THE CLOCK is ticking for Nic Naitanui to keep his finals hopes alive, with the West Coast star needing to start running within two weeks to avoid season-ending surgery on his ankle.
Naitanui is being given every chance to overcome a syndesmosis problem and be back around the start of the Eagles' September campaign.
But the luckless big man is in a race against time after bravely playing through injury in last Friday night's one-point loss to Collingwood.
If Naitanui fails to recover in time he will sit out a fourth-straight finals series, after playing his last final in the 2015 decider against Hawthorn.
"It's interesting with Nic. At the moment, we've avoided surgery and we're going to take a precautionary path with it," coach Adam Simpson said.
"If he can get through the next two weeks, start running, no hiccups, it could be a six-week injury and he could be back around – hopefully if we qualify for finals – around that period of time.
"If it doesn't go that way and he does need surgery then it doesn't matter (because) it will still be a season-ending procedure.
"That's a positive for us, we take that as a win from what we first saw. Every week we'll get an assessment of where he's at and we'll keep you posted."
Losing Naitanui has left Simpson with major selection headaches, with his ruck dilemma also impacting the forward setup ahead of West Coast's first trip to Alice Springs to play for premiership points against Melbourne.
Demons giant Max Gawn dominated the Eagles in round nine and combined with Braydon Preuss in a commanding performance against the Western Bulldogs last round.
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West Coast is weighing up backing Tom Hickey with support from young forward Oscar Allen, or calling up 19-year-old Bailey Williams for a debut.
Williams, a 199cm and 95kg tall, was recruited via pick 35 from Dandenong last year and has impressed with his athleticism at WAFL level, where he has 11 goals from 12 games.
"He's probably got a bigger leap than Nic to be honest, but there's more to it than just jumping," Simpson said.
"He's a very good forward as well in his own right. We think he's going to be anyway.
"He's quite well built, so it's not like he's a skinny stringbean type of ruckman – he looks like a man already.
"That probably elevates his progression, the fact he can compete pretty well with most, but there's so much about the ruck craft that takes time.
"We don't want to play him when he's really not ready, but he's not far off." - Adam Simpson
The Eagles also have to replace Jamie Cripps (adductor) and have added both Jake Waterman (six goals) and Jack Petruccelle (five) to their extended squad after excellent WAFL outings on Sunday.
Petruccelle lost his spot due to a hamstring strain, while Waterman has been in and out of the line-up three times this year.
"He's 21, Jake. So he's at the moment probably too good for WAFL and not holding up at AFL, which happens a lot in a young person's career," Simpson said.
"It's about opportunity, and confidence, and getting that breakout five or six weeks.
"I don't think he's too far away from having a consistent AFL career."