West Coast Eagles to unleash Rioli in AFL

Willie Rioli is poised to make his AFL season debut for premiers West Coast against Melbourne.
Willie Rioli is poised to make his AFL season debut for premiers West Coast against Melbourne.

Willie Rioli is back, and West Coast hope the speedster's return will help them rediscover their mojo.

Rioli was cut down by a bone stress injury in his foot on the eve of the AFL season, with the setback ruling him out for the first eight rounds.

The delicate nature of the injury meant West Coast adopted a no-risk approach with the star goalsneak.

But coach Adam Simpson delivered the news that all Eagles fans have been waiting to hear: Rioli will return in Friday night's clash with Melbourne at Optus Stadium.

"He'll play managed minutes," Simpson said of Rioli, who replaces Jake Waterman in the side.

"He was almost ready last week. Instead of playing in the WAFL last week we trained him up.

"We've probably been a little bit more conservative. These are dangerous things when you get stress-related injuries in your feet. We've looked after him as best we can.

"We've missed him, but it's good to have him back."

West Coast have endured a topsy-turvy start to their premiership defence, with heavy losses to Geelong and Port Adelaide highlighting some glaring weaknesses.

Recent wins over Gold Coast and St Kilda have improved West Coast's record to 5-3, but the team is still lacking some spark.

Rioli played an important role in West Coast's premiership campaign last year, and Simpson is hopeful the 23-year-old's return will give his team added potency and pressure in attack.

Ruckman Tom Hickey, who missed the past two weeks with a hamstring injury, will return via the WAFL on Thursday night.

Hickey starred with 25 disposals, 32 hit-outs, and a goal against Geelong in round six, but Simpson wants to see the former Saint get through a WAFL hit out before considering him for an AFL recall.

It means Nathan Vardy and pinch-hitter Oscar Allen will be handed the daunting task of quelling star Demons ruckman Max Gawn.

Melbourne's last trip to Perth resulted in an embarrassing 66-point preliminary final loss to West Coast.

Some experts questioned whether that loss had haunted the Demons during their 1-5 start to this season.

Melbourne have since posted tight wins over Hawthorn and Gold Coast to revive their finals hopes, and they will be aiming to exact revenge on West Coast.

The Demons will be without Michael Hibberd (broken collarbone), Jake Melksham (foot) and Jordan Lewis (ankle), while Declan Keilty was dropped.

Wingman Oskar Baker will become the Demons' fifth debutant of the season, and he'll be joined in the side by Alex Neal-Bullen, Tim Smith, and Harrison Petty.

Australian Associated Press