WEST Coast won't increase the minutes superstar ruckman Nic Naitanui plays in 2021 as coach Adam Simpson considers a genuine two-pronged ruck structure with the return to full-length games and reduced interchange rotations.
Naitanui enjoyed a brilliant 2020 season with shortened matches, earning All-Australian selection for the second time and winning his first John Worsfold Medal while playing an average of 69.5 per cent game time.
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The brilliant ruckman's impact was made greater by his ability to play a larger percentage of match minutes, having averaged just over 56 per cent game time across his injury impacted 2018 and 2019 seasons.
As Naitanui prepares to play at least half a game in Sunday's AAMI Community Series clash against Fremantle, Simpson said the Eagles couldn't ask him to play more minutes than he did in 2020.
"He'll have to spend a bit more time on the bench. We can't say, 'Nic, go from 80 minutes to 110'," Simpson told AFL.com.au.
"We'll just have to look at what we do around him rather than [how we use] Nic. There's a few options and we're still working through what it looks like.
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"Oscar Allen did it last year. Can we ruck him for an extra 30 minutes? Young Bailey Williams is coming through … and Nathan Vardy is our veteran now.
"He didn't play a game last year, 'Vards', and a lot of it was because we used Oscar Allen, but things might change with the extension of the game."
High-leaping youngster Williams shapes as an exciting ruck partner for Naitanui when he has recovered from a quad strain and rolled ankle, while developing big man Callum Jamieson is a mobile prospect who is yet to debut.
The selection of premiership big man Vardy would mark a return to a genuine two-pronged ruck structure after Allen spent 34.6 per cent of his game time in the ruck last season, attending an average of 14.7 ruck contests in his 15 games.
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While the 21-year-old represents the future of West Coast's forward line, Allen provided valuable relief for Naitanui, who visited the bench 5.6 times a game (equal No.1 at West Coast with midfield pair Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo).
The Eagles were reluctant to 'rest' Naitanui forward, with the powerful ruckman only drifting into attack briefly in six matches and otherwise spending 100 per cent of his time on the ground in the ruck.
Simpson said rotating Naitanui forward this season for the purpose of extending his time on the ground would not be an option.
"Resting forward is a furphy. You don't rest and they don't want to go forward because they work harder with how they defend," Simpson said.
"We need to drop the 'rest forward' notion, unless you're just standing in the goalsquare, and we've already got a guy standing in the goalsquare and that's Josh Kennedy."
With Naitanui playing a higher percentage of games in 2020, West Coast's advantage in the centre square was pronounced, ranking No.1 in the AFL for centre clearances (11.3 a game).
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Naitanui ranked equal No.2 in the AFL for average centre clearances (2.6 a game), with Yeo (2.4 from 10 games) and Shuey (2.3 from 13) in the top 15.
But the advantage didn't translate into a deep finals campaign, with the Eagles winning the indicator 15-8 in the elimination final against Collingwood but falling short.
"We probably relied on that a bit too much to be honest," Simpson said.
"Scoring for us and for everyone was difficult, but we relied pretty heavily on the centre bounce.
"It's a good asset to have. There's probably more centre bounces than most other chains in the competition … (and) it would have been fantastic to complement everything else.
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"But, unfortunately, I think it was probably our No.1 thing, [rather than] making sure it's part of your repertoire and not your No.1 strength."
Simpson said the Eagles had a plan in place to reduce their reliance on the centre bounce, focusing on the "marginal gains" and tweaks they could make to other aspects of their game.
How the team handles the new man on the mark rule and adjusts to the reduction in rotations would also play a part in the 2018 premiers returning to the top four after missing out by percentage the past two seasons.