Nic Nat back as Eagles down Dockers
Pic: Paul Kane, Getty

Nic Naitanui made a successful return for West Coast at Patersons Stadium tonight as the club completed a pre-season sweep to fuel expectations ahead of round one.

The enigmatic ruckman was substituted into the practice match against Fremantle with seven minutes left in the first half and played the majority of his game time in attack and as a ruck rover.

He finished with nine disposals as a tall Eagles forward line showed it would be an intimidating prospect this season, with spearhead Josh Kennedy booting five goals in the 13.8 (86) to 9.13 (67) victory.

Fremantle were conversely left with serious headaches over selection and the team’s lacklustre form just a week out from their season opener against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium.

The club emerged from the 19-point loss played in suffocating heat without an obvious answer to who will support Aaron Sandilands in the ruck.

Second-year tall Jack Hannath kicked a goal but was not overly effective, while Zac Clarke’s availability for round one remains in serious doubt.

Nat Fyfe’s preparation has also been far from ideal, with the key midfielder ruled out just before bouncedown for the second time in eight days.

The withdrawal means last year’s club champion will potentially line up against the Magpies having not played since the club’s NAB Challenge clash on February 18.

Fremantle officials have maintained that Fyfe’s absence is due to a corked leg, but it is believed he is suffering from a right knee injury sustained in last month’s 84-point loss to the Eagles at Arena Joondalup.

Chris Mayne and Clancee Pearce were among several Dockers still badly lacking touch coming off injury-affected pre-seasons.

Naitanui, who was playing his first game since round 16 last year, showcased his trademark athleticism in encouraging signs for West Coast.

He ran down Docker Cameron Sutcliffe about seven minutes into the third term to win a free kick for holding the ball and later laid a crunching shepherd to set up West Coast’s first goal of the final quarter.

West Coast chose to rest Will Schofield, Xavier Ellis and Mark Hutchings, giving several other players the chance to press their selection claims.

Last year’s No.11 draft pick Dom Sheed started the game in the centre square, set up West Coast’s third goal with a spearing pass inside 50 and kicked a major of his own.

Back-up ruck duo Scott Lycett and Callum Sinclair again showed promise despite being subbed out at different stages of the game.

The strong form of Mark LeCras and Shannon Hurn coming off injury-affected years also looms as a major bonus for coach Adam Simpson.

The former kicked two goals from 20 disposals, including a brilliant pick up and snap as West Coast kicked five successive majors either side of half time to break the contest open.

Several young Dockers stood out in the one significant upside for Fremantle.

Tom Sheridan was lively through the midfield, while Lachie Neale continued to be prolific around the stoppages.

SCOREBOARD

WEST COAST2.27.5 11.613.886
FREMANTLE 3.2 5.47.89.13 67
GOALS – WEST COAST: J Kennedy 5; M LeCras 2; C Sinclair, J Cripps, M Rosa, J Darling, D Sheed. FREMANTLE: A Sandilands, M Barlow, M Walters, M Pavlich, T Sheridan, P Duffield, J Hannath, M Taberner, M De Boer.

BEST – WEST COAST: M LeCras, J Kennedy, S Hurn, M Brown, M Priddis, S Wellingham. FREMANTLE: M Barlow, R Crowley, L Neale, A Sandilands, T Sheridan, S Hill.
INJURIES – WEST COAST: None. FREMANTLE: None.
UMPIRES: L Farmer, J Dalgelish, D Margetts.
CROWD: 12,000 (approx) at Patersons Stadium.

The West Australian

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