Milestone man Nic Naitanui ready to fly
Posted on 01/24/19 6:23 PM
West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui is 100 per cent certain his best footy is ahead of him, and says he won’t let the unrelenting criticism throw him off his game.
Naitanui will reach his 100-game milestone on Saturday when he lines up for the Eagles in their crunch clash with Gold Coast at Patersons Stadium.
The 24-year-old has polarised opinions since making his debut in 2009.
For some, Naitanui’s abilities and unrivalled athleticism make him one of the game’s most valuable players.
For others, the 201cm ruckman is an over-hyped hulk who still struggles to read the game.
AFL greats Matthew Lloyd, Brad Hardie, Tony Shaw and Garry Lyon have been particularly critical of Naitanui this year.
But after finally shaking off the effects of a lingering groin issue, Naitanui has regained his mojo in recent weeks, and is confident his resurgence will continue to gain momentum over the coming years.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to it,” Naitanui said of the criticism.
“I know what I need to do internally and what we need to do on the field. Outside distractions aren’t a big thing in my life.
“I’m quite happy to say my best footy is ahead of me.
“I’m still growing and ageing, and just getting the feel of my body and how it works and what it can handle.
“I’m getting to a lot more contests. I’m going for my grabs again as well.
“That confidence is building with more game time and more fitness.”
Naitanui’s finest year to date came in 2012 when he won All-Australian honours.
But his career stalled in 2013 when he was grounded by a serious groin injury, with the issue also affecting the early part of his 2014 campaign.
The Eagles took a gamble late last month when they re-signed Naitanui on a five-year deal believed to be worth in the vicinity of $4 million.
But the early signs are good, with Naitanui stringing a number of solid performances together since putting pen to paper.
West Coast (4-7) sit three wins outside the top-eight after losing seven of their past eight games.
But Naitanui isn’t giving up hope of tasting finals action this year.
“We still want to make finals. We still look towards that,” Naitanui said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s do or die (against the Suns), but at the same time we really need to win it.”