After 15 seasons, 213 games and two club best and fairest awards, West Coast Eagles champion ruckman Nic Naitanui’s illustrious career has today ended with him announcing his retirement from the AFL, effective immediately.
Speaking in front of his coaches, staff and now former teammates, Naitanui explained that although the call to walk away from the game at this point in time is tough, he believed it was ultimately the right decision for the club and himself.
“I’m content with what I’ve done, I’ve had a lot of fulfilment at this football club, and they’ve provided a lot for me,” Naitanui said.
“My dream growing up was to play football, but [also] to provide for my family, and the club has allowed me the opportunity to do that.”
After rupturing his achilles tendon earlier in the year, Naitanui has failed to register a game in the past 12 months, forcing the star to retire with a year still left to run on his contract.
“Being a power athlete who has relied on my ability to jump throughout my career, this injury was probably going to take that away from me.” he said.
Injuries have plagued the star ruckman in the latter half of his career, with a second ACL rupture sustained in round 17 of 2018 forcing him to undergo another knee reconstruction and causing him to miss the club’s 2018 premiership.
Despite missing out on the ultimate glory that year, Naitanui is at ease with what he has achieved.
“Obviously, that’s what you play for and what you want, but I got a lot out of my career and got a lot from this football club, and that’s something I’ll be forever grateful for.”
Naitanui bows out of the game with a distinguished career jammed packed with thrilling highlights. Many regard him as the best tap ruckman in V/AFL history, with his hitouts to advantage unparalleled.
Naitanui was selected with pick two in the 2008 AFL national draft and quickly made his mark in the elite competition. At just 19 years old, he kicked three last-quarter, match-winning goals against the reigning premiers Hawthorn, in his second game.
He went on to be selected in the All-Australian team in 2012, 2020, and 2021, was nominated for the Rising Star award in 2010, claimed the Mark of the Year in 2015, as well as the Mark of the Round eight times, the second most in history, and in the twilight of his career, won back-to-back John Worsfold medals in 2020 and 2021.
West Coast Eagles senior coach Adam Simpson, who has led Naitanui since late 2013, believes the star’s impact on the game is immeasurable.
“In terms of on-field presence, I don’t think there’s any player bigger,” Simpson said.
“As Nic evolved throughout his career, what people really underestimate is how crafty he became. He’s one of the greatest ruckmen of all time.”
Despite his dazzling football ability, Naitanui’s legacy off the field could be considered just as impressive.
The West Coast Eagles boast a next-generation academy bearing Naitanui’s name, a program he is heavily involved in. This initiative is designed to attract and develop young teenagers who come from underrepresented sectors of the community.
“Fingers crossed, I’ve helped to develop some kids that look like me and kids that play like me to carry on that legacy, to play in a similar nature,” he said.
As a multicultural ambassador for the AFL, the star ruckman is proud of the work he has achieved outside of the football stadiums.
“My role in the game has been as much about what I do on-field, but off-field,” he said.
“I hope, as much as I got to put some bums on seats, I also got to inspire people off the field with whatever hardships they were enduring.”
Raised by his single migrant mother from Fiji, Ateth, in the outer suburbs of Perth, Naitanui came from humble beginnings which have always remained ingrained in him.
As for what’s next, Naitanui hopes to embrace fatherhood further with baby number two on the way, while also continuing his connection with the club in a mentorship capacity.
“I’d just love to see [the team] have success, so I reckon I’ll be in here for sure doing something,” he said.