The ban on clubs training at Optus Stadium appears set to be lifted this week, allowing West Coast and Richmond access leading into their blockbuster meeting on Sunday.
And venue boss Mike McKenna has forecast the crowd for the top-two showdown could eclipse the turnout of 56,521 for the western derby in round six, setting a new record for a WA football match.
McKenna said the easing of traffic on the ground over the past three weeks had improved the controversial surface significantly, criticised as too hard amid a spate of injuries.
Sydney superstar Lance Franklin has missed the past three games with a bruised heel, which his coach John Longmire linked to playing at Optus Stadium in round one.
Turf management staff have aerated the soil weekly and re-sown extra rye grass into the surface in an effort to create a lusher playing field. Grow lights have been used along the northern side of the oval, which is often in shade, for more than 60 hours per week.
“I think we’ve achieved a lot over the last few weeks and it was probably a good sacrifice to have made by the clubs to stay off it for a while. It’s been much appreciated,” McKenna said.
Stadium officials will meet with the West Coast and Fremantle football departments early this week to decide whether training at the Burswood venue should resume.
“From now on, if we all agree, it will be back to business as usual. Normal training days, normal program. If they are happy, then we are certainly happy,” McKenna said.
“Clearly, when the players were playing on it, the difference between the way it was measuring and the way it was feeling was material.
“What we’re trying to do is get a good even coverage and a bit of length in the grass so it provides a higher level of cushioning for the players. The intent is to be able to cut it longer.”
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