Ratten’s worry over ‘shifting’ Optus Stadium surface after busy schedule

ST KILDA coach Brett Ratten says Optus Stadium needs to consider the possibility of legal action from injured players if it wants to schedule events that compromise the ground after players were forced to adjust to a shifting surface in Sunday’s clash against West Coast.

The WA venue hosted back-to-back soccer friendlies between English Premier League clubs on Friday and Saturday night after a week of heavy rain, leaving areas of the ground damaged and muddy.

A massive overnight recovery effort from ground staff meant the surface appeared much-improved by Sunday afternoon, but there were repeated examples of players losing their feet in the Saints’ 28-point win.

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Ratten highlighted the case of former Carlton player Luke O’Sullivan taking legal action against his former club and the League after alleging the Waverley Stadium surface contributed to his serious knee injury in 1993.  

“I wouldn’t like a player to get a long-term injury that [meant they] never play the game again, or something like that,” Ratten said on Sunday night.

“That is the worrying concern. If something did happen, would a player sue the ground? It has happened before. It happened in my time as a player [with] Luke O’Sullivan.

“That is something they may need to consider when scheduling.”

Ratten said the Saints knew pre-game that the surface would be challenging for players and it “felt shifting under foot”.

Fremantle hosts reigning premier Melbourne at Optus Stadium in a Friday night blockbuster in five days, with the surface set to face scrutiny ahead of the clash. 

West Coast coach Adam Simpson said Ratten made a fair point but praised ground staff for salvaging the surface in the circumstances.  

“I thought they did a great job getting the game away with the way it was heading last night and the rain that’s been here all week,” he said.

“The problem we had was one side of the ground was quite dry and the other was quite boggy. That’s OK. Both teams had to deal with it.

“There were a few goals that probably weren’t there. Even the last one with Tom Barrass slipping over in the goalkeeper’s box from last night.”

Ratten was pleased with his team’s response to a week of soul searching and honest conversations at RSEA Park, saying the players who had been challenged had responded.

Small forward Dan Butler, who booted a career-best five goals, was one of those who delivered after being pushed to lift his output, while others had put their bodies on the line.

He reserved praise for first-year midfielder Marcus Windhager, who held West Coast star Tim Kelly to just four disposals and won 23 touches and seven inside 50s himself.

“His application to the role was great. Kelly is a great player and that’s why we put time into him,” Ratten said.

“For Marcus to do that so early in his career is pleasing. He has done some really good roles for us and has had a big impact in his first year.”

Forward Jack Billings will need assessment this week after experiencing back spasms, with Jade Gresham expected to be fine to face Hawthorn after a knock to the knee. 

Forgotten midfielder Dan Hannebery will be close to playing just his third game in two seasons after back-to-back matches in the VFL following calf surgery. 

Simpson hoped to regain star ruckman Nic Naitanui and dual club champion Elliot Yeo for the trip to face Gold Coast, with premiership forward Willie Rioli another who could return after personal leave following the passing of his father.

The coach took a glass half-full approach to the loss, with ruckman Bailey Williams (nine clearances) and midfielder Jai Culley (19 disposals and a goal) showing encouraging signs.

He said Kelly was beaten on the day by Windhager and not still dealing with the aftermath of a corked quad. 

“I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to say he was hampered by it. That wasn’t the feedback we got. He had a quiet day,” Simpson said.

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