Naitanui races for opening game

06 February 2018 03:53:07 EST

Nic Naitanui may not be fit to start West Coast's AFL season, according to the club's midfield coach Sam Mitchell.

The star ruckman has been out of the game for 18 months after needing a knee reconstruction.

He is hoping to be available for the Eagles' season opener against Sydney at the new Optus Stadium, but Mitchell says he still has some hurdles to clear.

Naitanui has been building up his training program over the summer, and joined in with the main group for Monday's session at Domain Stadium.

He was still held out of some match-simulation drills, as the Eagles continue to treat their most prized asset with caution.

The club are crossing their fingers that the 27-year-old can win his fitness battle in time for their final JLT Community Series clash against Fremantle on 11th March.

The Sydney clash comes two weeks after that, and West Coast know they can't afford to push Naitanui too much at this stage.

"At the moment, he's aimed for round one, but he hasn't got into the competitive stuff yet," said Mitchell. "The risk of putting him into competitive work at any point is there, so whenever we do that it needs to be at the right time and with as little amount of risk as possible.

"(Medical staff) say he's on track for that (round one) but what he has to do between now and then, there's still some hurdles to jump over."

Some big names at the club, including Luke Shuey (hip), Andrew Gaff (foot/ankle) and Josh Kennedy (ankle) have had reduced programs so far but Mitchell isn't concerned that they'll be going into the new campaign underdone.

The Eagles are 31/20 to win their opening AFL game against Sydney, who are 13/25.

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