YOUNG star Oscar Allen inspired the late surge West Coast needed to finally shake off an impressive Gold Coast and open the season with a 25-point win at Optus Stadium on Sunday.
Rocked by a knee injury to young star Matt Rowell in the first quarter, the Suns kept their focus and made the Eagles work for everything, taking a seven-point lead in the opening minute of the final term.
EAGLES v SUNS Full match coverage and stats
But some telling aerial contests from Allen and a critical goal that snatched back the lead saw the Eagles steady to kick four unanswered goals and win 12.11 (83) to 8.10 (58).
The young Suns, who were disciplined in all phases of the game and had clearly improved after another summer, will be left wondering what might have been had Rowell seen out his comeback match after a shoulder injury ruined his debut season.
They controlled long periods of the match and were able to take away the Eagles' kicking game and centre square advantage before coming unstuck late, with the four-goal margin not reflective of a tense arm-wrestle.
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Allen's contribution was massive, with the young star booting a career-best four goals and taking nine marks to prove the difference, spearheading a dangerous tall forward line.
Midfielder Dom Sheed (34 disposals and nine clearances) stepped up in the absence of star pair Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo, while Tim Kelly (28 and nine inside 50s) was also excellent.
Defender Tom Barrass (22 possessions and 13 marks) had an entertaining duel with young Gold Coast star Ben King (three goals).
The tall trio of Allen, Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy were in irresistible touch early, with Allen and Darling combining to kick the opening three goals of the match in four minutes.
It appeared to be a winning structure that would not be challenged, but the Suns found their rhythm once they were able to control possession and clawed the margin back to four points at the first break.
Dealing with the emotional loss of Rowell in his comeback game, the Suns were able to maintain their composure and took away the stoppage advantage that had become such a weapon for the Eagles.
Jack Bowes spent long periods on Allen, but was also important as a rebounder, finishing with 30 possessions and seven rebound 50s, while captain David Swallow (29 possessions and a goal) led from the front in the midfield.
Suns sweat on Rowell
Coach Stuart Dew was hopeful that his young star's knee injury was not as serious as it first appeared. The second-year midfielder's comeback game from a serious shoulder injury was over in the first quarter and the 19-year-old was pictured at half time with his left knee in a heavy brace and on crutches. The Eagles crowd cheered the midfielder when he re-entered the arena to sit on the bench in a sign of how popular he is across the competition.
Allen's bag of tricks
Young Eagle Allen was an imposing presence and lifted with the game on the line. Teammates were able to kick instinctively to the hot spot in the final quarter knowing he would create a contest, and Sheed's clever kick to advantage four minutes into the final term set up his critical goal. It's too early to declare Allen the team's most dangerous tall forward, given the experienced stars he is learning from. But on Sunday's evidence he is moving in that direction quickly.
Midfield comes back to the pack
The weapon that got West Coast out of trouble on so many occasions last season was its centre square dominance. The Eagles didn't want to be so reliant on the aspect of their game in 2021, but how they would have loved some more ascendency in the middle on Sunday when the Suns kept pegging them back. With Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo injured, the Eagles lost the centre clearances 11-12 and squared the overall clearances 30-30. Naitanui and Sheed combined for 15 clearances – half of their total haul.
WEST COAST 3.3 5.3 7.7 12.11 (83)
GOLD COAST 2.4 5.4 7.8 8.10 (58)
West Coast: Allen 4, Darling 2, Kennedy 2, Cripps, Petruccelle, Ryan Vardy
Gold Coast: King 3, Holman, Miller, Sexton, Swallow, Weller
West Coast: Allen, Sheed, Kelly, Hurn, Barrass, Duggan
Gold Coast: Swallow, Miller, King, Bowes, Lukosius, Markov
West Coast: Nil
Gold Coast: Rowell (knee)
West Coast: Jones (unused)
Gold Coast: Holman (replaced Rowell)
Crowd: 38,493 at Optus Stadium