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Freo's new era begins with nod to the past

AFLW Highlights: Freo v Collingwood The Dockers and Magpies clash in Round 2 of the AFLW

THE NEW era for football in Western Australia started with a nod to the past. 

Here was a swarming team clad in purple suffocating an increasingly desperate opponent, with a star No.29 patrolling attacking 50m and a feverish crowd willing the home side to victory.

But this wasn't a Ross Lyon-coached Fremantle outfit, led by champion forward Matthew Pavlich, that was strangling another team into submission at Subiaco Oval.

This time it was Michelle Cowan's troops, inspired in part by a brilliant Melissa Caulfield (two goals), clamping down on Collingwood in the first-ever Australian Rules match at brand-spanking new Optus Stadium.

Match report: Dockers down Pies at new home

It was also history in the making, as 41,975 fans turned up and set a new attendance record for a standalone women's sporting event in Australia, breaking a mark from way back in 1929.

And it was the perfect tonic for the NAB AFL Women's competition after a week of controversy about the aesthetics of the fledgling League.

Perth footy fans did their bit by turning up in droves – albeit in fewer numbers than the 54,000 tickets sold – and the players put on a show worthy of the occasion.

Fans arrive at Optus Stadium from the train station. Picture: Getty Images

The spicy contest had everything: ferocious tackles, big hits, free-flowing footy and highlights galore.

Despite the cauldron-like atmosphere, there was few signs of nerves from either side.

As it happened: Record crowd at Optus Stadium

Collingwood set the standard early, moving the ball with a precise chain of handballs from the opening bounce and had two goals on the board before Fremantle had blinked.

Star ruck Emma King spoke this week about the Pies – who were involved in the first-ever AFLW game plus this year's season-opener – knowing a thing or two about playing in front of big crowds in marquee matches.

Silencing the 'Purple Army' by hitting the scoreboard early would help, and King duly delivered by soccering through the first-ever goal at the 60,000-seat venue.

But the Dockers soon found their spark and the restless crowd discovered their voice.

Ashlee Atkins cleared the pack on the line from 40m to register Freo's first goal at the club's new home, and the Dockers were away.

Six of the game's final eight goals were booted by the home side, who hunted and harassed the Pies into mistake after mistake.

Nearly a year to the day since the Dockers lost their first AFLW game in WA at a packed Fremantle Oval, they weren't about to walk away disappointed again - especially if best-on-ground Dana Hooker (20 disposals, two goals) had anything to do with it.

Hooker was simply outstanding and drove a dagger into Collingwood's comeback hopes with a superb instinctive finish early in the fourth quarter.

She was well-supported by debutant Lisa Webb (17 possessions, seven marks) – the wife of Dockers men's assistant coach Marc – hard-nosed defender Ebony Antonio (15 disposals) and Caulfield.

To their credit, the Magpies never threw in the towel.

Chloe Molloy (15 disposals) underlined her status as a future star with another mature display, Melissa Kuys (21) was tireless and Christina Bernardi (two goals) was a constant threat after the much-hyped Mo Hope was dropped. 

However, they were fighting an uphill battle against a relentless Dockers line-up desperate to atone for last week's embarrassing scoreless half in their opening game and spurred on by a huge crowd.

By the time the familiar "Freo" chant rang out around Optus Stadium in the dying minutes it was clear that the Dockers would christen the venue with a first-up triumph.

A record crowd of 41,975 turned up to see Fremantle win. Picture: Getty Images