WEST Coast will once again be without Nic Naitanui for an extended period, after the star ruckman suffered an ankle syndesmosis injury in his third game back from his second knee reconstruction.
The 29-year-old is still awaiting the result of scans before the club is able to provide an accurate timeframe for his return, slated to be in the next 24 to 48 hours.
It means the Eagles will go into Sunday's clash against Melbourne and the dominant Max Gawn with Tom Hickey once again as their No.1 ruckman.
"It is an ankle syndesmosis injury, but we are waiting on a medical report to shed more light on the precise nature of the problem and the way forward," the club's general manager of football Craig Vozzo said.
"We expect he will miss an extended period, but cannot put a time frame on that until we have more information." - Craig Vozzo
Naitanui needed attention on his ankle in the early stages of Friday night's gutting one-point loss to Collingwood, which has dragged the Eagles back into a dogfight for the top four.
Speaking on Saturday, coach Adam Simpson was doubtful Naitanui would be available for the trip to Alice Springs.
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"I'm not sure. He's sore. He's the one who had a bit of a knock to the ankle or landed a bit awkwardly," Simpson told the ABC.
"He actually did a really good job for us to get through the game. He probably wasn't right after the, you know when (Jeremy) McGovern got hurt in the first quarter, there was a collision, Nic was part of that.
"From then on, he was pretty brave just to get out there."
The Eagles will have to replace small forward Jamie Cripps (adductor), with Jake Waterman (six goals) and Jack Petruccelle (five) putting their hands up in the WAFL on Sunday.
Midfielder Dom Sheed was unable to provide any clarity on Naitanui's injury on Monday.
"I think he's a bit sore, but I'm not sure exactly what it is," Sheed said.
"We haven't seen him since the game. We'll meet together this afternoon. I'm sure they'll have a diagnosis for what's happened to him.
"You're asking the wrong person. I haven't seen him since the game and didn't ask him what he actually did. You'll find out in the coming days, I'm sure."
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Naitanui posted a cryptic message on Instagram on Sunday, saying "It hurts, but it's OK, I'm used to it …".
Lot of speculation swirling about Nic Nat injury. That ankle issue from early on Friday night might be worse than first thought. pic.twitter.com/n1QsF6al8Q— Travis King (@TravisKing) July 15, 2019
Melbourne duo Gawn and Braydon Preuss dominated hitouts (52-20) in Sunday's loss to the Western Bulldogs and loom large for West Coast big man Tom Hickey.
With Nathan Vardy (ankle/knee) sidelined, mature recruit Keegan Brooksby shapes as the next man up, unless the Eagles roll the dice with young forward Oscar Allen as Hickey's back-up.
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Gawn had 56 hitouts and was best afield in round nine when the Eagles stormed to a 16-point victory over the Demons at Optus Stadium.
"Obviously Max Gawn is one of the better ruckmen in the competition. I have faith 'Hick' can do the job if Nic doesn't play," Sheed said.
"A tough battle for Hick, but I'm sure it's something he's looking forward to."
The Eagles slipped from second to fourth after going down to Collingwood and are a win clear of resurgent Richmond in fifth with six games to play.
"I don't think we've even qualified for finals yet. We're still a couple of wins away from that," Sheed said.
"To think about a home final is probably not the right thing to be doing right now."