WITH second spot up for grabs, two premiership stars celebrating 200-game milestones and finals momentum going on the line, Saturday's clash between South Fremantle and West Perth at Fremantle Community Bank Oval shapes as a season-defining one.
Second position and a potential home qualifying final goes on the line on Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval when South Fremantle returns from the bye to host a West Perth team on a three-game winning run.
West Perth comes into the game having shaken off the off-field troubles of the club having won its past three matches, and five of the past six, to be sitting in second position on the WAFL ladder with a 10-5 record.
That run of form has seen the Falcons replace the Bulldogs in second spot but West Perth is just a game and a small percentage ahead of South Fremantle while having played an extra game.
South Fremantle has lost its past two matches in disappointing fashion to Subiaco and Peel Thunder prior to the bye last weekend and slipped to third position in the process, but the Bulldogs had set their season up nicely prior to that where a win on Saturday would make them likely second place finishers.
South Fremantle has had the wood over West Perth in recent times with the Bulldogs having won their last seven matches against the Falcons by an average of 46.7 points.
But the only meeting between the two teams so far in 2018 was a tight affair in Round 3 at Joondalup Arena with South Fremantle only prevailing to the tune of eight points.
While the winner of Saturday's game will likely host the qualifying final against the other, South Fremantle wouldn’t have too much of a problem heading up to Joondalup Arena given they have won the last three, seven of the last eight and 18 of 27 at the venue.
The game will also be heavy on milestones with South Fremantle's Ashton Hams and West Perth's Chris Keunen both reaching the 200-game mark.
Hams has had a remarkable career with the Bulldogs and as he prepares for his 200th match in what will be his final season, he has achieved some remarkable things including being a dual premiership player, two-time Simpson Medallist, fairest and best winner, life member and three-time state representative.
Keunen's journey since coming to West Perth in 2006 has been a remarkable one. While he's already played 202 games for the Falcons, the club will be celebrating his 200-game milestone on Saturday.
It has been a tremendous ride for the ruckman that has included the 2013 premiership, playing in the WAFL State Team and earning life membership at West Perth.
But what stands him apart the most is his strength of character to fight through injury troubles and some rough treatment at the selection table at times to continue to stick at his career and now be one of the leading ruckmen in the league still in 2018 at 34 years of age.
Prior to last week's bye, South Fremantle had two weeks to forget with the losses to Peel Thunder and Subiaco that put their hopes of finishing in second position in jeopardy.
Despite having the bye in between that loss to Peel and taking on West Perth on Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval, there are plenty of changes from the Bulldogs and some big names returning.
Ashton Hams is leading that charge and he returns from a hamstring injury suffered in Round 14 against Claremont and it's perfect timing to celebrating his 200th game on home turf in a game that could be season-defining for the Bulldogs.
Hams isn't the only big name returning for South Fremantle with his premiership teammate from 2009, Cory Dell'Olio, also back after missing the past three games. He has 19 goals in his seven games in 2018.
Brock Higgins is another crucial inclusion for South Fremantle to take up the ruck battle against West Perth's 200-game milestone man, Chris Keunen.
Jake Florenca and Kyle Russell are also in the mix to return for the Bulldogs after some solid form in the reserves while Chris Ah Siu and Seaton Thompson are two potential debutants to line up for South Fremantle against West Perth.
One person who won't be back in time for the big game is triple Bernie Naylor Medallist Ben Saunders who will miss another week. His absence will be felt too considering he has kicked 48 goals in 15 appearances against West Perth.
Captain Dylan Main goes out for South Fremantle while Steve Verrier, Glenn Byron and Adam McIntosh make way for the group of returning players.
West Perth is on a three-game winning run to have moved a game clear in second position as a result so there's little reason for coach Bill Monaghan to make too many changes coming into Saturday's clash with South Fremantle.
Aside from the continued absence of 2013 premiership players Kody Manning and Steve Potente, West Perth has just about a clean bill of health and is as close to full strength as you'd hope to be come the final month of the season.
Jordan Mills has done a tremendous job as a key defender this season for West Perth even though injury forced him forward two weeks ago where he kicked three goals in the win over Swan Districts. He missed last week but returns to face South Fremantle and should resume his place in the back-line.
Connor West and Scott Nelson are in the mix to come in again for West Perth too based on solid form in the reserves while the Falcons could unearth another debutant in the form of Jacob Turner a week after reigning colts fairest and best winner Dylan Yem played well in his first game last week.
Ben King has been a mainstay of the West Perth defence all season, though, and he goes out of the team for Saturday's crucial clash with the Bulldogs.
SOUTH FREMANTLE (9-5, 3rd) v WEST PERTH (10-5, 2nd) – FREMANTLE COMMUNITY BANK OVAL, SATURDAY 1.40PM
Selected teams, live stats
Broadcast – Channel 7, 91.3 SportFM, KIX Digital