Eagles turn up heat on Hill
Eagles turn up heat on Hill

West Coast forward Josh Hill heads the list of players needing a big game against Fremantle tonight to secure a spot in the club's round-one fixture against the Western Bulldogs, with coach Adam Simpson declaring his best 22 is still far from decided.

But while several players will be counting on a strong match, Simpson said the club was not expecting much from star ruckman Nic Naitanui, who will be playing his first competitive game since July last year in the practice match at Patersons Stadium.

The Eagles used 33 players across their two NAB Challenge victories over Fremantle and Sydney this pre-season.

Off-season recruits Elliot Yeo and Xavier Ellis are virtually guaranteed to line up against the Bulldogs after strong pre-season campaigns, while midfielder Mark Hutchings is also firmly in the picture after gathering 51 disposals and 12 clearances in his two games.

Hill has played 42 games and kicked 64 goals since arriving at the Eagles two seasons ago but is under more pressure to hold his spot than ever, given the fitness and form of goal-kicking trio Mark LeCras, Jamie Cripps and Sharrod Wellingham in the pre-season.

With just 1.2 to show from his two NAB Challenge games, the former Bulldog will need to lift his performance to continue his run as a first-choice player.

Mitch Brown and Dom Sheed, the club's first pick in last year's national draft, will also be looking to catch the eye against the Dockers to enhance their round-one chances.

Simpson said tonight's game and next week's intraclub match with East Perth would give the match committee a clearer idea of its preferred side.

"There's still some spots up for grabs, for sure," he said.

"We're really undecided with five or six positions, so the next two weeks will determine who gets the gig."

Naitanui is scheduled to play half of tonight's practice match, his first appearance for West Coast since round 17 last year.

The 2012 All-Australian played 11 games last year in a season wrecked by groin issues and he has been monitored carefully throughout the pre-season to ensure he is fit.

Simpson said the coaches were not concerned with how Naitanui performed tonight and were happy just to see him take another step in his recovery.

"I'm not super keen to throw him in the deep end first game up," Simpson said.

"We'll just see how the game evolves, see how he's feeling.

"The expectations are really low in terms of how he rucks. We just want to get him out there and playing to our system and adapting to some new teammates."

The game begins at 6pm.

The West Australian

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