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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mark Duffield: Eagles bowed, but not broken without Nic Naitanui

Another West Coast team, in another season, could be eliminated from calculations off the back of a season-ending injury to Nic Naitanui.
But not this team ... and not this season.
Are the Eagles’ chances of a fourth flag diminished by Naitanui’s second torn anterior cruciate ligament in less than two years?
Of course they are.
You don’t lose a ruckman of his quality without it hurting your chances.
But while this is personally devastating for Naitanui, it is challenging for the Eagles, but doesn’t eliminate them.
Few clubs have a genuine lead ruckman ready to step into an injured No.1’s shoes. The Eagles do. His name is Scott Lycett.
And few clubs have a player with the proven capability of playing forward-ruck as their third-stringer. The Eagles do.
His name is Nathan Vardy.
Opportunity has knocked for Lycett and you suspect that West Coast negotiators will also be knocking.
Perhaps the most dramatic shift that will occur as a result of Naitanui’s injury is a shift in the club’s contract talks with Lycett, Andrew Gaff and Jeremy McGovern.
Lycett’s signature just became as important as the other two.
Because of Lycett it could be argued that Naitanui is not West Coast’s most important player, nor is Josh Kennedy.
Lycett and Vardy step up for Nic Nat, and as long as one of Kennedy and Jack Darling are present, West Coast have a target to aim at.
At the other end McGovern spearheads the best half-back line in the AFL and was best afield against Collingwood on the weekend.
Playing alongside him is Shannon Hurn, the favourite to be All-Australian captain at the end of the season.
Brad Sheppard should be in the All-Australian conversation also.
McGovern has become his club’s most important player.
He was the man sent to save the forward line when both
Kennedy and Darling were absent and he was player who headed the Magpies off at the pass countless times on Sunday when they aimed for proven goal kicker Jordan De Goey.
The kick inside a team’s forward 50 is called “the money kick”.
It is the kick that turns possession into a score.
McGovern is the best intercept defender in the league because he interrupts the “money kick” and as interceptors go Hurn isn’t far behind.
West Coast are second on the ladder and have three of their final six games against teams who are not in finals contention.
And most of the other contenders also have serious injury clouds hanging over them.
Richmond are the only contenders without a significant injury with 21/2months of the season to go.
The key word to add to that is ... yet. The Tigers have enjoyed a golden run with injury. Sooner or later golden runs end.