Eagles' Naitanui to return via WAFL

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Nic Naitanui's hopes of playing in Round 1 of the AFL season have been given a boost after the star West Coast ruckman was cleared to make his return via a WAFL practice match this weekend.

Naitanui, who hasn't played since undergoing a knee reconstruction in 2016, will line up for East Perth in their practice match against East Fremantle on Saturday.

The Eagles will play Fremantle in a pre-season fixture on Sunday but coach Adam Simpson said the WAFL practice match was a more suitable fixture for Naitanui, given the amount of time he's spent out of the game.

"He's done everything we needed him to do (at training), so the next phase is to hit some bodies," Simpson said.

"He's beaten up half our coaching staff and a lot of the things he's done is one-on-one.

"Now there's no intra-clubs to play or internal practice matches, so the next phase is to get some combative work against opposition.

"We thought we'd do it at East Perth just to manage the minutes, manage the positionings and rotations and that sort of thing.

"But he's ready and we'll see how he goes."

If Naitanui gets through the match unscathed, it would boost his chances of appearing in the Round-1 fixture against Sydney on March 25.

Fellow ruckman Nathan Vardy will miss the start of the season after injuring his groin in last week's practice match loss to Fremantle.