WEST Coast will take on Collingwood’s powerful midfield without Sam Mitchell on Sunday, but the sore veteran will still travel to Melbourne to help coach the team.
The Eagles have had a bigger focus on youth recently and leaving out Mitchell opens a spot for emerging half-back Tom Cole to return.
It also allows Mitchell to experience the inner workings of the Eagles’ coaches box on game-day before he hangs up the boots and takes on an assistant coach’s role.
"He’ll come over and coach, which is a good stepping stone for him. We did it with Dean Cox a few years ago," senior coach Adam Simpson said.
"He’ll be our traveler (emergency) but he’ll be there to help us in the coaches box as well and get some experience.
"That gives opportunity for others to get through there with some of our younger players coming through.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for that and that’s not taking the game lightly – he’s very important for us but we also think it’s time for a rest. He’s 35 in a month or two (October) and just showing a couple of signs of soreness.”
With fellow Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis recently signing a contract extension, there has been widespread speculation that Mitchell’s illustrious playing career might be drawing to a close.
The former Hawthorn champion was lured to Perth on a four-year deal and he will step straight into an assistant coaching role when he hangs up the boots.
A decision on the 322-game midfielder’s future might not be revealed until after the season.
The Eagles have faced challenges balancing their inside ball-winners with speed through the engine room this year, with clearance king Priddis occasionally used in an unfamiliar role across half-forward.
“We’ve got a number of inside mids playing (this weekend),” Simpson said.
“We’ve got to get that right with our outside run and spread.”
While the Pies have lost skipper Scott Pendlebury (finger), their midfield looms as the major threat to West Coast.
The Eagles were smashed at clearances 40-28 in the Western Derby, but bullocking utility Elliot Yeo’s return from knee soreness should help in that area.
The absence of star ruckman Nic Naitanui has affected the Eagles’ bid to win the territory battle this season, while back-up big man Scott Lycett dislocated his shoulder in March.
Lycett has battled shoulder soreness since his comeback AFL game a fortnight ago, but he could play again this season after consulting a surgeon this week.
“He won’t play this week, but he may be available next week,” Simpson said. “It might be an end-of-the-year decision whether he needs surgery or not.”
Naitanui is in the last stages of his ACL rehabilitation and is undergoing an intensive program in the United States.
The Eagles will assess whether the spring-heeled big man is any chance to play in 2017 when he returns in the coming days.
“It’s just great to see him happy and confident in his body,” Simpson said.
“It’s really positive signs. If it’s not this year, it looks like it’s definitely next year.
“We’ve missed him.”