Darling, Gaff next on Eagles hit list
Jack Darling. Pic: Getty Images

West Coast power forward Jack Darling is expected to be the next key player to sign a long-term deal after the club locked in Nic Naitanui for the next five years.

Naitanui will be 29 by the end of his five-year deal, which was announced yesterday and is believed to be worth $4 million including AFL marketing incentives.

The high-profile ruckman's re-signing will allow West Coast to turn to other list management priorities.

Darling, 21, is considered one of the most important players in the club's quest for premierships in coming years.

He is due to come out of contract at the end of next year after receiving a short extension to his existing deal during 2013.

_The West Australian _understands negotiations about a long-term contract are expected to start in the middle of next month, and a deal is likely to be reached quickly.

The move would shore up West Coast's scoring potency, with the club's leading goal kicker Josh Kennedy secured until the end of the 2016 season.

Mark LeCras is in the first year of a four-year deal that expires in 2017.

Darling has played 76 of a possible 79 matches since being taken with pick No.26 in the 2010 national draft from West Perth and has long been regarded as a star in the making.

He has kicked 16 goals in eight matches this season and looms as a critical figure in West Coast's efforts to end a hoodoo on Saturday night by winning their first game against Collingwood at the MCG since 1995.

The Eagles will also concentrate on ironing out new deals for midfielders Matt Rosa and Andrew Gaff in coming weeks. Both Victorian-born players are coming out of contract.

Preliminary discussions have already started on a contract for 27-year-old Rosa. The unrestricted free agent has reminded club officials of his value coming off an injury-interrupted year.

Rosa is averaging 26 disposals this year - the second highest at the club behind Matt Priddis.

Gaff's future at West Coast would be of more concern, as no progress has been made on a deal to keep the 21-year-old in Perth.

Gaff has had modest form over the past month, and was substituted out of the team's win over Greater Western Sydney in round eight 11 days ago with ankle soreness.

Naitanui said in a statement yesterday that his new contract would allow him to concentrate on playing football.

The 2008 No.2 draft pick's re-signing comes at a time when his value to the team has been questioned more than ever by former AFL champions including Garry Lyon and Scott Lucas, despite the high-leaping ruckman's groin problems from the past two years.

"The West Coast Eagles is my home," Naitanui said.

"The club has been good to me from the time I got here and I love it here. It's like family.

"I thoroughly enjoy being a part of the playing group and I reckon we are getting close to real success.

"I want to be around that because I feel like we are building."

The West Australian

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