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Eagles back in solo ruck against Gawn, livewire returns

Nathan Vardy will ruck solo against the Dees on Friday night - AFL,West Coast Eagles,Adam Simpson
Nathan Vardy will ruck solo against the Dees on Friday night

WEST Coast will back Nathan Vardy to go toe-to-toe with Melbourne giant Max Gawn on Friday night after overlooking fit-again ruckman Tom Hickey.

Eagles coach Adam Simpson on Thursday confirmed goalsneak Willie Rioli would make his first appearance this season coming back from a foot stress fracture.

But there was a ruck surprise, with Hickey failing to earn a recall from a hamstring strain, despite being West Coast's best player in his last outing in Geelong with 25 touches and 12 clearances.

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"It's just the way it is at the moment, we've got Vardy who we think is rucking really well and Oscar Allen, the combination is pretty good, he's giving us something as a forward," Simpson said.

Vardy and Scott Lycett tagged Gawn out of the contest in last year's 66-point preliminary final demolition, but this time it could be the Demons who field two ruckmen with Braydon Preuss in the mix for a recall.

Hickey's comeback will be for West Coast's reserves against East Perth at Leederville Oval on Thursday night.

"Looking at Hickey coming back, as much as he had a really good game, can he sustain 110 minutes one-out in the ruck if we played one ruck?" Simpson said.

"He probably couldn't coming off a hamstring, so we're weighing up all those things and that's the decision we've made."

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The Eagles have named a solo ruckman in the past three games and been searching for team balance across the board, with wingman Chris Masten dropped last round to squeeze another forward, Jake Waterman, into the line-up.

Rioli, who went down on the eve of round one, will add some spark to the side alongside Liam Ryan after combining for 48 goals in their debut seasons last year.

"It's exciting. That was part of the resurgence last year, wasn't it, the younger players we had in our front half and the energy they brought to our team," Simpson said.

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The Eagles have been conservative with Rioli's comeback and he will play managed minutes against the Demons.

"His running profile last year was right up there with Jamie Cripps. His gameday running is really special for us, off the ball obviously a lot of the stuff," Simpson said.

"I don't think he's at that level, so he needs to build back to that, but what he does as a forward is what we want."

The Eagles (5-3) and Demons (3-5) are both coming off back-to-back victories, but haven't hit the same heights of 2018.

"We just want to win. We've been happy that we've won the last couple of weeks," Simpson said.

"Hopefully, we're building to a bit better football.

"It's not planned, we want to play at our best every week, we just haven't.

"I don't think we're alone either, it's a pretty tight competition."