Champion West Coast Eagles ruckman Nic Naitanui and the developing tall who shouldered a major part of the big man responsibility this season, Bailey Williams, have formally signed two-year contract extensions.
That ties the two key pillars to the Eagles until the end of the 2024 season.
For two-time John Worsfold medallist Naitanui it has already been a busy off-season. Not only are he and partner Brittany preparing for the imminent arrival of their first child, but he has been at the club each day preparing for the 2023 campaign.
“It’s an exciting time,” Naitanui beamed. “To get two more years at this great footy club; I walked in as a young boy and I’m going to leave this place as a man with a young child.
“I was always going to re-sign if the club wanted to, there was never any fear or need to go elsewhere, so I’m really over the moon.
“Obviously it’s been a really interrupted year, doing my MCL in the early rounds, then hurting my knee at the back end of the year. Playing through that was more frustrating than anything else. I really wanted to be out there and in amongst it for things like JK’s (Josh Kennedy’s) last game and to finish off the season with some of the younger guys.
“To have some of the older guys out there can be a benefit for them, in a leadership capacity as well.”
Naitanui has constantly been around the club since the end of its season as he focuses on getting himself ready for what looms as a big – and important – pre-season.
“I had my surgery a couple of weeks ago and I have been in here most days doing my rehab and getting myself ready for the pre-season,” he said.
“We have a big role collectively to get better for next year given where we finished, but myself personally I have that as well, so that is only going to help me in the next couple of years.
“One positive we can take from the year is that while a lot of our senior players didn’t play we were able to get some games into the younger guys.”
One of those younger players was Williams, who has played most of his football as a key forward, but was thrust into the ruck, leading the on-ball division in a number of games.
Williams played 17 games in 2022 to take his career tally to 26 in what was a strong learning curve for him. He probably played a career-best game in the final qualifying match against Geelong where he had 25 possessions, five clearances and 16 hit-outs.