There are a select group of superstar athletes around the world who feel the responsibility of knowing the crowd comes mainly to watch them.
There were suggestions during the week that Nic Naitanui would be rested from today’s game against Greater Western Sydney. The 27,339 people who paid to attend the match at Optus Stadium got their money’s worth simply from seeing him play as West Coast won 9.7 (61) to 7.7 (49).
The Eagles ruckman worked overtime in an extraordinary display that summed up everything that is great about one of the most entertaining players in the game.
Naitanui has averaged 10 possessions and five clearances per game this season. He’s also kicked three goals.
By quarter time against the Giants, Naitanui had eight touches, six clearances and one goal.
He displayed power by pushing off Shane Mumford to win hit outs. He displayed grace by tapping the ball to himself to win clearances.
He displayed skill by snapping a superb goal. And he showed impact by setting up his teammates.
West Coast set up the win with the first five goals when Naitanui was on fire.
The Giants had plenty of chances, kicking 1.6 in the first half from more inside 50s at half-time.
They then reduced the margin to only 11 points during the third quarter after kicking the first two goals.
But they were playing catch-up football and fighting against tide because they couldn’t stop Naitanui when it mattered.
Coach Leon Cameron used Nick Haynes as a loose man in defence and denied the Eagles an easy route forward during the third term.
But the Eagles weathered the storm and kicked three goals in 10 minutes to take a 31-point lead into the final quarter.
Brendon Ah Chee made it a 37-point game but West Coast couldn’t put the Giants away in the last. GWS kicked the next three goals to trail by just 18 points with six minutes remaining. It became a two-goal contest with two minutes left.
But Jeremy McGovern had been a stumbling point in defence all day and he continued to deny the Giants as they surged with mark after mark. He was outstanding under pressure and took telling grabs to show his class.
The victory took West Coast’s winning streak to eight games and they will enter the second phase of the Queensland hub ideally placed.
Xavier O’Neill wasted little time showing Eagles fans that he is competitive. O’Neill started on the bench, moved into the centre square after the first goal and laid two tackles within 10 seconds.
The Victorian had his big moment during the third term when he snapped a clever left foot goal that gave West Coast a 23-point lead. Teammates ran from everywhere to celebrate.
Jeremy McGovern has taken more important overhead marks in defence, but he may not have taken one that’s more spectacular.
The All-Australian defender soared over Harry Himmelberg during the second quarter, got the perfect ride and dragged a spectacular mark with knee on the Giants’ shoulder. It typified McGovern’s game given the Giants couldn’t get the ball past him.
West Coast were just holding on during the third quarter as GWS challenged. They looked perfectly placed to win the ball on the wing and drive forward but Liam Ryan had other ideas.
Ryan ran with the flight of the ball, made a desperate spoil on Zac Williams and then Jamie Cripps laid a strong tackle to win a free kick. It was a huge moment in the game.
Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Jackson Nelson took a mark across half-back during the second quarter, slipped as he played on and was lucky that GWS didn’t score a goal from the turnover.
Then, just moments later, Nelson injured his shoulder during a solid collision. When you have two incidents like that close together, you know luck just isn’t running your way.