LUCKLESS West Coast has been dealt another blow ahead of its Good Friday clash with Sydney with in-form defender Jeremy McGovern ruled out due to health and safety protocols.
McGovern, one of only three Eagles to play all four games this season, has been in "career-best form" according to coach Adam Simpson, who confirmed the news on Thursday.
The four-time All-Australian defender's absence comes only days after West Coast, who has been ravaged by injuries and players entering protocols this year, confirmed star ruckman Nic Naitanui will be out until the second half of the season with a medial ligament injury in his knee.
McGovern currently sits third in the AFLCA voting leaderboard despite West Coast's 1-3 start to the season, averaging 8.8 marks, 5.8 intercept marks and 11.3 intercept possessions per game.
"He's in career-best form and that’s on and off the field," Simpson said.
"His ability to stand up from a leadership point of view, I think he’s gone to another level.
"Sometimes being a good leader, it’s hard to play well at the same time. I think he’s grown so much in that role. He’s a big out.
"But we’ve dealt with that all year with players going in and out of the side."
Simpson was reluctant to offer too much team news ahead of the Thursday evening announcement but confirmed two-time club champion Elliot Yeo's return and said they'd make five or six changes, with four forced.
Yeo will return after playing 70 managed minutes in a WAFL pre-season game on the weekend having injured his calf in February.
"He’s ready to go," Simpson said. "We'll need to look at his minutes and how we transition him back into the seniors. That won’t take one week, that will take several weeks.
"He's in good condition – a lot different than last year, but we need to keep an eye on him as well."
Skipper and 2018 Norm Smith medalist Luke Shuey also looks set to be brought back after coming out of protocols on the eve of last Saturday's win over Collingwood.
Simpson admitted Shuey would need to manage his body given his recent history of soft-tissue injuries, having suffered his latest hamstring strain in February, playing one game back in round two prior to entering protocols.
"We took a calculated risk last week," Simpson said. "He was technically unavailable, but we could have really pushed it and we didn’t. That’s due to what he’s going through and his body as well.
"It hasn’t been ideal guys coming out of COVID situations and coming off injury. It’s a real challenge. But he’s had a full pre-season after his little setback. He’s looking really good.
"Managing his minutes and his time – that will be forever now with him. But it’s not to say he can’t play 90, 100 minutes, it will just be done in a different way."
Simpson said Luke Edwards would miss Friday's game due to a minor groin issue, while Jack Petruccelle will be unavailable again as he exits protocols on gameday.
Tim Kelly (hamstring) and Jamie Cripps (pectoral) are in contention to return, while draftee Greg Clark will play for the first time in the WAFL after a pre-season shoulder injury.
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Simpson admitted there was a balance to strike in making too many changes at once, due to synergy and connection, rather than players being underdone which was an issue for West Coast last year.
"It’s probably more the continuity rather than the fitness," he said. "It’s early in the year. Some of the guys who came back in only missed a couple of weeks.
"The biggest thing from a coaching and a playing point of view is to get everyone on the same page on the field, and that takes a bit of time. To think it’s just going to click because we get some names back is a bit naïve."
The Eagles coach also praised Naitanui for his resilience after his devastating injury, his third long-term knee injury in his career.
"I knew about it before the siren went on the weekend and just looking at him and how he celebrated and connected with the team, it's classic Nic," Simpson said.
"He always puts others in front of himself and he did that on the weekend. He's been resilient. I'm sure he's hurting. It's a significant loss, he's been through a lot."
Simpson indicated Bailey Williams and Hugh Dixon will likely share the ruck duties initially in Naitanui's absence, with SSP signing Luka Strnadica likely to get an opportunity at some stage.