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Rested Naitanui primed for top-two charge

Nic Naitanui says he’s ready to shoulder a heavier ruck load in the second half of the season

WEST Coast talisman Nic Naitanui is confident he can play without a rest for the remainder of the season, in a boost to the Eagles’ assault on a top-two spot.

The spring-heeled ruckman has been carefully managed since his uplifting round one comeback from his left knee reconstruction, only featuring in 58 per cent of game time in 11 appearances.

MATCH PREVIEW West Coast v Essendon

Naitanui expects to build his minutes and believes his round eight suspension for a dangerous tackle, plus the recent bye, has him primed for the last 10 matches before finals.

“I don’t feel like I need a break,” Naitanui told AFL.com.au.

“At the start of the year, we sat down and planned when I’d have a break, just for my knee and my body as a whole after not playing footy for so long.

“The suspension was probably a good thing for me because it gave me a rest and then the bye as well, so I feel pretty good.

“I could come out and play 100 or 110 minutes each week, but I think I’d be pulling up pretty sore and carrying it into each game.

“I’d rather have that limited time when I can and when I do need to have longer stints I know I’m prepared for it.”

Naitanui appears to have lost little, if any, of his prodigious leap since he ruptured the ACL in his jumping leg against Hawthorn in round 22, 2016.

The 28-year-old’s influence on the Eagles’ midfield certainly hasn’t diminished.

His combination with Scott Lycett, also back from shoulder issues, has helped transform a pedestrian onball brigade last year into a competitive unit and West Coast’s inside 50 count (54.1) has improved by 4.5 per game.

“I feel like I’m having an impact in my time on ground and really helping the team keeping it in our forward half,” Naitanui said.

“It (managed minutes) allows Scotty Lycett to play a bit more time in the ruck as well. He thrives off that and he’s been playing some really good footy.”

While his return has gone off without a hitch after 19 months of intensive rehabilitation, Naitanui still has heightened awareness about his knee.

It’s only natural, and the 201cm Eagle now knows the difference between “good” and “bad” soreness.

“It’s still little bits and pieces where I feel my knee at times, but that’s just a confidence thing that’s not really a pain thing,” he said.

“Like most guys who do their knees or big serious injuries, it’s other things like your quads and your hammies that go because you haven’t had that time or strength into them.

“That’s something I’ve been monitoring pretty closely every day.”

He is also continuing to work on his tackling, but was adamant he hadn’t changed his technique since being controversially rubbed out.

During his unsuccessful appeal at the AFL Tribunal, Naitanui was told he needed to show a duty of care to smaller opponents like Port Adelaide midfielder Karl Amon.

“I’ve just got to be more wary of who I’m tackling and how I’m approaching it, I guess, but I’m not going to change the way I go about it,” he said.

“We do tackle technique every training session.

“We have little guys that come in – they’re jiu jitsu guys – and we learn how to tackle. One of the guys is only four foot tall. They’ve been here for years.

“They do a lot of mixed martial arts stuff, so … it’s more just how to tackle and get some body control.

“No matter how big or how small you are, you can tackle anyone and everyone.”

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Source: AFL FOOTBALL NEWS