West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui remains on track to play in round one despite a slow recovery over the summer, according to midfield coach Sam Mitchell.
Naitanui hasn't played since undergoing a knee reconstruction at the tail end of the 2016 season.
The 27-year-old is still being held out of match simulation at training, and it remains unclear whether he will be fit enough to play a pre-season game.
But Mitchell says the club's medical staff are confident Naitanui will be ready to play in the round one blockbuster with Sydney at Perth's $1.5 billion Optus Stadium on March 25.
"At the moment, he's aiming for round one," Mitchell said.
"But he hasn't got into the competitive stuff yet. The risk of putting him into competitive work at any point is there, so whenever we do that, it needs to be at the right time, and with as littlie amount of risk as possible.
"He'll implement that over the next couple of weeks."
Naitanui's return has the potential to shape West Coast's fortunes in 2018.
A successful return could see the Eagles challenging for a top-four berth, despite the retirements of Brownlow medallists Matt Priddis and Mitchell.
But if Naitanui takes a long time to regain his form - or gets reinjured - West Coast might face a battle just to make the finals.
West Coast's midfield was labelled slow and one dimensional last season.
But Mitchell, who hung up the boots at the end of last season to take up the role of midfield coach at the club, is confident the Eagles possess the raw talent to improve in 2018.
Mitchell praised the work ethic of Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff and Elliot Yeo, and he's excited to see the next crop of midfield stars come up through the ranks.
And he said it would be a matter of when - not if - Naitanui recaptures his top form.
"He's a compromised athlete with his knees. That's going to be an issue for him," Mitchell said.
"But his best is still going to be be absolutely outstanding. How often we see it, and how soon we can see it - only time will tell."
Mitchell has embraced his full-time coaching role, saying he doesn't miss playing one bit.
"I loved playing - it was the greatest job you can have," said Mitchell, who won four premierships at Hawthorn before ending his career at the Eagles last season.
"But I wouldn't trade it for what I'm doing now. I really am loving it."