It was the hot topic of conversation among football experts and West Coast fans leading into round one: How would the Eagles utilise star ruckman Nic Naitanui differently in a shorter game?
Once the AFL announced that quarters would be reduced to 16 minutes plus time on in anticipation of having to front-end the season, everybody started contemplating how teams would exploit the situation.
And it was only natural for those pondering how West Coast might benefit from the change to have Naitanui at front of mind after Champion Data declared him the game’s most dangerous player ahead of season 2020.
So how different was the 2012 all-Australian ruck’s output against Melbourne on Sunday you ask?
It wasn’t, according to the man himself.
“My game was exactly the same,” Naitanui said with a wry smile.
“I don’t know where that advantage talk came from. My minutes were exactly the same as I’ve had in the last two years or so, so nothing changed from that perspective.
“I think a lot of guys didn’t like it (shorter quarters), guys like Gaffy (Andrew Gaff), they wanted a but more time out there on the ground.
“It was a little different. Obviously the game went a lot quicker than in the past, but I wonder if they will keep that structure for the remaining games?”
Naitanui said it was fun to lock horns with Demon giant Max Gawn for the first time in almost five years and to watch two of the competition’s premier onball brigades go at it in the final match before the season suspension.
West Coast’s big man won his standoff with Gawn 23 hitouts to 18, while the Eagles’ centre line edged the Dees in total clearances (28-25) and centre clearances (13-9).
The visitors bested the home side 16-15 in stoppage clearances.
“I guess both (teams) had pretty good midfields and it was always going to be a struggle, especially at the centre bounce having a dominant guy like Max Gawn playing there as well,” Naitanui said.
“It allows their midfield to be a bit more proactive there at times, so it was a pretty strong battle.
“I think we did really well at certain parts, but the game ebbed and flowed and both teams had their chances. We capitalised probably a bit more when we had those opportunities.”
Naitanui was also thrilled to see utility Brendon Ah Chee shine against Melbourne.
The talented 26-year-old slotted two goals in as many minutes, applied 11 pressure acts and effected six score involvements in just his 10th outing for the Eagles.
“It was good just having Ah Chee out there,” Naitanui said.
“I haven’t played too much footy with him, so to actually come out there and see him kick a couple of goals (was exciting). He brought a lot of energy by seeing him kick goals.”