Naitanui the enigma puzzles Woosha - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Naitanui the enigma puzzles Woosha

By Justin Chadwick 28/06/2009 02:33:22 PM Comments (0)

West Coast coach John Worsfold isn't quite sure what to make of Nic Naitanui just yet.

Come to think about it, nobody is.

But one thing is for certain, the 19-year-old has already captured the hearts of the football public.

Snared by West Coast with pick No.2 in last year's national draft, Naitanui became a cult hero before even making his AFL debut.

With his frizzy dreadlocks, Fijian background and freakish on-field talent, the 201cm ruckman is an enigma adored by kids and adults alike.

Naitanui gave Eagles fans a sneak preview of things to come when he made his AFL debut against Richmond in round 12.

On Saturday night, Naitanui gave supporters a bigger taste, with his three-goal burst in the final quarter inspiring the Eagles to a 20-point victory over Hawthorn.

And it was the nature of the goals that had the 31,441 fans at the ground - and thousands more watching the game on TV - squealing with excitement.

The first came when he had barely an inch to move in the pocket after smothering Jordan Lewis' attempted clearing kick and regathering the crumbs.

But courtesy of some neat footwork and a perfectly-timed shimmy, Naitanui shook off Lewis' tackle and squeezed his left-foot kick past Brad Sewell from the tightest of angles.

It was a manoeuvre you would expect from a small forward, not a giant of the game.

Naitanui's third goal was vastly different but just as magical.

After intercepting Thomas Murphy's handball 70m out from goal, Naitanui sprinted towards the vacant forward 50m.

But his bounce on the rain-logged Subiaco Oval failed to pop up.

While most ruckmen wouldn't dare scoop up the ball with an opponent in hot pursuit, Naitanui calmly gathered up the Sherrin and snapped truly from 45m - all achieved at top pace.

"It's a tough one isn't it," Worsfold said when asked if he had seen another player like Naitanui.

"His ability to take a high mark is pretty special.

"His closing speed and defensive pressure tonight was pretty good, reminiscent of Phil Matera.

"And he's going to have all facets of his game.

"He's going to be a good ruckman, he's going to be a good defensive forward.

"He's going to take some speccies at times but the key thing we want from him is to do the work to have an impact for the team.

"We've got no expectation that he's going to be a possession-winning ruckman like Dean Cox, there's not many of them around.

"His ruck work is going to be very good for us ... but the stuff he does in closed areas, his defensive pressure in the forward line, teams are going to be aware that he's around.

"He's in the very early stages of what's going to be a promising career and we are conscious of that."

Ben Cousins made the No.9 famous at West Coast in recent years but Naitanui is set to take it to a whole different level.

"I think our team store opens at 9 o'clock on Monday and there's only a limited amount of number nine guernseys in there, so get in there quick," Worsfold quipped.

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