A REBOOTED Matt Rowell has driven Gold Coast to its first season-opening win in four years, digging deep late to overcome a patched together West Coast by 27 points at Optus Stadium on Sunday night.
Trailing by six points at the final change, the Suns booted seven of the last eight goals to overcome the decimated Eagles, skipping away late to seal the result 16.11 (107) to 12.8 (80).
EAGLES v SUNS Full match coverage and stats
It was the Suns' first win against West Coast in Perth in 10 attempts, displaying grit on the road after the match appeared to be slipping out of their grasp in the second quarter.
They turned the tide through brilliant midfielders Rowell and Touk Miller, and eventually broke the Eagles late in the final term after a brave rally from Adam Simpson's team, with the margin not reflective of a tight tussle.
Rowell was back to his best, controlling the stoppages with a game-high 10 clearances and winning a career-high 22 of his 33 touches in the contest.
With co-captain Miller (29 and eight clearances) also launching the season in fine touch, the Suns were able to dominate contested ball as the game wore on, winning the critical indicator 155-122.
Their ability to outrun and outcompete the Eagles in the final term gave them a 17-8 advantage in forward entries, ensuring they had opportunities to respond when West Coast champion Josh Kennedy cut the margin to four points with 10 minutes to play.
Midfielder Brayden Fiorini (24 and nine inside 50s) was important, while defender Charlie Ballard marshalled the backline magnificently.
Of their best 22, West Coast was missing five midfielders, four forwards and three defenders, but the team looked like conjuring a memorable win through the middle stages.
Jamaine Jones (21 and two goals) played the best game of his career as a creative and quick midfielder/forward, while Jack Redden and Andrew Gaff tried hard at the coalface but were ultimately outpointed.
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Willie Rioli had some big moments in his first game since the 2019 qualifying final, booting a long-range goal and winning six clearances from 12 disposals.
He leapt off the ground in a heavy collision with Rowell in the third quarter that was deemed legal by the umpire, keeping himself in the play to then set up a goal as the teams traded blows before the Suns final flourish.
Rowell's courage not rewarded
Matt Rowell was unflinching in his pursuit of the ball in the third quarter, running with the flight as Willie Rioli approached from the other direction. As Rowell got hands to the ball, Rioli left the ground and crunched him, making forceful front-on contact. No free kick was paid, and Rioli was quick to his feet, getting involved in the follow-up to drive the ball inside 50. As Hugh Dixon ran into an open goalsquare, Rowell was next to trainers but ultimately played on, which will help Rioli if he comes under scrutiny from the Match Review Officer on Monday. The clip was shown by coach Stuart Dew to his players immediately after the game to highlight Rowell's heart.
Game 100, goal No.1
It was a milestone moment in a milestone game for premiership Eagle Tom Barrass. The key defender marked on the wing late in the first quarter and benefited from a 50m penalty when the ball was thrown back to the wrong player by Izak Rankine after it spilled. Kicking from just inside 50m, Barrass hit the ball perfectly and celebrated in style, with teammates leaping all over the 26-year-old, who last registered a score when he kicked a behind in 2017. Trialled as a forward over summer, the extra time in front of the goals paid off before he made the long run down to full back to the cheers of the crowd.
New leader relishes role
Touk Miller has taken on the co-captaincy this season at Gold Coast, and in the third quarter he did what is expected of a leader. Paid the free kick just outside 50m, and having watched Rioli steal the lead back for West Coast moments earlier, Miller took on the responsibility and kicked a captain's goal. Sharing leadership duties with ruckman Jarrod Witts, Miller was superb in the midfield and showed an extra burst of speed at stoppages as he racked up 29 disposals and eight clearances. Sidekick Witts matched his 'captain's goal', slotting an important major in the final term.
WEST COAST 5.1 7.3 10.5 12.8 (80)
GOLD COAST 2.2 5.6 8.11 16.11 (107)
West Coast: Petruccelle 2, Kennedy 2, Jones 2, Langdon, Waterman, Barrass, O'Neill, Rioli, Dixon,
Gold Coast: Rankine 4, Casboult 2, Ainsworth 2, Chol 2, Sharp, Miller, Witts, Holman, Lukosius, Davies
West Coast: Redden, Jones, Hurn, Gaff, Barrass, McGovern
Gold Coast: Miller, Rowell, Ballard, Rankine, Witts, Fiorini
West Coast: Nil
Gold Coast: Nil
West Coast: Isiah Winder (unused)
Gold Coast: Alex Sexton (unused)
Crowd: 20,932 at Optus Stadium