West Coast captain Luke Shuey says Willie Rioli's wellbeing remains the priority as the Eagles welcome the small forward back into the fold to resume training with his teammates.
Rioli returned to the club on Monday morning and has a two-month training block before he is eligible to play.
The 26-year-old was a keen observer at Leederville Oval on Saturday as the WAFL Eagles – led by Shuey in his return from a long-term hamstring setback – downed Subiaco in a thriller.
“It was good to see him there. He loves the footy club and he loves – like a lot of Indigenous boys from the Tiwi Islands and up north – they just love footy,” Shuey said.
“For Willie to be back around football again is one thing, but to be with us, who really care about him, we’re excited to have him back.
“It was great to see him down there.”
Rioli returned to Perth last month to settle back into the city and has trained by himself in preparation for his return to Mineral Resources Park, two months before the end of his two-year suspension.
“What’s happened is in the past. We’ve had to make sure that he’s aware what he’s done we don’t want to be part of our culture, but what’s important is what he does from here on in,” Shuey said.
“His actions, his behaviours, his attitude is all that matters in that regard. From this moment, what’s happened in the past we’ve dealt with.
“We’ve been able to move on, have open discussions but now park it and get on with business, and do our best to help him grow as a young man and young father.
“Secondly to that, hopefully get him back to playing some footy for us.
“You remember what he was like as a player, no one can do the stuff he does so if we can get him back it’s a huge bonus for us.
“The boys are happy to have him back. He’s a little energiser bunny for us, and for a lot of us he’s a premiership teammates, so we’re excited to have him back.”
Shuey admitted he felt nervous heading to play his first WAFL game since 2010 following a three-month layoff, but not due to any doubts about his surgically-repaired hamstring.
He gathered 22 disposals, laid four tackles and drove the ball inside 50 on four occasions during his managed game time.
The Norm Smith medallist had been out of action since suffering a fresh strain late in the round three win over Port Adelaide, and missed the camaraderie of playing with teammates.
"Got through and felt fine and, fingers crossed get the call up, but play again this week which will be fun,” Shuey said.
“The body went exactly how I wanted it to go. Blew up late, felt like I was running on a treadmill at times.
“But felt reasonably sharp and got through unscathed, which was the main thing.
“Just before the Port game I had one hammy and then the one in the Port Adelaide game and there was probably starting to creep in a little bit of worry about then.
“But now having had surgery and 12 weeks off I feel like it’s been a complete reset, restart, rest, get fresh and go again."
The Eagles could face a selection squeeze for Sunday’s clash with the second-placed Western Bulldogs, who only fell to premiership contender Geelong at GMHBA following Gary Rohan’s match-winning kick after the siren on Friday night.
Tim Kelly (knee), Jeremy McGovern (knee) and Brad Sheppard (concussion) are set to return, while Alex Witherden (26 disposals), Jarrod Brander (21), Brendon Ah Chee (17, two goals) put their hands up returning in the WAFL.
Speedy small forward Jack Petruccelle (hamstring) is also a chance to be in the mix, and Shuey hoped the worst of the Eagles’ injury luck was behind them.
“We’re hoping for a little bit of luck on the injury front, which every club needs in the back end of the season,” Shuey said.
“But there were times last years when we had nearly a full-strength side on the park and we didn’t perform anywhere near where wanted to.
“But what we’ve seen over the last two or three weeks the way the boys have played against Carlton and Richmond has been really promising.
“We’ve seen really good signs that the spirit and energy is back and the boys have been really enjoying what’s been happening.
“Fingers crossed that’s a nice little launch pad for the second half of the year.”