WEST Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui could launch his latest comeback ahead of schedule in a Friday night showdown against Melbourne giant Max Gawn at Optus Stadium in round nine.
The Eagles' star is making outstanding progress from his second knee reconstruction, after undergoing an ACL repair on his 'good' right knee following last season's round 17 win over Collingwood.
Naitanui was sidelined for 581 days after rupturing the ACL in his left knee in round 22, 2016, only just making it back in time for last year's round one defeat to Sydney after a conservative build-up.
But the 28-year-old is about to start a training program that could have him available to face Gawn and the Demons, who will be stinging from their 66-point preliminary final humiliation at Optus Stadium.
If all goes according to plan, Naitanui might even be back a week earlier for a road trip to take on St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on May 11.
"He's going well. Before round 10 is his goal," coach Adam Simpson told SEN.
"He's tracking well, better than the last knee and less issues and less setbacks.
"Each box he ticks he gets to the next stage, so he's not far off training now.
"In probably three or four weeks he'll start a pre-season block that hopefully gets him ready for around that round eight or nine mark."
Naitanui's importance to West Coast could be magnified this season, with the introduction of starting positions tipped to place more value on dominant centre bounce ruckmen.
Naitanui, who is in contract negotiations to extend his deal beyond 2019, has shown encouraging signs at training recently, leaping over hurdles at different angles to test his landing.
Veteran spearhead Josh Kennedy took a step forward on Thursday when took part in match simulation after recent foot soreness.
He is firming for the round one trip to Brisbane, and expected to take part in an intraclub next Friday.
"I think we need to understand that we want him for the full season," Simpson said.
"He's fit and he's training, it's just now chasing the line of round one. Whether it's round one or round two, that's up for grabs.
"He's normally pretty good at getting right, but we just don't want to get him right for a few weeks and then break him down because he's come back a bit early."
The Eagles are set to again name an inexperienced forward line against Fremantle in Mandurah this Sunday.
Simpson is hopeful small forward Jamie Cripps (toe) will be available for round one after rapid progress following surgery.
"He's rapidly attacking round one, which is really pleasing for us," he said at the club's season launch.
"Hopeful (for round one), not confident. It's not all just about round one, it is for us as a coaching group and performance-wise but we need to make sure we get our players through the whole season."