WEST Coast has promoted Nic Naitanui into its leadership group ahead of the talismanic ruckman's highly-anticipated return to football in 2018. 

Naitanui is the only new face in the Eagles' six-man leadership group, with retired champions Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell making way.

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Emerging leaders Jeremy McGovern and Andrew Gaff, both set to become restricted free agents at season's end, have retained their positions supporting skipper Shannon Hurn, plus deputies Luke Shuey and Josh Kennedy.

Naitanui has been voted into the group for the first time, despite not playing since round 22, 2016 when he ruptured the ACL in his left knee.

The 27-year-old said 18 months on the sidelines had given him the chance to focus more on helping his teammates improve and to become a stronger leader.

"It’s a really exciting time and a privilege to be in there," said Naitanui, who is on track to return in the season opener against Sydney.

"I haven’t played a lot of footy in the last 18 months, so to still be voted in by my peers to be in the leadership group is a pretty big honour.

"I think having the past year off has really improved my leadership. 

"Obviously not being able to have an impact on the field, I’ve had to find different avenues. 

"Finding some stuff off-field with some of the players has really built my leadership over the past couple of months and year in particular." 

Coach Adam Simpson declared it was the right time for Naitanui to "step up" his leadership. 

"Nic’s attributes to the leadership and what we want is part of his growth that he’s developed the last two or three years with his presence on-field and his stance within the community," Simpson said.

"But really it’s a player vote as well and he’s next in line.

"We expanded the group last year when Sam Mitchell came to the club and we feel when we lose someone like Sam, and Matty Priddis, out of our group that it’s important that we continue to grow in this space and Nic’s ticking all the boxes."