West Coast coach Adam Simpson has confirmed the worst for Eagles fans, with ruckman Nic Naitanui to miss the rest of the season and best part of 2019 with another knee reconstruction.
Simpson said his star ruckman would require a full reconstruction of his right knee, just 15 games into a comeback from a similar operation on his left knee in 2016, after landing awkwardly on the joint during a ruck duel with Collingwood's Brodie Grundy at the MCG on Sunday.
The massive setback ruined an otherwise perfect day for the Eagles, who broke a 10-game MCG losing streak against the Pies to prevail by 35 points despite the loss of their most influential player just before half time.
"Scans this morning confirmed he'll need a reconstruction, so it's really disappointing for Nic and the club," Simpson said in his weekly spot on 7 News Perth on Monday night.
"Unfortunately we can't dwell on it for too long, we've got a game coming up pretty quickly, Nic knows that, he's been through it, but yeah our heart goes out to him."
Simpson said the news was devastating for Naitanui after he had worked so hard to get back to his best, while the club concurrently took a conservative approach to his return to AFL action.
"Personally it's a long road back… he spent a good 16-17 months getting back to fitness, and he did make a difference for us for this part of the year," Simpson said.
"But he'll go through the same process and be back better than ever and, in the meantime, we need to get on with the season."
Simpson said it was well known in footy circles how hard Naitanui works behind the scenes and was confident his star big man would be back playing for West Coast.
"He's obviously pretty disappointed, but remaining upbeat. He understands where we're at as a club at the moment and what needs to happen," he said.
"I'm sure in the coming days and weeks it will sink in – the work in front of him – but he's not scared of hard work, and the journey will continue."
Confirmation of Naitanui's injury puts the ruck onus squarely on the broad shoulders of capable big man Scott Lycett for the rest of 2018 and, hopefully, beyond, with the club's new number one ruckman out of contract at season's end.
The 25-year-old has overcome his own injury-ravaged 2017 to play every game for the Eagles this year, clearly his best season since being drafted by West Coast with pick 29 in the 2010 draft.
"We needed him [Lycett] on the weekend and were really pleased he played an important part to nullify a really good ruckman in Grundy, it was almost break even which was great," Simpson said.
Simpson also alluded to relief at finally beating a quality opponent at the home of football, where they have now won five of 11 under the coach's reign at West Coast.
"The boys stood up … it was an important game for the season and what we needed to do at the MCG," he said.
Naitanui flew back to Perth on Sunday night on crutches, and was then accompanied from the airport by an Eagles official who clashed with cameramen from Channel 9 and Channel 7.
The 28-year-old had scans on Monday morning, which confirmed the worst.
Naitanui made a long-anticipated return to AFL action in round one this season after spending 18 months on the sidelines following reconstructive surgery to his left knee in 2016.
West Coast officials resisted overtures to play their prized big man in last year's final series despite the urging of Eagles fans, and Naitanui himself.
David loves a good drop and a cracking yarn.
Most Viewed in Sport
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter