WEST Coast star Nic Naitanui says he can get back to AFL football late next season following his knee reconstruction but he won't rush his rehabilitation.
Naitanui ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Eagles' round 22 win over Hawthorn. He had a traditional hamstring graft shortly afterwards and is set for a 12-month rehabilitation program.
The 26-year-old told Channel Seven on Sunday that he is aiming to return late in the 2017 season but said he would be patient with his recovery.
"I'm not going to rush it," Naitanui said.
"I'll be back towards the back end of the year. That's my focus and my plan, barring nothing goes wrong."
Naitanui was confident his incredible athleticism would not be diminished by the injury, saying he would return to his absolute best but it would take time.
"I feel it's going to be a long road. I might not be back to my absolute best day one. It'll take time but I'm pretty positive in my mind that if I do everything right I can be back playing just like the other boys have shown in the past," he said.
Naitanui has begun some upper body strength training but he is restricted to crutches for two months due to the nature of his surgery.
"They do something that's a little bit stronger," Naitanui said.
"Just because of the size and the nature of the way I play, I guess jumping and changing direction, especially in the ruck."
The Eagles are still working through their ruck options for next season while Naitanui recovers. Scott Lycett is due to have surgery on the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early this week but the Eagles are confident he will be available for round one.
Eagles football manager Craig Vozzo confirmed on Saturday that the club was casting a "pretty wide net" to seek ruck options as cover for both Naitanui and Lycett.
Those options include an interest in North Melbourne veteran Drew Petrie.
Fremantle free agent Zac Clarke and out-of-contract Docker Jack Hannath are also being considered, along with Western Bulldogs free agent Will Minson.