IT was the third last round of the WAFL season and things remain tight both in terms of teams trying to play finals at all in 2019 and then with the teams that are fighting positions inside the top five.
All five matches in Round 18 of the 2019 Optus WAFL Premiership Season took place on Saturday afternoon and in the top against bottom contest, Subiaco confirmed its minor premiership with a 15.16 (106) to 7.2 (44) victory against Swan Districts at Leederville Oval.
South Fremantle then moved back into second position by recording a third straight victory beating Peel Thunder 11.16 (82) to 6.6 (42) at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
West Perth confirmed another finals appearance by dominating the second half against Claremont at Claremont Oval with the Falcons running out 16.8 (104) to 8.12 (60) winners.
The West Coast Eagles then ensured three teams remain locked in the battle for fifth spot by beating Perth 9.17 (71) to 7.10 (52) at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park.
The only game that took place without any finals implications took place at East Fremantle's New Choice Homes Park and that saw East Fremantle defeat East Perth 12.6 (78) to 11.4 (70).
With jus two rounds now of the season remaining, Subiaco is out four games clear on top with a 15-1 record to be guaranteed of a fifth successive minor premiership.
South Fremantle (11-5) improved to second position but only by less than one per cent ahead of Claremont (11-5) with the two teams to play this Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
West Perth (9-7) is now guarantee of a finals berth and currently sits in fourth position with Perth (8-8), West Coast (7-9) and Peel Thunder (6-10) locked in the fight over fifth position.
East Fremantle (5-11) sits eighth, East Perth (5-11) ninth and Swan Districts (3-13) last.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND – JONATHON GRIFFIN
Jonathon Griffin didn’t have the return to East Fremantle as captain in 2018 that he hoped following his AFL career and he might have even wondered himself if he would ever recapture his better form when injury hurt his start to 2019, but he now is putting together some tremendous performances for the Sharks.
Griffin had every reason to be proud of the AFL career he put together that started at Adelaide back in 2007 and finished at Fremantle at the end of 2017. Along the way, he played 41 matches with the Crows and 56 with the Dockers to show he was a more than capable AFL ruckman.
But he had started his career with East Fremantle and showed strong loyalty to the Sharks to return for the 2018 season and he was even appointed skipper having played in the 2016 premiership with Peel Thunder.
His last game before 2018 with East Fremantle had been the 2012 Grand Final against Claremont where he had a massive game with 14 possessions, eight marks, 46 hit outs and three goals despite the Sharks going down to the Tigers.
But the now 33-year-old was a bit more banged up by 2018 when he returned to the Sharks and while he played 14 matches last season, he never quite got back to that dominant ruckman form of the past in a team that had a season best to forget.
He then suffered a fractured jaw in Round 1 of 2019 and that saw him miss the next five games and he deserved to be feeling frustrated that he wasn’t able to get out on the field to help the Sharks.
But since he has been back his form has solidly built and now he has strung together a host of tremendous performances not only dominating with the hit outs, but also finding more of the ball around the ground.
That was again the case on Saturday in the eventual eight-point win against East Perth where he had a fascinating battle with Ajang Ajang, and finished with 19 possession, four tackles and 40 hit outs.
With the form he is currently in and with the experienced players becoming thinner on the ground at the Sharks, including Jack Perham retiring this week, there's no reason why Griffin can't be looking to continue on in 2020 and be thinking he can still deliver some tremendous football.
Players of the Round
Round 1 – Kyal Horsley (Subiaco)
Round 2 – Anton Hamp (Claremont)
Round 3 – Haiden Schloithe (South Fremantle)
Round 4 – Brant Colledge (Perth)
Round 5 – Tony Notte (Swan Districts)
Round 6 – Rohan Kerr (East Perth)
Round 7 – Mitch Peirce (West Perth)
Round 8 – Clint Jones (Perth)
Round 9 – Lachlan Delahunty (Subiaco)
Round 10 – Nick Suban (South Fremantle)
Round 11 – Tyler Keitel (West Perth)
Round 12 – Josh Smith (West Coast Eagles)
Round 13 – Jackson Ramsay (East Perth)
Round 14 – Kane Mitchell (Claremont)
Round 15 – Bailey Banfield (Peel Thunder)
Round 16 – Jye Bolton (Claremont)
Round 17 – Ben Sokol (Subiaco)
Round 18 – Jonathon Griffin (East Fremantle)
TABtouch TEAM OF THE ROUND
BACK: Tom Cole (WC), Noah Strom (SF), Traye Bennell (PT)
HALF-BACK: Josh Rotham (WC), Mark Hamilton (WP), Chad Pearson (SF)
CENTRE: Kane Mitchell (C), Leigh Kitchin (S), Aaron Black (WP)
HALF-FORWARD: Rhys Waters (S), Lachlan Delahunty (S), Blaine Boekhorst (EF)
FORWARD: Andrew Strijk (WP), Ben Sokol (S), George Hampson (SD)
RUCK: Jonathon Griffin (EF), Shane Nelson (WP), Haiden Schloithe (SF)
INTERCHANGE: Kyal Horsley (S), Jackson Ramsay (EP), Tom Bennett (EF), Corey Chalmers (WP)
BACK POCKET – TOM COLE (West Coast Eagles)
The West Coast AFL premiership defender will be desperate to get back into the Eagles team in time for the finals and he did those chances no harm on Saturday with a rock solid performance in their WAFL victory against Perth at Lathlain. He had some dangerous small forwards from the Demons to contend with, but was strong defensively and also had 24 possessions, six tackles and four marks.
FULL-BACK – NOAH STROM (South Fremantle)
He had never played a league game before the start of the 2018 season, but now he's never missed one since and has been a rock in a key defensive role for South Fremantle. Rarely is he beaten in any contest or for any game, and he was again rock solid in Saturday's win against Peel Thunder not only defensively but also with his 17 possessions, seven marks and four tackles.
BACK POCKET – TRAYE BENNELL (Peel Thunder)
The former South Fremantle player always enjoys coming up against his former team since moving to Peel Thunder where he became a premiership player in 2017. It might not have been the Thunder's day on Saturday, but he was playing as an attacking defender and did well using the ball creatively from his 18 possessions, six marks and three tackles.
HALF-BACK FLANK – JOSH ROTHAM (West Coast Eagles)
His form remains terrific in the WAFL for West Coast and if the team especially down back wasn’t so settled at AFL level, it surely would see him rewarded by a place regularly at the top level. But all he can do is continue to perform in the WAFL and he did that again against Perth finishing with 24 possessions and eight marks.
CENTRE HALF-BACK – MARK HAMILTON (West Perth)
Has become the cornerstone of the West Perth back-line and that has been the case for a couple of seasons now, with his ability to hold down centre half-back a big reason why Tyler Keitel has been able to settle up forward or in the ruck following his standout 2016 defensive season. Did a terrific job on Saturday holding Claremont's Tom Lee to one goal and had 16 possessions and five marks himself.
HALF-BACK FLANK – CHAD PEARSON (South Fremantle)
He remains one of the most impressive defenders in the competition and his consistent form now over the 2018 and 2019 seasons deserve to have AFL clubs seriously considering him for 2020. Both by doing well limiting the impact of his opponents and then being a creative and attacking defender, he does both jobs to aplomb. Had another 24 disposals, six marks, five tackles and four inside-50 entries in win against Peel.
WING – KANE MITCHELL (Claremont)
It didn’t turn out to be a great day for Claremont after it started encouragingly enough against West Perth at Claremont Oval, but that was through no fault of his. The co-captain continued his stunning form that has to now be rivalling what he delivered in his 2012 Sandover Medal winning year. He produced another 36 possessions, six tackles and a goal.
CENTRE – LEIGH KITCHIN (Subiaco)
The Subiaco captain had a day out in the big win against Swan Districts at Leederville Oval on Saturday. The Lions' on-ball brigade in particular really had a field day and enjoyed driving the ball inside-50 on 65 occasions where Ben Sokol and company took full advantage. The skipper delivered 33 possessions, 10 inside 50s, five marks and four tackles.
WING – AARON BLACK (West Perth)
The West Perth captain is having another fine season with the Falcons and is about to lead his team back into yet another finals campaign. Tackling Claremont's midfield is a tough challenge, but he ensured West Perth got the better of the contest in a big win by delivering 35 possessions, nine tackles, six marks and a goal in his 190th game for the Falcons.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK – RHYS WATERS (Subiaco)
The dangerous Subiaco forward has been spending more time up the ground in recent times and showing that there's more to his game than just being lethal around the goals. He produced an impressive all-round showing against Swan Districts with 22 disposals, seven tackles, six marks, five inside 50s and two goals.
CENTRE HALF-FORWARD – LACHLAN DELAHUNTY (Subiaco)
What a remarkable player he continues to be for Subiaco. He's spending more time in the ruck at the moment than in the forward-line, but the Lions might again decide to go with a genuine ruckman now heading towards September as the weather begins to improve. But he was a dominant figure once more against Swan Districts with 30 touches, 21 hit outs, five marks and five entries inside the forward 50.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK – BLAINE BOEKHORST (East Fremantle)
Losing Nick Kommer early in the game didn’t help East Fremantle's cause, but he is another of their 2018 recruits now coming good in 2019 and is showing just how dangerous he can be when up and going like he has been in this latter half of the season. Finished the win against East Perth with 29 disposals, eight inside 50s, four marks and two goals.
FORWARD POCKET – ANDREW STRIJK (West Perth)
The 31-year-old continues to show just how valuable he is in attack for West Perth and it's remarkable that it wasn’t until 18 months ago when he finally settled playing out of the goal square having spent the majority of his 242-game career either at half-forward or half-back. He kicked another four goals for the Falcons in the win over Claremont from 10 disposals and six marks.
FULL-FORWARD – BEN SOKOL (Subiaco)
Could very well be the form player of the competition right now and backed up his seven-goal haul against Perth the previous Thursday night, with another six goals against Swan Districts from 22 possessions and 12 marks. Has now kicked 22 goals in his last five games and to have 39 for the season to be only three behind Bernie Naylor Medal leader Mason Shaw.
FORWARD POCKET – GEORGE HAMPSON (Swan Districts)
Came up against his former Subiaco team where he won a fairest and best and premiership, and continued to fight admirably against the odds. Unfortunately for him, he is having a standout season for the second straight year in a team destined for the wooden spoon but he did all he could on Saturday with 28 possessions, four marks and two tackles.
RUCK ROVER – SHANE NELSON (West Perth)
Like his captain and good mate Aaron Black, he had a prolific day in the midfield for West Perth to be instrumental in the win against Claremont as the triple Breckler Medallist continued yet another standout season despite now being a 156-game veteran. Produced another 35 possessions, 10 tackles, five marks and a goal.
ROVER – HAIDEN SCHLOITHE (South Fremantle)
Not that he had much room to improve based on his blistering form of late despite carrying a niggling injury, but without Jacob Dragovich on Saturday he had to take on a greater load in the midfield against Peel and he produced a dominant best on ground performance. Ended up with 38 possessions, seven inside 50s, five marks and five tackles.
INTERCHANGE – KYAL HORSLEY (Subiaco)
The former captain continues to be playing with such freedom in 2019 in his first year since handing down the role and there are no signs of him slowing despite now being 198 games into his WAFL career with the Lions. Outstanding again against Swan Districts with 32 possessions, 11 tackles, eight inside 50s and six marks.
INTERCHANGE – JACKSON RAMSAY (East Perth)
The former Collingwood player is sure in a rare patch of form now with East Perth as he makes up for lost time having missed all of 2018 due to a knee reconstruction. The Royals might be out of finals contention and might have lost to East Fremantle on Saturday, but he couldn’t have done any more finishing with 41 possessions, nine tackles, six inside 50s, four marks and a goal.
INTERCHANGE – TOM BENNETT (East Fremantle)
Is one of a host of East Fremantle players this year to grasp their increased opportunities and turn themselves into solid, established league footballers. Showed all that he was capable of in the win against East Perth by producing 32 possessions, six inside 50s, four marks and four tackles.
INTERCHANGE – COREY CHALMERS (West Perth)
He is one of West Perth's midfielders who is also dangerous by getting forward to be a proven goal kicker and can split his time equally as effectively between playing on the ball, the wing or at half-forward. He was a big contributor against Claremont with 24 possessions, eight marks, four inside 50s, three tackles and three big goals.
There were plenty of players who delivered tremendous performances across Round 18 but couldn’t quite fit into the Team of the Round, including:
Claremont's Declan Mountford, Bailey Rogers, Tyron Smallwood, Tom Ledger and Jeremy Goddard.
West Perth's Connor West, Trent Manzone, Aidan Lynch and Blake Wilhelm.
Perth's Corey Yeo, Brant Colledge, Clint Jones and Michael Sinclair.
West Coast Eagles' Nathan Vardy, Keegan Brooksby, Hamish Brayshaw, Kurt Mutimer, Brendon Ah Chee and Francis Watson.
South Fremantle's Dylan Main, Steve Verrier, Jake Florenca, Kyle Russell, Zac Dent and Brock Higgins.
Peel Thunder's Ben Howlett, Keegan Power, Jackson Merrett, Brayden Lawler and Brett Bewley.
Subiaco's Greg Clark, Justin Joyce, Bailey Matera and Harry Marsh.
Swan Districts' Warrick Wilson, Jesse Turner, Matt Riggio, Jackson Beck, Aidan Clarke, Dylan Smith and Nathan Blakely.
East Fremantle's Cameron Eardley, Jarrad Jansen, Matthew Jupp and Jeremy Sharp.
East Perth's Angus Scott, Rohan Kerr, Shaquille McKenzie, Stan Wright, Nathan Blee, Jaxon Cahill, Kye Willcocks and Ben Miller.