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Good news, Eagles fans: Nic Nat marks major milestone

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WEST Coast star Nic Naitanui will tick off a major milestone when he returns to main training on Wednesday, nearly 10 months after rupturing the ACL in his 'good' right knee.

Meanwhile, small forward Willie Rioli (foot) is also closing in on his comeback, which could be in next Friday night's home clash with Melbourne.

Naitanui has been making excellent progress recently, including jumping into the bag at centre bounce work, and sprinted at top speed during Monday's brief session at Subiaco Oval.

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The spring-heeled ruckman isn't expected back until after the round 13 bye, but is ready to rejoin full training for the first time since going down in round 17 last year against Collingwood.

"He's been doing a hell of a lot before that (main training). We're really pleased with where he's at, at the moment," general manager of football Craig Vozzo said.

"Barring no setbacks, we're really confident he'll be available for some game time after the bye."

The Eagles have missed their marquee man in the wake of No.2 big man Scott Lycett's defection to Port Adelaide.

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At centre bounces alone, West Coast ranks 17th for clearance differential (-13) and is only mid-table for score differential (+1.6) this season.

But Naitanui could help turbocharge a midfield which has struggled in the contest recently.

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"We've been working really hard on getting metreage from our clearances and getting quality," stoppage and structure co-ordinator Matt Rosa told the Coast to Coast podcast.

"Obviously the good thing about Nic is you can get some of those clearances out the front, because he's just such a bull and clears a path out the front of stoppages.

"We haven't spoken too much about the big fella (coming back) yet, but everyone's excited that he's out on the training track and he's going to jump into full training this week."

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The Eagles have been searching for their best combinations around stoppages, and recently abandoned their long-held two-ruck policy.

Ruck recruit Tom Hickey (hamstring) was preferred over Nathan Vardy against Geelong in round six and starred, but was a late withdrawal for last round's win over Gold Coast.

 

Hickey should be available to face another of his former clubs, St Kilda, this Saturday night and ran strongly alongside Jake Waterman (corked leg) on Monday.

Waterman has booted 13 goals in three WAFL appearances this year and will be in the mix for a recall for his first game since round one.

Rioli hasn't been seen since he booted four goals in the final JLT Community Series match but would have been a chance to play for the reserves this round if not for the state game bye.

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"Willie is tracking really well. The poor guy has been doing a hell of a lot of running outside the boundary, but he's in main training tomorrow in the build-up to the next few weeks," Vozzo said.

"We suspect he'll be available this time next week for selection."

It's not all good news for the Eagles, with key defender Tom Barrass' timeframe pushed back to 8-10 weeks after foot surgery.

Hamish Brayshaw (turf toe) and category B rookie Patrick Bines (hernia) have also joined the injury list.