Giants vice-captain Stephen Coniglio is adamant Lachie Whitfield has matured during his AFL-imposed suspension as the former No.1 draft pick prepares to make his long-awaited comeback against Collingwood on Saturday.
Whitfield has been training with the club for the past eight weeks – which is permitted under the terms of his six-month ban – and is now eligible to be selected for the Magpies game after missing the first seven rounds of the season.
The 22-year-old was punished by the league in November after being found guilty of “conduct unbecoming or prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” following an investigation into allegations former club staffers Graeme Allen and Craig Lambert conspired with Whitfield to help the player avoid a drug test.
Following discussions with the club’s leadership group and senior staffers after the incident, Coniglio said a remorseful Whitfield was ready to bounce back from the damaging episode.
“He probably had enough feedback from administration at our club during the time … we obviously had a chat with a few of our leaders to him on a one-on-one level,” Coniglio said.
“He knows the mistakes he made and the scrutiny that he put on the group. He’s very much past that now and really looking forward to making amends.
“We’re role models in the community. We see a number of issues in the NRL at the moment and those guys will hopefully bounce back from those little setbacks.
“Lachie’s on that upward spiral to being a little bit more mature as well in terms of what he’s doing.”
The dashing outside midfielder has put on a few kilograms during his absence and will provide an injection of speed for coach Leon Cameron, who is presiding over an injury list threatening to spiral out of control.
Coniglio returned from an ankle injury last week, but Ryan Griffen and youngster Will Setterfield are facing at least six more weeks on the sideline with similar ailments.
Adam Kennedy and Jacob Hopper were injured in the loss to St Kilda, while defender Nick Haynes is facing two months out after tearing a hamstring tendon the week before.
Tendai Mzungu has his own hamstring issues, veteran recruit Brett Deledio remains sidelined indefinitely with a calf problem and Matt Buntine’s knee injury will keep him out for the year.
It is one of the deepest injury lists Cameron has had to dal with as senior coach and Whitfield looks the man to provide a silver lining.
“I’d have no problem in terms of from a leadership perspective in putting my hand up and saying I want him to play this week,” Coniglio said.
“A lot of players, until they actually go through that situation, might not know how it feels.
“Lachie knew once it happened he felt he let the boys down. I’m sure when he comes back out his performances will be that of making up for lost time.
“Since he’s been back amongst the group, his worth ethic around the gym or whether it be out here on the track has been first class.
“We obviously know his outside flair and skill is magnificent and his run up and back, similar to Tom Scully, is first class. To bring that element of winning his own footy and laying the tackles elevated him to that elite midfield level.”
A win for the Giants this weekend would be a first in the club’s history against Collingwood.
Ex-GWS stars Adam Treloar, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Taylor Adams are all expected to line up against their old team at Spotless Stadium.