WEST Coast forward Jack Darling could be one of four stars to return for next Sunday's clash against North Melbourne as the club aims to emerge from an early-season injury crisis in a competitive position.
The Eagles were gutsy but outclassed by Gold Coast on Sunday, falling away in the midfield and conceding seven of the last eight goals to lose by 27 points at Optus Stadium.
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Facing the prospect of their first 0-2 start since 2013, coach Adam Simpson said Darling could be recalled just two weeks after returning to the club, having overcome a foot complaint and impressed during match practice over the weekend.
Premiership forward Liam Ryan and star midfielder Tim Kelly should return after missing due to health and safety protocols, with captain Luke Shuey pushing to return from a hamstring injury and defender Alex Witherden (suspension) available.
"He’s super fit and he only missed a few sessions with [his foot injury], so it’s how he feels," Simpson said of Darling.
"We had a bit of a match sim with the WAFL Eagles on the weekend and he kicked about 10 goals, so he looked OK. But it was three 12-minute [periods].
"We’ll see how he pulls up, but we won’t rush him. If he’s right, he's right. If he’s not, he won't play."
Simpson was both proud and disappointed on Sunday night after the Eagles threatened to notch what would have been a gutsy win before being overpowered in the midfield and conceding five goals from centre bounces in the final term.
He highlighted the form of midfielder/forward Jamaine Jones as a positive, and said there were moments in Willie Rioli's game that reminded the club of his brilliance, including an important long-range goal in the third quarter.
"He’s been through a lot and a few people wrote him off and said he shouldn’t come back," Simpson said.
"He would have dealt with a lot in the build-up to today, so just to get a game under his belt, he performed well.
"The players love him and his sense of belonging is very strong. It feels like he’s home."
Simpson said he viewed a collision between Rioli and Gold Coast midfielder Matt Rowell as a "good contest", noting a free kick had not been paid.
The collision, which saw Rioli leave the ground and make forceful front-on contact to Rowell, was shown by Suns coach Stuart Dew to his players immediately after the game.
"The way he goes about his footy, he'll do anything for the team," Dew said after Rowell's best-afield performance, which saw him finish with 33 possessions (22 contested) and 10 clearances.
"We showed that clip after the game to say, at times your execution can be off, you can make some mistakes, but in the end, when it is a tight game, it is who has the biggest heart.
"We all know how big Rowelly's heart is when it comes to competing."
On the young star's brilliant performance after two years impacted by shoulder, knee and groin injuries, Dew said he had not been surprised.
"He does everything possible to get himself in best position, mentally and physically, to play the game, in a brutal way. That's where it begins and ends for Matt," the coach said.
"Where that takes him, we'll sit back and watch and enjoy. He drags guys along with him."
Dew, who coached the team to its first win in Perth against West Coast in 10 attempts, said the performance showed the Suns' were a "connected footy club that is chasing something".
"Our game's profile is starting to lift to where we want it and where we have been predicting," he said.
"It has been a planned build of the footy club and our list profile, and as that matures, our expectations go up and we look forward to each week.
"The boys have been on the journey and they know. We have been honest with them about where we have been and where we are at and where we want to go."