STAR ruckman Nic Naitanui made an encouraging return to football in East Perth’s 25-point win over East Fremantle at Shark Park on Saturday.
Playing about two and a half quarters of the pre-season hit-out, Naitanui moved and jumped increasingly well following an 18-month lay-off with a knee injury.
Lining up at half forward, Naitanui was quickly into the game with an early smother that helped the Royals push the ball inside 50, before he was moved into his prominent position for the second bounce.
The fan favourite recorded 15 disposals and more than 30 hit-outs before being removed mid-way through the third term of the game, which his side won 13.7 (85) to 9.6 (60).
“I was a bit rusty, but it was great to get out there with the (East Perth) boys and have a run. My body’s feeling good,” he tweeted.
West Coast general manager Craig Vozzo said the signs were good.
“We talked to our fitness staff and (Naitanui) hit all the markers we were looking for,” he said.
“(He) got about an hour of footy.
“He seems to have pulled up pretty well so, yeah, good start.”
Vozzo said the club would monitor Naitanui closely before making a call on whether he plays again before the season proper.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” he said.
“We’ll make that decision as we go along but the early signs are good.
“He’s had a number of heavy sessions which simulate a game but you don’t quite get what he got today in terms of the bodies so we’re pushing in the right direction for sure.”
Naitanui’s teammate Hamish Brayshaw left the field with a mild concussion early in the match.
“We obviously took a conservative approach with a first year player,” Vozzo said.
“He’s ok but we didn’t want to take any risk.”
West Coast coach Adam Simpson and a band of Naitanui’s Eagles teammates including Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern were among the 1700 people there to witness the match.
East Fremantle will play West Perth next Saturday while the Royals will play South Fremantle.