Western Australia’s chances of hosting an AFL Grand Final have never been higher after the success of the sold-out Dreamtime clash at Optus Stadium on Saturday night.
The annual fixture between Richmond and Essendon was moved from the MCG due to Melbourne’s COVID-19 outbreak and proved to be a massive success in the west.
Tickets for the fixture sold out in just 17 hours with over 55,000 spectators packed into Optus Stadium to watch a pulsating contest between the two sides.
Following the match, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick backed Optus Stadium to host the AFL grand final, should Melbourne be unable to host further fixtures this year.
“It is one of the best stadiums in the country, absolutely,” Hardwick said when asked if Optus was worthy of hosting the decider.
“The crowds for what we have here are absolutely phenomenal. The Tiger army, we are very fortunate they follow us near and far.”
1999 Brownlow Medallist Shane Crawford also backed WA’s credentials, but took aim at the Victorian government for giving other states a chance of taking major AFL fixtures away from Melbourne and the MCG.
“Optus Stadium is a wonderful venue, if you haven’t been there before it’s just spectacular to watch any type of sport,” he told Nine’s Sports Sunday.
“Of course they can host the grand final but here in Victoria … if we lose the grand final again and if football stops for the next few months here in Victoria we are going to lose the plot.
“Victoria is a beautiful place to visit, it’s got great people but we’re really letting the side down in the rest of Australia. We really are. Don’t get me started on the Victorian government because we’re going to war.”
Crawford was not the only AFL figure to criticise the Victorian government, with Gold Coast Suns chairman Tony Cochrane labelling it “hopeless”.
“Given how hopeless your government are down there compared to every other state I’d say it’s almost probable it has to be played somewhere else. So maybe it’s time to share it around?” he said on Sunday.
“I’d share it around, although it’s certainly not my call.”
However, Victorian Sports Minister, Martin Pakula, returned serve at Cochrane, insisting that the state was not in danger of losing the AFL grand final for the second year running.
“The way the Suns are travelling, I don’t think Tony needs to worry about grand finals for a while,” he said.
“It is very easy to forget that it is only just over one month ago that we had almost 80,000 at the MCG for the Anzac Day clash,” he said.
“I speak to the AFL most days, the fact that the West Australian stadium or WA government would like the grand final is not news, it is pretty obvious that they would, anyone would want it.
“But the fact is one of the reasons we are doing what we’re doing now, running this into ground and snuffing it out, is that there are a lot of incredibly important stuff happening in the second half of the year.
“We have school holidays in a few weeks away, AFL grand final, Melbourne Cup, Boxing Day Test, we want all of those things to happen in Melbourne.
“We want to be back in the situation we were, just a couple of weeks ago, where we had large crowds, full restaurants, business trading profitably and we are going to try to get back to the position as soon as we possibly can.”
Essendon great Matthew Lloyd also praised WA for its turnout at the Dreamtime clash, advocating for more games to be played in Perth and South Australia instead of in New South Wales as Melbourne grapples with the coronavirus.
“There was 3300 people there to watch Melbourne and Brisbane on Friday night in Sydney,” he told Nine’s AFL Sunday Footy Show.
“You saw Channel Seven having to raise the crowd noise just to get an atmosphere versus the purity of that crowd (in the Dreamtime match).
“Could the AFL do more, I know there’s different border restrictions in different states, but to get more games in South Australia and Western Australia for the next two-three weeks?”
Another showpiece MCG fixture that has been moved is the Queen’s Birthday clash between Melbourne and Collingwood, which will now take place at the SCG.
AFL Sunday Footy Show host Tony Jones questioned whether the game would be a hit in NSW given it comes in the same week as the State of Origin opener.
“I do worry about Queen’s Birthday,” Jones said.
“Obviously they will get a crowd because of Collingwood mainly, with all due respect to Melbourne.
“But how are you going to generate publicity when it’s in a State of Origin week? That’s the only thing they’re going to want to know about in NSW.
“That Queen’s Birthday match should’ve actually been played in Perth or Adelaide.”