THE WAFL returned with a bang on Saturday after the delayed start to the 2020 Optus Premiership Season with four exciting matches which saw a thumping derby win for South Fremantle, and hard fought victories for Claremont, West Perth and Peel Thunder.
COVID-19 might have delayed the start of the 2020 WAFL season, but that only built the excitement for football's return on Saturday and not even some cold and wet weather was going to deter the spectators from turning out in droves given it was the first WAFL action since September last year.
They were treated to some cracking contests as well starting in Mandurah at David Grays Arena with Perth eventually shaking off Peel Thunder with four goals to three in the final quarter to prevail 10.10 (70) to 9.6 (60).
Reigning premier Subiaco are chasing a third successive premiership but Saturday showed they will be handed nothing in 2020 with the preliminary finalists of last year, Claremont, handing the Lions a 15.5 (95) to 11.9 (75) defeat having led virtually from go to woe.
Swan Districts and West Perth both overcame a first half to forget at Steel Blue Oval to produce a cracking second half. Swans kicked away with five goals to nil in the third term but the Falcons responded in kind in the fourth to come away 8.4 (52) to 6.5 (41) winners.
The final game of the round then took place at Fremantle Community Bank Oval in what will be the only Fremantle Derby of 2020.
South Fremantle made it a 10th straight victory against East Fremantle with nine goals to two in the first half, and another nine to one in the second to end up winning 18.8 (116) to 3.3 (21).
It was a big milestone day to open the 2020 WAFL season as well and South Fremantle's Haiden Schloithe (150), Claremont's Ryan Lim (100) and Perth's Christian Eyres (100) celebrated their big days with victories while Swan Districts defender Alex Howard wasn’t quite as lucky in his 150th appearance.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 1
PEEL THUNDER 9.6 (60) lost to PERTH 10.10 (70)
The 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season finally got underway at Mandurah's David Grays Arena on Saturday and fittingly, it was a tight contest to mark the occasion between Peel Thunder and Perth.
Both teams are looking to improve in 2020 to return to finals action and each of them showed their share of good signs in their close battle on Saturday.
Virtually nothing separated the two teams for the first three quarters, but it was Perth who managed to kick four goals to three from Peel in the final term to end up winning 10.10 (70) to 9.6 (60).
It was a goalless first quarter from both teams with the Thunder and Demons managing three behinds apiece. The first goal of the contest then came three minutes into the second term courtesy of Peel recruit Hayden Yarran.
Perth responded soon after through Logan McDonald and then moved seven points ahead when Fraser McInnes marked his return to the Demons for 2020 by kicking truly.
The game was heating up, though, and Peel got the next two goals through Haiden Ballantyne and Blair Bell, before Perth ensured their narrow half-time lead with a goal from Marshall Jones.
McDonald's impressive debut for Perth continued to start the second half when he kicked two more goals, but Peel wasn’t going away and responded through Yarran and a returning Brad Holmes. The teams traded another goal too before three quarter-time with the Demons up by three at the last change.
Jones then kicked his second to give Perth a nine-point lead to start the last quarter before Chris Masten put them 15 points up. Peel kept fighting and got back within nine when Holmes kicked his third goal, but the Demons did enough to hang on.
Debutant Logan McDonald finished with three goals for Perth as did Fraser McInnes who has been granted permission to play with Perth for 2020 with the West Coast Eagles WAFL team unable to take part in the competition.
Marshall Jones was their other multiple goal scorer with two.
Chris Masten was outstanding for Perth showing he has plenty of run left in the legs racking up 30 possessions while Matthew Taylor compiled 20 disposals, Brady Grey 19, Brant College 16.
Christian Eyres was his typical workmanlike self in the ruck to celebrate his 100th game for Perth to finish with 38 hit outs.
Brad Holmes marked his stunning return to the WAFL having previously played 86 games and kicked 174 goals for Peel up until the end of 2013. He kicked three goals while Lachlan Cullen and Hayden Yarran added two apiece.
Peel's inspirational captain Ben Howlett one again led from the front with 24 possessions and 11 tackles while Michael Randall gathered 20 disposals, Jackson Merrett 16, Jordan Boullineau 15 and Brayden Lawler 15.
SUBIACO 11.9 (75) lost to CLAREMONT 15.5 (95)
Subiaco has been the dominant WAFL team over the past six years and all signs were pointing to that continuing in 2020, and it still might, but Claremont at least fired a significant shot of their intentions with Saturday's win.
Subiaco is not only coming off winning last year's premiership with the 96-point Grand Final hammering of South Fremantle, but the Lions had also won the flag in 2018 on top of in 2014 and 2015 while making Grand Finals in 2016 and 2017, and finishing on top of the ladder in each of the past five seasons.
Claremont, however, has been on an upward trend winning a final in each of the past two seasons and reaching the preliminary final in 2019, and the Tigers put together a supremely impressive performance on Saturday to end up beating Subiaco 15.5 (95) to 11.9 (75) at Leederville Oval.
One player looking to earn a regular spot in Subiaco's team in 2020 is Bailey Matera and he kicked the game's first goal, but Claremont then answered with three in four minutes – the first to Anton Hamp and then two to Alec Waterman.
The game's hot opening continued with reigning Bernie Naylor and Simpson Medallist Ben Sokol getting on the board for Subiaco.
The goals kept coming in the exciting first quarter and after Nick Martin kicked truly shortly before quarter-time for Subiaco, Claremont lead was just the five points with the teams combining for nine goals.
Harry Marsh goaled to start the second quarter and put Subiaco in front before Martin added his second to stretch the lead. But Claremont responded with goals to Jared Hardisty and Callan England to hold a narrow three-point edge at half-time.
Claremont's lead grew to 21 points by 15 minutes into the third quarter after goals to 100-gamer Ryan Lim, Alex Manuel and Declan Hardisty.
As you'd expect, Subiaco responded with goals to Kyal Horsley, Max Walters and debutant Wil Hickmott, but Claremont maintained a 14-point edge heading into the final term thanks to goals to Kane Mitchell and Declan Hardisty.
Declan Hardisty's career-best day in attack continued into the fourth term when he kicked two more goals. Hamp then booted a second to make it a match-winning 33-point advantage and the Tigers would go on to win by 20 after Subiaco kicked the game's last two goals.
Declan Hardisty made the most of his opportunities with four goals from six kicks for Claremont while Alec Waterman, Callan England and Anton Hamp all kicked two goals apiece as well.
Jye Bolton started the season strongly for Claremont with 24 possessions as did fellow Sandover Medallist Kane Mitchell with 22 disposals and a goal.
Bailey Rogers also had it 22 times, Waterman 16, England 16 and Jared Hardisty 15 while Ryan Lim had 14 possessions, eight tackles and a goal in his 100th WAFL appearance.
Nick Martin kicked three goals for Subiaco with Max Walters and Bailey Matera adding two apiece.
Small defender Hayden Kennedy was impressive for Subiaco with 23 possessions while reigning Sandover Medallist Lachlan Delahunty had 22 disposals and 19 hit outs in the ruck.
Ben Newton also finished with 19 possessions for the Lions, captain Leigh Kitchin 15 and Max Walters 14.
SWAN DISTRICTS 6.5 (41) lost to WEST PERTH 8.4 (52)
After combining for just the four goals in the entire first half, Swan Districts and West Perth both had a dominant quarter each in the second with the Falcons coming out victorious by 11 points.
It was a fascinating game to open the WAFL season for both teams at the Bassendean venue with West Perth starting the contest with a goal five minutes in thanks to Dylan Yem. But there would be only one more behind the entire first term and that was a rushed variety to Swans.
Swan Districts did kick a goal through Patrick Farrant to start the second term and then West Perth responded with two more thanks to Tom Medhat and Kris Shannon to lead by nine points, but it had been far from an inspired half of football.
That did change at least in terms of goals being kicked and the game becoming tough to predict, and fascinating to watch in the second half with Swan Districts taking the first turn to dominate.
The black-and-whites kicked five goals in the third quarter with the Falcons managing only two behinds to see the home team turn at three quarter-time with a healthy 20-point advantage in the low-scoring affair.
West Perth turned that on its head in the last quarter, though, holding Swans to only one behind while kicking five goals and that was enough for the Falcons to win 8.4 (52) to 6.5 (41).
Kris Shannon and Tyler Keitel kicked two goals apiece for West Perth.
Remarkably consistent West Perth ball magnet Shane Nelson started off 2020 where he's been his whole career with another 28 possessions despite having 16 minutes less game time to work with.
Trent Manzone also compiled 27 disposals for the Falcons, Aaron Black 21, Conal Lynch 19, Blake Wilhelm 18 and Laine Rasmussen 16.
Leigh Kohlmann provided a strong target in attack for Swan Districts kicking two goals as did Tony Notte from his three kicks for the day.
Victorian recruit Sam Fisher was outstanding on debut for Swans racking up 29 possessions while Jesse Turner had 24 disposals and ruckman Corey Gault 21 to go with 46 hit outs and six marks.
East Perth recruit Nelson Waite finished with 18 disposals, Matt Riggio 17 and Frank Anderson 16.
SOUTH FREMANTLE 18.8 (116) defeated EAST FREMANTLE 3.3 (21)
It was only fitting that the 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season resumed with what will be the only Fremantle Derby of the season, but it was South Fremantle who made quite the statement with a 95-point win against East Fremantle.
It's hard to imagine a larger contrast from South Fremantle's last game of 2019 now to their first of 2020. The Bulldogs lost last year's Grand Final to Subiaco by 96 points but started off 2020 in the best possible way with the 99-point turnaround to hammer the Sharks on Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
Not only was it the first game of 2020 for the Bulldogs and Sharks, but also the first derby they'd played since WA Day last year which was more than 13 months ago now, but the end result was South Fremantle continuing its recent dominance of their arch-rivals.
South Fremantle made it 10 successive derby wins with the performance on Saturday but it was East Fremantle who started encouragingly with the game's first goal courtesy of big man Luke Strnadica.
That's as good as it would get for the Sharks though. Only a few minutes later and South Fremantle was on the board thanks to Kyle Hamersley and by quarter-time, Kyle Russell, Caleb Datson, Brandon Donaldson, Datson again and then Russell again had also kicked goals.
That saw the Bulldogs lead by a commanding 31 points by quarter-time and they became 37 points with the first goal of the second term too courtesy of Jacob Dragovich.
East Fremantle did get one back through Tom Bennett, but South Fremantle wasn’t letting up and closed the half with Datson booting his third and fourth in a career-best showing to put the Bulldogs on top by 44 points at the main break.
South Fremantle came out in the second half to kick the opening three goals too through Haiden Schloithe, Jake Florenca and Zac Strom. East Fremantle got one back through Tom Monaghan, but that would be its last of the day.
The Bulldogs kept the foot on the gas with six more goals to just one behind in the final quarter to romp to the 18.8 (116) to 3.3 (21) victory over the Sharks.
Caleb Datson kicked a career-best four goals in his 11th league game for South Fremantle while Mason Shaw bobbed up with three goals in the final quarter after previously being well held by Matthew Jupp.
Haiden Schloithe also kicked two goals to celebrate his 150th game with South Fremantle with small forward left-footers Kyle Russell and Brandon Donaldson both booting two apiece as well. Zac Strom worked hard at centre half-forward too for 18 possessions, five marks and a goal.
Jake Florenca started 2020 where he left off in 2019 as an emerging elite midfielder in the competition leading the way in the middle for South Fremantle with 26 possessions, eight tackles and a goal.
Kade Stewart had a terrific afternoon too with 19 disposals and 14 tackles while Brock Higgins was tremendous in the ruck with 18 possessions and 28 hit outs. Jacob Dragovich also had it 17 times.
Chad Pearson (21 possessions, five marks) and Zac Dent (21 disposals, six marks) were outstanding off half-back while Blayne Wilson, Noah Strom and Chris Luff repelled attacks from East Fremantle even if the ball only came inside-50 on 24 occasions.
Ben Rioli continued his family's rich history with South Fremantle and showed exciting signs on debut out of defence with his 16 possessions.
East Fremantle's three goals were courtesy of Tom Bennett, Luke Strnadica and Tom Monaghan.
Cody Leggett might have had his troubles defensively playing down back on his East Fremantle debut, but the Perth recruit had a team-high 22 possessions for the Sharks.
Jordan Snadden also gathered 21 disposals, Milan Murdock, Nick Kommer 19 (10 tackles), Blaine Boekhorst 18 and Cameron Eardley 17.