WEST COAST always knew Nic Naitanui was a special talent, but rival teams are fast discovering just how vulnerable the Eagles are without him.

Naitanui's prowess in the ruck and ability to win his own clearances have been sorely missed by West Coast this season.

But it's the flow-on effect of his absence that is also hurting the club.

Dean Cox is a premier ruckman, with his six All-Australian guernseys a testament to that, but with Naitanui not there to ease his workload, Cox has been forced to compete in 80 ruck contests a game compared to his usual 50, leaving the 31-year-old more fatigued than usual near the end of matches.

Naitanui's presence also allowed Cox to spend large chunks of games up forward, with the 253-game veteran booting a career-high 28 goals last season.

Scott Lycett struggled badly as Cox's back-up in the round-one loss to Fremantle, while rookie Callum Sinclair was solid but hardly spectacular in the role during Sunday's 50-point defeat to Hawthorn.

A few eyebrows were raised when Naitanui made it into the All-Australian team last season but it's important to note how Naitanui's impact on a game simply can't be measured by hit-outs, goals or possessions.

He's the kind of player that can be best on ground with 12 disposals.

Cox doesn't subscribe to the theory of 'No Naitanui - No West Coast', but the 203cm veteran said Naitanui was clearly a crucial cog in the machine.

"What he can bring around centre bounces, around stoppages, is what no other ruckman can bring in a game of football," Cox said.

"His hit-out to advantage percentage is really high. He can put opposition sides on the back foot from the start.

"With Nic, if he was getting over blokes you could be a lot more attacking.

"His ability to win centre-bounce hit-outs and then follow it up is his greatest strength."

Naitanui is at least a month away from playing again after a slower-than-expected recovery from off-season groin surgery.

The 22-year-old experienced groin problems at the tail-end of last season, and could miss most of this year if he suffers a recurrence of the injury.

West Coast started the season as a strong flag fancy, but find themselves with a 0-2 record ahead of Saturday's clash with struggling Melbourne at the MCG.

In the absence of Naitanui and star midfielder Daniel Kerr, West Coast have lost the inside-50m count 123-75 in their two games this season.

Kerr is a chance to return for the Demons match after making it through a WAFL hit-out unscathed, while defender Eric Mackenzie (hamstring) should also be available for selection.

Cox said the club wasn't giving up hope of a top-four finish despite the sluggish start.

Dean Cox is a ruck/forward in NAB AFL Fantasy. Register your team at our AFL Fantasy Hub.