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'Optus is as hard as I've felt it': Simpson on surface

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WEST Coast coach Adam Simpson holds some reservations about Optus Stadium's surface ahead of the Eagles' first home game, but isn't blaming the ground's firmness for Willie Rioli's foot trouble.

Rioli was ruled out from the round one trip to the Gabba and the extent of his stress-related problem is yet to be revealed.

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He is the latest in a string of West Coast players to battle foot issues since last year, when the Eagles switched to WA's new home of football and also trained regularly on the hard deck at under construction headquarters Mineral Resources Park (formerly Lathlain).  

Elliot Yeo (toe), Tom Barrass (foot and back), Jamie Cripps (toe) and Josh Kennedy (foot) have all managed problems, and Rioli's issue came to light after training on Optus in the build-up to round one. 

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Simpson didn't want to be "sitting here complaining" and labelled the venue a "tremendous stadium", but believed the surface, which was one of several teething problems in 2018, is as hard as ever. 

That's despite stadium testing being understood to have shown it was in the middle of the AFL's acceptable range for Fremantle's win over North Melbourne last Sunday.

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"I think across the competition (firm grounds are an issue). The Gabba was really hard, Optus is as hard as I've felt it, despite the Clegg (Hammer) readings," Simpson said.

"I think there's issues across the board with the surfaces. I don't think Optus is the reason why Willie has pulled up a bit sore, I think that's a bit unfair.  

"But there's no doubt coming out of the summer that a lot of the grounds are pretty hard.  

"We're monitoring that more than ever, the conditions they're playing under. We've got an eye on it.

"I think there's always something you can do, it's just how much priority you put on it.

"We're always in discussions with how hard the (Optus) surface is."

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Gun midfielder Elliot Yeo believes there is a correlation between the firmness of Optus Stadium and the spate of foot issues.

"I think there is. You can't really look past the stats and the stats say there's been a lot of foot and toe injuries," Yeo told AFL.com.au.  

"That's not just from our team as well, that's teams that have come over here and all of sudden you see them going out with (sore) heels and foot problems."

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Sydney superstar Lance Franklin was the most high-profile player to pull up sore after playing at the stadium in round one last year.  

Franklin bagged eight goals but later missed three games due to a bruised heel, which coach John Longmire linked to the new stadium's surface.

West Coast, Fremantle and visiting teams were later asked not to train at the venue for several weeks last May as work was completed to soften the ground. 

"Hopefully it's softened up, and with the game last weekend as well," Yeo said.  

"It's the second year, the grass is still sort of new and starting to adapt, so I think it might take a couple of years until it's in its prime.

"It's one of those things where I'm sure if it wasn't up to scratch then the club would speak up and say something, or the AFLPA would.  

"It is hard, but in saying that there is benefits of being hard. It's a quick deck, you're able to turn a bit sharper and you can feel like you're on top (of the ground), but the negative side is you pull up a lot sorer." 

In a statement provided to AFL.com.au, Optus Stadium CEO Mike McKenna was confident the Optus Stadium surface was in an acceptable range for football.  

"The latest Clegg Hammer tests completed today show that the stadium turf is well within the AFL’s preferred range," McKenna said.

"The AFL’s independent turf consultant has been to Optus Stadium twice during the pre-season and has been very complimentary of the general condition of playing surface, the Clegg Hammer rating, traction readings and the early season penetration of the rye winter grass. 

"The turf condition at Optus Stadium is well advanced compared to the same time last year." 

Fremantle has also been contacted for comment.