GWS will host Sydney in under three weeks at a venue with a capacity of 82,000 where it is notoriously hard to manufacture atmosphere.
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou suggested the league wasn’t overly concerned about the numbers game so early in the piece, but had reason to be buoyant.
“I actually think we’re going to get a good crowd,” Demetriou said on Wednesday. “I think people are expecting to see something out of the rivalry.
“I think everyone wants to know what’s going to happen. The Kevin Sheedy factor, Israel Folau, Adam Goodes. It’s going to be exciting and I’ll be there.
“Hopefully with another 30 or 40,000 people.”
Demetriou also indicated that Folau, the Giants’ rugby league-convert, is likely to again be offered a hefty promotional wage by the AFL as chief executive Andrew Demetriou looks to keep the rugby league convert in the game beyond 2014.
The AFL beefed up the code-switch carrot on offer to Folau and Karmichael Hunt by signing them as ambassadors when the pair initially quit the NRL.
Hunt was re-signed by Gold Coast as a player, and by the AFL as an ambassador, when he extended his contract this week until the end of the 2014 season.
Demetriou expects the same offer will be forthcoming to Folau, whose four-year multi-million dollar deal finishes in 2014.
“Israel Folau continues to show on a weekly basis that someone who has never played the game can learn the game,” Demetriou said on Wednesday.
“If he continues to take the marks he took last weekend, take a few more of those in a game, we’ll soon be talking to Israel Folau about his commitment in the long term.
“… Because we want Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt to stay in the game. They’re great ambassadors for our game.”
Demetriou wrote a memo to all club presidents and chairmen, CEOs, coaches, football managers and every listed player in 2010, outlining the reasons why the AFL bankrolled the recruitment of Hunt and Folau.
Almost two years on, Demetriou admits he undervalued the pair’s immense marketing worth.
“Both have returned our investment in spades. In fact, they’re in credit,” he said.
“What we invested in them from the promotional aspect has been – well they’ve returned it over and above what we could ever have imagined.
“And I say that sincerely. I would have paid significantly more to get the return that we got.
“But the good thing is that they enjoy doing it. They don’t do it begrudgingly.
“I listen to Karmichael Hunt talking about the fact he hasn’t had this much fun since playing basketball as a teenager.
“It’s a great environment to be in and Israel’s enjoying it too.”
Folau is the figurehead of the AFL’s foray into rugby league heartland, which was again on show at Wednesday’s reception at NSW Parliament House.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, the man who celebrated an election win at Parramatta Leagues Club and is a Wests Tigers tragic, hosted Demetriou, Folau and numerous Sydney-based players and AFL big wigs.
O’Farrell harked back to his first meeting with Demetriou, a day after the AFL boss had announced the establishment of GWS, while addressing the assembled group.
“I suggested then that he needed long pockets. He said that they did have those long pockets and I’m pleased that four years on, we’re here now,” O’Farrell said.
Time will tell how the AFL’s $120m venture fares. But Demetriou already knows who’s at fault if things don’t work out.
“We’ve been accepted … the welcome mat has been put out,” Demetriou said, noting the support from local government, state government, venue operators, the local community and media.
“If that’s the welcome we get, then by god, we’ve got nobody to blame (if GWS fails).”