It has been a long and no doubt frustrating road but West Coast midfielder Mark Hutchings will finally make his return in what promises to be a ferocious clash with Richmond on Thursday night.
One of two changes to the side which won an eighth-straight game against the Giants, versatile onballer Hutchings joins Bailey Williams in the line-up after the young Victorian’s debut was revealed earlier on Wednesday.
Williams will take on the role filled adeptly by Oscar Allen (glute) supporting influential ruck Nic Naitanui and as a marking option in attack.
Rebounding half-back Jackson Nelson has been forced out after bravely playing through pain against Greater Western Sydney, with a shoulder complaint ending his impressive run of form since returning in round five.
Renowned for his professionalism, Hutchings has fought back from a long-term iliotibial band problem, followed by an untimely cut toe which cost him another week just as he was on the cusp of playing football.
With big-bodied duo Elliot Yeo (groin) and Jack Redden (abductor) missing, his comeback is timely ahead of a duel with reigning premier Richmond, whose engine room is powered by Brownlow medallists Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin.
It will be Hutchings’ first appearance for 2020, with the 29-year-old last running out in blue and gold in the semi-final defeat to Geelong almost 12 months ago.
“He does everything right during the week in his preparation, he gets the best out of himself,” coach Adam Simpson said on Wednesday.
“We know what Hutch does for us, his versatility. He’s a pro, he’s been around a long time and he’ll come in and play his role.”
Williams was close to playing his first game in round one before an untimely hamstring strain, and will showcase his prodigious leap and strong attack on the football against Richmond.
“It will be different to what Oscar does. Oscar has got 30 games experience, so the expectation is that he comes in and plays his role, Bailey,” Simpson said.
“That’s the role he’s got this week and that’s what we need him to execute.”
The 20-year-old will wear the No.32 guernsey made famous by 250-game Norm Smith medallist Andrew Embley, and will play alongside recent debutants Nic Reid and Xavier O’Neill in an evolving West Coast line-up.
Hamish Brayshaw, Lewis Jetta, Brayden Ainsworth and Harry Edwards have been listed as emergencies.
Sitting fourth on the ladder, the Eagles face a massive task against the Tigers, who are breathing down their necks, only two premiership points adrift in fifth spot – albeit having played an extra game.
The outcome on Thursday night will have a significant bearing on the finals race, and West Coast will hope to get its second stint in Queensland off to a strong start in the second of five matches for the club across a 19-day stretch.