THE Sydney Swans have spoiled West Coast’s opening party for the new Optus Stadium, with superstar Lance Franklin booting eight goals to help his side to a 29-point win over the Eagles.
Franklin was on a different level, towelling up Eagles’ back men Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern on his way to a match-winning haul on Sunday evening.
The Eagles were still in the game with six minutes remaining, trailing by 10 points, but when Luke Parker goaled with a sensational soccer-style overhead kick the Swans had done enough.
Late goals blew out the margin and Sydney ran out winners 18.7 (115) to 13.8 (86).
The new $1.6 billion stadium passed its first AFL test with flying colours, save for a few public transport snarls, and AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan – one of the 53,553 people in attendance – would have been delighted with the show.
The temperature was still a muggy 25 degrees when the ball was bounced at 4.20pm, and it wasn’t long before Sydney’s Jake Lloyd became the answer to a pub trivia question when he kicked the first goal at the new venue in an AFL match.
(Careful with how that question is worded though – Collingwood ruck Emma King soccered through the first ever goal at the new stadium in her side’s AFLW clash with Fremantle on February 10.)
Having survived the most discussed knee reconstruction in West Australian football history (apologies to Mr Jakovich, but his occurred before social media seemed to give every loony tune with an internet connection a degree in orthopaedics), Nic Naitanui made his return – 19 months and six days after rupturing his ACL.
The big man looked good, his turn of pace may not have been its old supernatural self, but was still more than enough to terrify those near him with the ball and his tap work was – as always – sublime.
West Coast were a different side when he was on the park – you still almost hear the Six Million Dollar Man sound effects when he’s involved – and they’ll be relieved to see him get through the game.
After an even first term, highlighted by three Franklin goals, a Chris Masten major put the Eagles in front early in the second quarter.
But the Swans went to another gear – goals from Isaac Heeney, Franklin and Kieren Jack put the visitors out by 17 points and the alarm bells were ringing in Adam Simpson’s ears.
Franklin kicked his fifth half way through the second quarter to give Sydney a 26-point lead at the half, and it should have been more but for some wasteful kicking.
The Eagles broke even in the early part of the third term as rain fell steadily, but felt the absence of Josh Kennedy keenly inside their attacking 50.
Sydney soaked up the pressure, and when Franklin kicked his seventh goal of the match they were out to a 30-point lead.
The Eagles hit back though, first through a snap from first-gamer Liam Ryan then Jack Darling dribbled one through.
Naitanui brought the crowd to its feet with a chase and tackle inside 50, running round to snap a goal, and Mark LeCras bombed one from outside 50 after the siren to trim the margin back to five points as the sides turned for home.
But that was as close as the Eagles got – Zak Jones got the first of the final term for Sydney, George Hewett snagged the next.
Debutant Jake Waterman brought the Eagles closer with a beautiful set shot from the pocket, and goals to Darling and Elliott Yeo kept it tight.
But when Parker pulled one out of the air, the party was over.