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Eagles heartened by Naitanui AFL return
By Justin Chadwick
21:19 AEST Sun May 5 2013

West Coast fans have good reason to smile again.

The Eagles endured a dismal start to the AFL season, losing a host of key players to injury as they stuttered to a 1-4 record.

Most pundits believed their top-four hopes were already shot.

But West Coast showed they have plenty of fight left in them yet with a 70-point thumping of the Bulldogs at Patersons Stadium on Sunday.

Although the 21.11 (137) to 10.7 (67) win came as a welcome relief, it was the return from injury of star ruckman Nic Naitanui and former Pie Sharrod Wellingham that proved the most significant aspect of the day.

Wellingham was prominent throughout the match, tallying 26 possessions in a heartening display.

Although the 24-year-old was rusty at times, his class shone through when it mattered most, helping West Coast smother the Dogs early.

Naitanui had to wait until 14 minutes into the third quarter before taking off the sub's vest and making his way onto the field.

The 23-year-old only tallied five possessions from that point on, but his impact in the ruck was telling with 17 hit-outs.

Naitanui and Wellingham will continue to build form and match fitness over the coming weeks.

Luckily for them, it comes at a time when West Coast have a soft draw, with games against Brisbane (away), North Melbourne, GWS (away), Richmond and St Kilda (away) to come.

And with wingman Andrew Embley (ankle) and Matt Rosa set to return soon, the Eagles should only get stronger if they can avoid the dreaded injury curse again.

West Coast coach John Worsfold hopes vice-captain Beau Waters, who was a late withdrawal against the Bulldogs due to a tight adductor, will return next week, while midfielder Luke Shuey will be further assessed after experiencing cramping in his calf.

Worsfold was pleased with Naitanui's return, and said the 201cm ruckman was a chance to play a full game against Brisbane next week if he was used solely as a forward.

The Eagles had plenty of star performers against the Bulldogs.

Forward Jack Darling booted five goals in the first half, while ruckman Dean Cox and Josh Kennedy finished with four apiece.

Skipper Darren Glass was a rock in defence, while Shuey, Chris Masten, Wellingham and Matt Priddis tore it up in the middle.

And after booting a combined 17.42 in losses to Carlton and Port Adelaide over the previous fortnight, the Eagles finally rediscovered their mojo in front of goal.

"I can't tell you what we did. I can't release my secrets," Worsfold said of the new-found accuracy.

"Confidence is a big thing. Mindset and technique is a big thing in goalkicking as well."

The struggling Bulldogs looked out of their depth from the outset, despite gutsy efforts from ruckman Will Minson, emerging midfielder Clay Smith, and veterans Matthew Boyd and Adam Cooney.

Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney was understandably disappointed with the performance.

"The best West Coast team is probably a top 4-6 team," McCartney said.

"They've probably been a bit stop and start for a few weeks. Today they sensed a kill and went after it."


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