Chris Kowald reports for AFANA from Optus Stadium, Perth
The newest AFL venue in Australia provided a dazzling backdrop for Buddy Franklin to strut his stuff and lead the Sydney Swans to victory over a brave West Coast Eagles. West Coast started brightly, buoyed by the return of big man Nic Naitanui who had the better
of Sydney’s Callum Sinclair in the ruck. An early clearance and surge by West Coast saw a Luke Shuey shot miss the goal and score a behind (one point) after only 29 seconds of play. Sydney responded by working the ball from defense to push into attack. Tom Papley kicked long to Franklin in the pocket who couldn’t mark against Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barras. Sydney’s George Hewett gathered the crumbs and centered the ball to a group of three Swans lined up 25 meters from goal. The ball fell to Jake Lloyd who kicked the first major (worth six points) and it was game-on. Sydney’s second goal came three minutes later when Franklin lit up the stage by dodging around defenders Brad Shepherd and Shannon Hurn to snap truly from 30 meters. At the eight minute mark, veteran Marc LeCras opened the Eagles’ account by gathering the ball in front of a pack and kicking truly. Five minutes later it was back to Buddy, as he burnt off Jeremy McGovern to boot his second for the quarter. The Eagles steadied through tighter midfield play and both Jack Darling and Shannon Hurn brought the Eagles back into the game with steadying goals. The quarter was nearly finished when Buddy marked (caught the ball) against McGovern and boomed from a 55 meter set shot to score his third goal. LeCras then kept the Eagles hopes alive with an accurate snap, with just two seconds left on the clock.
In the second quarter both teams flooded players to the contest and the game pulsated with finals-like intensity. Both forward lines were left open as players pushed to the middle of the field and followed the ball. The quarter was highlighted by long attacking kicks and scintillating sprints into the respective 50 meter arcs. Center clearances were vital. The Eagles won the first and goaled through veteran Chris Masten. Then by getting players around the ball, the Swans were able to set up mid-field intercepts; and goals came from Kieran Jack and Franklin (two for the quarter). The Eagles briefly tried Hurn as a loose man in defense but he was caught out as turnovers allowed the Swans to run the ball past him.
Naitanui had played limited time in his comeback game and had enough in his tank to lift the Eagles in the third quarter. If he wasn’t winning the ruck he was at ground level, hustling the ball out of packs. Despite his efforts the Sydney midfielders through Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney had a slight edge in clearances. The Eagles tightened their mid-field web (a moveable structure where players defend a zone of field) and Sydney responded by working the ball across the wide ground to open play. Franklin appreciated being given space to roam and had added two more goals by the 16-minute mark. The Eagles were more effective in scoring from clearances (bounce downs when play was stopped) or thrown-ins (after the ball had gone out of play). Inspired by Naitanui, they dominated the last half of the third stanza with goals to debutant Liam Ryan, Jack Darling and another to Lecras. The highlight of the quarter for the Eagles was Nic Naitanui, scoring two from his own boot. His second was from a free kick after he laid a ground shaking tackle on Swans defender Nick Smith.
The fourth quarter started with the Eagles down just five points and a (state) record crowd of more than 55.000 fans urging them on. The stage was set for yet another epic Sydney–West Coast final act. Sydney surged with two quick goals. The first, to Zak Jones, courtesy of a Buddy pack clearance; and the second when George Hewitt was infringed by a desperate Eagles defender Will Schofield. Debutant Jake Waterman then led well to mark and goal from a set shot to keep the Eagles within touch. Buddy responded for Sydney by out marking and running away from Eagles defender, Tom Barrass, to score from point blank range. The game rose to a new level of intensity as Darling chimed in with another for the Eagles and then Kennedy manufactured a goal from a pack for Sydney. Eliot Yeo chipped in with a clever snap for the Eagles, before Luke Parker created the climax for the evening with an astounding hack out of the air, over his head, to seal the result. Will Hayward provided a fitting denouement to the drama with two quick Sydney goals to complete the evening. Sydney won the game and Perth’s sparkling new stadium provided a stunning setting for Buddy Franklin to star in his home state, but AFL football was the real winner.
Next week the Eagles travel to Melbourne to ask the Bulldogs if they have the resolve to recover from a Giant belting. Sydney will host a strengthened Port Adelaide in what will be an intriguing contest.
Scores West Coast Eagles: 4.2 5.3 10.7 13.8 (86) Sydney Swans: 5.1 9.5 11.6 18.7 (115) Best West Coast Eagles: Shuey, Gaff, Naitanui, Hurn, Yeo Sydney Swans: Franklin, Parker, Lloyd, Heeney, Kennedy
Article last changed on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 12:32 PM EDT