NIC NAITANUI couldn't quite inspire West Coast to an upset win over Sydney but the returning star was all smiles after getting through his first match back in 19 months unscathed.

Naitanui was a massive presence for the Eagles in Sunday's blockbuster opening to Optus Stadium, winning 33 hit-outs, four clearances and booting a goal during the third-quarter fightback.

The Eagles went down by 29 points but Naitanui's first game since his knee reconstruction showed how vital the 201cm ruckman will be firing up an evolving engine room.

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"I think he's pulled up pretty well. He's all smiles back there in terms of how he's recovered," coach Adam Simpson said post-match.

"He's obviously still building towards complete match fitness.

"But he'd done enough in the last month, despite a lot of speculation, to play like he did tonight with confidence.

"I've got to give a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning staff for getting him up off a smallish type of prep.

"He's an important player but I thought everyone played their part in that third quarter in particular.

"I thought there was a fair bit of resolve. The crowd got behind us and gave us a fair glimpse of what it's like to have 60,000 screaming supporters, so I think they fed off that."

WATCH: Nic Nat's back with a bang

The Eagles were in the hunt trailing by 10 points into time-on in the final term but came up short, largely due to superstar Swan Lance Franklin's scintillating eight-goal haul.

Simpson said West Coast's coaches tried "everything under the sun" but a combination of Tom Barrass, Jeremy McGovern and Will Schofield couldn't stop Franklin once he got his tail up.

"He was just too hard to stop tonight," Simpson said.

"We tried a couple of things with one, two around him, different personnel.

"Some of our turnovers really hurt us as well. We got beaten in ground ball and contested ball.

"I thought a lot of those were in dangerous positions for the opposition, so off the turnover we got hurt.

"Buddy was often on the end of it."

Simpson was pleased with debutants Liam Ryan (one goal), Jake Waterman (one) and Daniel Venables, who all showed flashes during an intense contest.

"I couldn't be happier really that they got to experience this type of game. Round one at this stadium is probably worth 10 games really," he said. 

"They all contributed in their own way. They had little moments that made us all pretty excited because it's been a long time since we debuted three players in a game."

WATCH: Adam Simpson's full post-match media conference

Simpson also praised veteran Mark LeCras and Jack Darling, who both booted three goals in Josh Kennedy's absence.

But he wasn't getting carried away with his regenerating team's promising performance ahead of a trip to face the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.

"We want to play to win. We wanted to do everyone proud with a winning performance," he said. 

"We played with good spirit and that's what we take into next week. 

"So I'm disappointed but I'm really buoyed with some of the things we did tonight."