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Buti's Call: Tale of two generational ruckmen carries similar threads

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30.07.2019

West Coast holds a slim hope star ruckman Nic Naitinui can return to play finals this season after suffering, what looked at the time, a season-ending syndesmosis injury to his right ankle in the round 17 loss to Collingwood at Optus Stadium.

Eagles coach Adam Simpson said in a recent television interview Naitinui was massively important to the ability of the reigning premiers to win possession from stoppages and apply follow-up pressure.

Stephen Michael (centre) in 1981 after winning his second Sandover Medal with a record 37 votes over Phil Narkle (left) and Jim Krakouer (right).

Although they were able to successfully cover the loss of Naitinui last year to claim the premiership, Simpson and his brain's trust know their chances of a repeat performance will significantl improve if Naitinui can get on the park in time for finals.

Naitanui is not the best or most talented player in the AFL; that honour could belong to a number of his contemporaries: Patrick Dangerfield, Nat Fyfe, Dustin Martin, Tim Kelly, Patrick Cripps, Marcus Bontempelli or a fit and firing Lance Franklin.

But when it comes to how much a team needs a particular player on the ground to implement its game plan or play a particular style, Naitanui is numero uno.

Through his excellent ruck work, Naitanui more often than not gives his midfielders - Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Elliott Yeo, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden - first use at stoppages.

Just as important is Naitanui’s follow-up work at contests, which allows the Eagles to move the ball forward to create territorial advantage and more opportunities for their star-studded forward line.

His follow-up work and linkage with West Coast's elite midfielders is the best I’ve seen since Stephen Michael, the South Fremantle legend, was running around the paddock in the 70s and 80s.

There are many similarities between Naitanui and Michael but there are also........

© The Age