AFL Eagles confident: Naitanui - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

AFL Eagles confident: Naitanui

Greg Buckle 10/09/2011 06:59:04 PM Comments (0)

Young West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui is still learning the game, but it hasn't stopped him becoming arguably the most exciting player in the AFL.

His first-half performance in Saturday's qualifying final against Collingwood at the MCG was breathtaking, including seven clearances, five inside-50s, 13 possessions, a goal and 15 hit-outs.

However Eagles big man Dean Cox was hobbling with an ankle problem and was subbed off in the third quarter with a back injury, leaving Naitanui with a huge workload to carry.

The Eagles won the hit-outs 50-29 including a game-high 31 from Naitanui, but the athletic ruck-forward's trademark dash was gradually worn down by the demands of playing in his first final as a sole ruckman.

Down by 26 points at three-quarter time, the Eagles started the final term with a brilliant burst by Naitanui out of the centre as he kicked long to Quinten Lynch who goaled. But Collingwood scored two late goals to win by 20 points.

An exhausted Naitanui was his side's best player for the match and he's confident the Eagles can keep their premiership hopes alive with victory in next Saturday's semi-final against Carlton or Essendon at Patersons Stadium.

"There's about 11 of us who played our first final tonight," Naitanui told AAP on Saturday.

"It was a good experience to show us what it was all about.

"Getting back to playing in front of our home crowd will give us that extra bit of buzz and hopefully we can have a win.

"Straight away you could feel the intensity was a lot higher, a bit quicker, but I just loved being out there.

"We were about eight points down so it was pretty close in that last quarter.

"A few mistakes, a few turnovers and a few missed shots at goal kind of cost us.

"We know we can mix it with the best and we look forward to hopefully reversing (that result against Collingwood) in a few weeks time."

Naitanui said he expected four-time All-Australian Cox would be fit to play.

"I was upset a bit when 'Coxy' did go down but I look forward to a challenge and love being out there," said Naitanui, 21.

"I think he'll play at home next week and he'll be right."

Eagles coach John Worsfold said Naitanui, the No.2 draft pick in 2008, was continuing to improve which is a scary thought for rival coaches.

"There's plenty of upside still with Nic with his footy," Worsfold said.

"He's coming along at a great rate.

"He had to step his work-rate up but I thought he did really well."

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