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Eagles: Nic Naitanui is our Pat Dangerfield

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26th June, 2019
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West Coast coach Adam Simpson says the return of Nic Naitanui is akin to welcoming back Patrick Dangerfield, but he’s urging fans to be patient with the star ruckman.

Naitanui will return from his second knee reconstruction in Saturday’s AFL clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.

The 29-year-old made a stunning return from his first knee reconstruction, and hopes are high he can repeat that effort and take advantage of the AFL’s new 6-6-6 rules.

West Coast have been solid rather than spectacular without Naitanui this year, and Simpson can’t wait to get the high-leaping Fijian back in the side.

Naitanui will be on limited minutes while he builds up his fitness, with Tom Hickey expected to partner him in the ruck.

“He’s been a significant out for us this year,” Simpson said of Naitanui.

“He’s the Dangerfield of our side. He’s one of our best players. So missing a Nat Fyfe-type of player is what Naitanui is for us.”

Naitanui has never been a big accumulator of the ball, with that trait attracting strong criticism at various points throughout his 161-game career.

Simpson hopes the critics will give Naitanui time to find his groove.

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“We need to give Nic a little bit of patience,” Simpson said.

“Everyone’s really excited that he’s back, and that’s great.

“But there’s also people (who) jump on him straight away, which I guarantee you will happen at some stage before his career ends.

“So just get the good balance is my plea. Let him find his feet.”

The Eagles were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday when Jeremy McGovern’s one-match ban for shoving Matt Guelfi was upheld by the AFL Tribunal.

McGovern’s absence against the Hawks could be compounded by the fact that Tom Barrass may not be ready for an AFL call-up.

Barrass made a strong return from foot surgery in the WAFL last Saturday, but he copped a cork to his right calf late in the game and is in doubt for this week.

“We’re going to give him every chance,” Simpson said.

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“He trained briefly today. He didn’t do a lot. We’ll see how he pulls up this afternoon and tomorrow.”

Goalsneak Willie Rioli returns from suspension, but Simpson is also keen to keep last week’s debutant Jarrod Cameron in the side following his two-goal, seven-tackle effort.

“He gets my vote. That holds a bit of sway at match committee,” Simpson said with a smile.