came close to popping out, but strange enough (the medical team) think it’s more risky as a forward,” he divulged.
“There’s one thing I do know… when JK (Josh Kennedy) hangs the boots up, we’ll have a good replacement there.”
West Coast will travel to Victoria to face struggling St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon.