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Subiaco players set standard even during COVID-19Friday, June 19, 2020 - 3:29 PM - by Chris Pike

THE restrictions placed on Subiaco coming into the 2020 WAFL season were always going to make it fascinating to see how the league's powerhouse performed, but with professionalism their undenied strongest trait, it's hard to seem them not emerging from COVID-19 a force.

Subiaco has now played in six consecutive WAFL Grand Finals, claimed five straight minor premierships and won four flags in that stretch of six years which culminated in a hammering of South Fremantle in last year's Grand Final at Optus Stadium.

As a result, there were some limitations placed on Subiaco coming into the 2020 season to try to help create a more competitive environment, but in all honesty now with the season having been so delayed thanks to COVID-19, that all seems a lifetime ago.

Instead of worrying about feeling hard done by, Subiaco just went about their business of preparing for the 2020 season where they will be attempting to win a second premiership hat-trick this century, and were raring to go for the pre-season matches before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

That delayed the season and eventually it was decided upon that August 1 would be the starting date for the 2020 season proper.

For Subiaco and coach Beau Wardman, that gave them a date to work towards and be ready for, but it would come as no surprise that the Lions playing group have returned to the club and the training track in peak physical fitness.

Despite whatever other advantages others might see Subiaco as having, without question their professionalism and commitment from their off-field staff through to their entire playing group has been behind their recent success and dominance of the WAFL competition.

That's why it should come as no surprise the condition the players have returned in and Wardman now knows he can just focus on getting them ready for that August 1 start date without too many concerns.

"A bit of our concern going away was what sort of shape the guys would keep themselves in. We obviously set up some individual programs for the boys and to their credit, they've been amazing," Wardman said. 

"We sort of forecast about six weeks out that we would do our skinfolds and other testing which might have sharpened them up, but a number of them came back and did PB's in their 2km run which was great. 

"A lot of them have found some alternate exercise models whether it be cycling, surfing, golf or whatever to stay active and get out. That's been impressive. 

"Some of them obviously losing some conditioning from the gym and drop some weight there, but at the same time it's improved their running capabilities which could be important with the shorter quarters this year. 

"That's a positive to take out of it and a great testament to our senior players to encourage that and invite the young players to do some work together in small groups in that down period. Full credit to the boys and that has enabled us to fast track this period of coming back into training as a group in preparation for the start of August."

While the Subiaco players had been able to get back to non-contact training for a few weeks in smaller groups, their official return to full training was Saturday June 6.

That was a day they all made the most of, even if some players came away feeling sore and sorry for themselves.

"It was a bit of deja vu on the Saturday morning when we could resume contact training, it was like Christmas for the boys down at Leederville Oval," he said. 

"We had our first full session back on that Saturday which worked nicely within our program but it's certainly exciting for the boys. There were lots of happy faces around. 

"A couple of boys did go a little bit hard and copped some knocks, and they were a bit sore and sorry a couple of days later but we had three days until our next session. We thought we'd give them a bit of a whack and then a few days to recover."

While the official start date of August 1 looks locked in, now that restrictions are being lifted across Western Australia and that other sporting competitions are getting up and going, Wardman would welcome the WAFL season starting even earlier provided enough notice was given.

"It's a really tough one and when we first got the news, August 1 seemed a long way away. With the restrictions easing and everything changing really quickly you'd like to get more footy in than less, and we'd like the footy commission if they can make it earlier to make that decision," Wardman said.

"If that happens, we need enough warning to help from a coaching point of view in terms of planning and for our strength and conditioning guys time to get the boys up to speed. 

"But we'd certainly be happy to play more football than less football, but it's obviously a moving beast all the time. What we don't want in the community is another spread and outbreak with the whole community having to shut down again and us ending up with no football at all. 

"You just have to back the better judgment of the people making the decisions at the moment."

Given Subiaco's dominance of the WAFL competition for much of this century now having won eight of the last 16 premierships while having played in another four Grand Finals in that time, including the six in-a-row for the flags in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019.

Subiaco has finished the home and away season as minor premiers each season since 2014 as well so at the end of 2019 following the e96-point Grand Final thumping of South Fremantle, the WAFL implemented some restrictions on the Lions moving forward.

For 2020, that meant that Subiaco would be unable to recruit additional players that were deemed above one point in value, only allowed to retain or replace their current players. 

With the points the other clubs had to operate under reduced to 120, Subiaco's total was also lowered to 100 for 2020 while there were further restrictions on any other players they could recruit.

Those restrictions are still in place for the shortened 2020 season but it's fair to say Subiaco wasn’t a fan of them in the first place. 

The arguments are relatively clear both ways. For Subiaco, they can feel hard done by for simply being a well-run organisation and penalised for it but everyone likes a competitive competition so it's understandable why something had to be done to try and lessen their dominance.

But moving forward, Wardman makes no secret of the fact that he hopes the restrictions will be lowered or done away with altogether for 2021.

"Certainly they will still be in place for this season irrespective of COVID and the WAFL haven't made a move nor decision going forward in terms of next year," Wardman said.

"They may assess the performances of teams this year albeit not being a regular season, whether that changes the model we're not sure. There's a number of factors that are going to change with the size of AFL lists, budget sizes and player availability. 

"We're certainly pushing to make sure the competition is even and that some of those restrictions aren't necessarily in place or are reviewed based on a needs basis. 

"We'll certainly have those conversations through our president and CEO over the coming months once the WAFL season gets up and running, and things get back to a bit of normality looking towards 2021."