Woosha lifts the Eagles lid on Naitanui
Nic Naitanui speaks to coach Adam Simpson during Saturday's loss to Carlton. Pic: Getty Images

West Coast premiership coach John Worsfold says the club knew Nic Naitanui would likely never reach full fitness or perform at his best throughout this year, but was committed to sticking with its star ruckman.

The decision to continue playing Naitanui will come under scrutiny heading into Sunday's western derby at Patersons Stadium, a fixture that looms as one of the most critical clashes between the bitter foes in years.

Fremantle are well short of the form that carried them to last year's grand final, losing successive matches to Sydney and North Melbourne to fall to 3-3 and eighth position. Only percentage separates them and 11th-placed St Kilda.

The Eagles are also 3-3, coming off three consecutive losses during a slump that has coincided with Naitanui's modest form and must overcome a poor recent derby record, having lost the past three meetings.

Naitanui, who turns 24 on Sunday, has taken one mark in his past four matches and is averaging 14 hit-outs a game - the lowest of any of his six seasons.

Former AFL captains Tony Shaw and Garry Lyon are among a chorus of critics who have labelled Naitanui "overrated", but Worsfold pointed out his former charge's injury history meant the Eagles had already resigned themselves to not seeing his best in 2014.

Naitanui has been shackled by groin problems for the past two years and had this year's pre- season interrupted by an Achilles injury. "I don't think it (the criticism) is unfair, but you've got to take into account his current situation," Worsfold told AFL Game Day.

"In 2012 he was the All-Australian ruckman, so he had an outstanding year. You don't get into that position unless you've rucked better than anyone else in the game. He then had a serious groin issue and has worked through that over two years.

"The club deliberately took a really (conservative approach to recovery). The aim for him this year was just to play footy, not necessarily be at peak fitness, so he's miles off being able to do what he will be able to do when he's back at his peak fitness."

Eagles coach Adam Simpson made it clear a fortnight ago that he was not considering dropping Naitanui.

West Coast will be tempted to recall Callum Sinclair, potentially at the expense of Scott Lycett, for his first AFL game in four weeks as they prepare to face Aaron Sandilands. Sinclair was one of the best for East Perth in Saturday's 22-point win over Perth, with 20 disposals, 25 hit-outs, nine marks and two goals.

Fremantle also have selection headaches despite coach Ross Lyon acknowledging there was limited scope to swing the axe.

Hayden Ballantyne will return after serving a one-match suspension and Garrick Ibbotson will also be available after illness prevented him from playing on the weekend.

Zac Clarke will come under pressure to retain his spot after two quiet performances. He had just seven disposals against the Kangaroos and failed to hit the scoreboard for the second week.

His one saving grace could be the lack of other viable options.

The West Australian

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