WEST Coast star Nic Naitanui is on the verge of playing his first match in more than two months, with the Eagles considering an immediate return at AFL level in the next fortnight if he can prove his fitness.
Naitanui has been sidelined since suffering a medial ligament injury in the Eagles' only win this season against Collingwood in round four, but he has made rapid progress in the past month.
The 32-year-old moved well at training on Tuesday, with the club also considering easing Naitanui back through the WAFL as soon as Saturday's clash against South Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park.
"He's not far off, [he'll return] this week or next week," coach Adam Simpson said on Tuesday.
"We'll make a decision on whether he plays WAFL or goes straight back into the side. We'll see how he pulls up after training today."
The Eagles have adjusted their approach with players returning from long-term injuries this season after erring in bringing too many straight back to the top level last year.
Premiership stars Elliot Yeo, Dom Sheed and Willie Rioli have all returned from injury through the WAFL in recent weeks and successfully transitioned to AFL level, while Liam Ryan will return this week after one match in the state league.
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"There's a tipping point before you come straight back in, especially mid-season when everyone is game-ready and match-hardened," Simpson said.
"To come straight back in is a challenge and we've just had to deal with that way too much in the last 12-18 months.
"It must have been eight players this year who have come back off significant injuries and Nic will be another one.
"We're dealing with that case by case but understanding there's a certain level where you do need some form at WAFL level or some touch."
Star defender Jeremy McGovern has left hospital after undergoing surgery on broken ribs, with Simpson confirming he would miss multiple matches as he now recovers from "significant damage".
"He's in good health now, so now it's about recovery … it'll be a few weeks if he does come back," the coach said.
Friday night's clash against Essendon at Optus Stadium shapes as a winnable match for the last-placed Eagles, who took big steps in an impressive performance against Geelong last Saturday.
Simpson said his team would still enter matches feeling like underdogs, but belief and expectation was building.
"Getting that winning feeling back would be nice, but that takes time and it's not as easy as you think," he said.
"The last couple of games we've played we've been better, but we haven't had a win. We're desperate for a win."