THIS might be a shortened WAFL season in 2020 but what an exciting finish we are now in store for with one round remaining and six teams still a chance of playing finals after Subiaco moved into the top four at the expense of top four on Saturday.
For all of the 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season to date and Perth has been on target to break their storied finals drought that dates back to 1997.
The Demons had their hearts broken in 2019 having sat inside the top five most of the season before falling out before the finals and now they have one more chance to avoid the same fate happening in 2020 after Saturday’s Round 8 WAFL results.
Perth won its opening three games of the WAFL season in 2020 but the Demons have now lost three of their past four games and when Swan Districts beat them 11.9 (75) to 7.6 (48) at Bassendean’s Steel Blue Oval on Saturday, it could prove to be the killer blow.
There has been great excitement among the Demons about the potential of playing finals for the first time in 23 years, but now all of a sudden they find themselves out of the top four with one game remaining.
And that one game just happens to be this Saturday against the undefeated minor premiers South Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park.
South Fremantle will come into that game against Perth on a high following a remarkable eight-goal to nil final quarter against East Perth to see the Bulldogs fight back from trailing by 32 points to defeat East Perth 13.7 (85) to 9.9 (63) at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
While the win guarantees the Bulldogs the minor premiership, there’s unlikely to be any charity given to the Demons this Saturday given South Fremantle is just off the bye so won’t be resting players and with genuinely 30 players fighting over 22 spots in the finals team, there won’t be any let up.
The team that replaced Perth in fourth position is the premiers of the past two years, Subiaco, with the Lions finishing full of running to beat East Fremantle 12.12 (84) to 6.7 (43) at Leederville Oval.
Claremont locked away a fourth consecutive finals appearance as well by beating West Perth 10.12 (72) to 5.11 (41) at Claremont’s Revo Fitness Stadium.
Those results leave South Fremantle (7-0) and Claremont (6-2) guaranteed of playing finals with West Perth (5-2), Subiaco (4-3), Perth (4-3) and East Perth (3-4) fighting over the last two spots in the top four.
The final round as well as featuring Perth against South Fremantle also sees East Perth taking on Peel Thunder at Leederville Oval, and West Perth hosting Subiaco at Joondalup’s Provident Financial Oval.
Then finally in a game with no bearing on the finals on Sunday, East Fremantle plays Swan Districts at East Fremantle’s New Choice Homes Park.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 8
SUBIACO 12.12 (84) defeated EAST FREMANTLE 6.7 (43)
Subiaco has dominated East Fremantle this century but the Sharks weren’t in the mood to hand the Lions anything on Saturday with it taking until the last quarter for the two-time reigning premiers to pull away.
Subiaco might have come into Saturday game at Leederville Oval having won seven matches in-a-row against East Fremantle and 12 of the last 13 going back further, but the Sharks weren’t in the mood for charity with the Lions needing to win.
The Lions might not have missed a finals series since 2011 and played in six straight WAFL Grand Finals for four premierships, but a significantly more youth team in 2020 so far has been trying to play catch up after a couple of early losses.
That means that with two rounds to go, Subiaco has to win both its remaining matches should it want to play finals again and keep hopes alive of winning a third straight premiership.
But East Fremantle threw the gauntlet down to them on Saturday by kicking the only two goals of the opening quarter. The Lions had to respond with their season on the line and they did by kicking three goals to one in the second term and only trail by a point heading into half-time.
Things remained tight, though, with both teams kicking three goals apiece in the third quarter but Subiaco managed to hold a one-point advantage by three quarter-time.
The game was right up for grabs but Subiaco lifted to play some of its most inspired football of the season in the last quarter to kick six goals to nil from East Fremantle to end up winning 12.12 (84) to 6.7 (43).
The end result was Subiaco moving into fourth position with Perth’s loss to Swan Districts and now that finals berth is the Lions’ to lose with a game against West Perth in the final round.
It’s no coincidence that Subiaco moving back into the finals hunt has gone hand in hand with the return of one of the club’s all-time greats, Kyal Horsley.
The former skipper produced another best on ground performance against East Fremantle with 26 possessions, eight inside-50 entries, five tackles and two goals.
Nick Martin continued his fine rookie season for Subiaco too kicking another two goals while Ben Sokol did well to go with 16 possessions and seven marks. Bailey Matera was the other multiple goal scorer with two.
Subiaco captain Leigh Kitchin was a strong contributor again too with 26 possessions while Liam Hickmott had 24 disposals and eight tackles, Greg Clark 23 touches, Max Walters 20 possessions and Lachlan Delahunty 19 disposals and 35 hit outs in the ruck.
Ryan Lester-Smith was fresh off playing his 100th WAFL game and is in good form having gone forward again kicking two goals as did Lachlan Bailey for the Sharks.
Ambrose Ryan finished with 24 possessions for East Fremantle, Milan Murdock 22, Kody Manning 20, Tim Bockman 17 and Cameron Eardley 16.
CLAREMONT 10.12 (72) defeated WEST PERTH 5.11 (41)
This had the potential to be game of the season given what was at stake for both sides but in the end Claremont got on top early and never relented against West Perth in their last game of the 2020 WAFL home and away season.
Claremont will now have the bye in the final round but the Tigers did have to beat the Falcons on Saturday at Revo Fitness Stadium to ensure this wouldn’t be their last game altogether of 2020, and they got the job done impressively.
The winner of the clash would always be locking in a finals spot so there was plenty at stake between the two clubs, but it was Claremont that got off to an impressive start on home turf kicking five goals to two after a dominant opening quarter.
Claremont was up to a 20-point lead by the first change and while West Perth began to work back into the contest in the second term with two goals to one, the Tigers were still on top to the tune of 11 points by the main break.
The Tigers then put the game beyond doubt in the third quarter by kicking the only two goals and holding the Falcons to one behind to head into three quarter-time leading by 26 points to all but have that finals position locked away.
The Tigers were then able to go on with the job in the final quarter with another two goals to one to end up beating West Perth 10.12 (72) to 5.11 (41).
The 31-point win sees Claremont finish the season with a 6-2 record to currently sit in second position ahead of the bye in the final round.
West Perth should still reach finals at 5-2 but the loss does leave them a little vulnerable should they not beat Subiaco in their last game of the home and away season.
Alec Waterman continued his fine season for Claremont kicking another four goals from 16 possessions and eight marks. Usual defender Ryan Nyhuis got forward too to kick two goals for Claremont.
Dual Sandover Medallist Jye Bolton was again brilliant for Claremont finishing with 37 possessions while Bailey Rogers picked up another 27 disposals, Ryan Lim 23, Declan Mountford 21, Jared Hardisty 19, Max Spyvee 18 and Tyron Smallwood 17 to go with eight tackles.
Oliver Eastland was strong in the ruck with 16 disposals and 31 hit outs while Haydn Busher was again superb down back.
Mitch Peirce was West Perth's only multiple goal scorer with two to go with 13 possessions and nine tackles.
Blake Wilhelm gave the Falcons great drive off half-back from 23 possessions and eight marks while Aaron Black collected 22 disposals, Connor West 22, Trent Manzone 19 and Shane Nelson 17.
SOUTH FREMANTLE 13.7 (85) defeated EAST PERTH 9.9 (63)
East Perth came in off the high of two strong wins could have taken a step closer to a finals appearance in 2020 by handing South Fremantle its first loss of 2020, and for most of the afternoon on Saturday the Royals looked just like doing that.
East Perth beat Subiaco and Swan Districts the previous two weeks to reignite their hopes of playing finals in the shortened Optus WAFL Premiership Season, but the Royals had to keep that going on a trip to Fremantle Community Bank Oval on Saturday.
Taking on the undefeated South Fremantle who still had to lock away the minor premiership was always going to be a daunting ask for East Perth, but it was one they were right up for – at least for the first three quarters.
After South Fremantle kicked the first goal of the game, East Perth took over and kicked the next five and then when Jayden Magro booted his third midway through the third quarter, the Royals were in control by 32 points and heading for the critical win.
However, the Bulldogs responded in remarkable fashion. They got one goal back before three quarter-time and then played the most inspired football any team has shown this WAFL season.
South Fremantle kicked eight goals to one behind in the final term and were just unstoppable whether it was the clearance from ruckman Brock Higgins out of the middle, the huge marks taken up forward by Mason Shaw and Jimmy Miller, and the impressive kicking on goal.
In the end, South Fremantle went from 32 points midway through the third term to end up beating East Perth 13.7 (85) to 9.9 (63).
The result was crucial for both teams and it improves the Bulldogs to a 7-0 record to guarantee the minor premiership and for them to host the second semi-final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval. That will have a Grand Final spot at stake which will be played at the same venue.
It's a savage blow for the Royals who looked so good for most of the day. They are now 3-4 with a game against Peel Thunder to go but they will need to win that by a huge margin while hoping that Subiaco and Perth lose by enough for them to jump each of them by percentage.
Mason Shaw was again a strong focal point in attack for South Fremantle and he kicked five goals from eight kicks and six marks to close in on winning his first Bernie Naylor Medal.
Kade Stewart and captain Dylan Main also kicked two goals apiece for the Bulldogs.
Chad Pearson was part of a tremendous defensive performance from the Bulldogs with 22 possessions and seven marks while Chris Luff locked down Jonathan Freeman, Blayne Wilson did the job on Eddie Simpson, and John Levien kept Royals captain Patrick McGinnity quiet.
Zac Strom gathered another 20 disposals for South Fremantle while Haiden Schloithe had 17 touches, Jake Florenca 17, Nick Suban 15 and ruckman Brock Higgins 13 to go with 31 hit outs and five inside-50 entries.
Jayden Mago was East Perth's only multiple goal scorer on the game ending up kicking three impressive majors with four of their main forwards Shayne Hille, Shaquille McKenzie, Eddie Simpson and Jonathan Freeman only combining for 11 kicks and one goal.
Jackson Ramsay was superb again in the midfield for the Royals with 28 possessions and 10 tackles while Rohan Kerr finished with 27 disposals, Nathan Blee 20, Kye Willcocks 19, Nick Robertson 16 and Angus Scott 16.
SWAN DISTRICTS 11.9 (75) defeated PERTH 7.6 (48)
Swan Districts turned spoilers at Steel Blue Oval on Saturday and might well have ended Perth's hopes of ending its finals drought in the process of winning big to celebrate the 200th game of Matt Riggio.
Perth were the heartbreak story of the 2019 WAFL season after sitting inside the top five for most of the season before falling away late in the campaign and ending up only narrowly missing out on ending a finals drought that stretches back to 1997.
Then after the agonising wait to finally start the 2020 season after the COVID-19 induced delay, the Demons came out on fire winning the first three games and given it was just an eight-game season, they looked well on track to end that finals-less period at 22 years.
But coming into Saturday's game, Perth had lost three of its last four games and still needed to win one of its last two matches to lock in a top four match.
Without any disrespect, Swan Districts had won just once so far in 2020 and with the undefeated South Fremantle to come for the Demons, this week's game did look like the one that was there for the taking.
That proved to be anything but the case with Swans coming out and playing their best game of the season to farewell their home ground at Bassendean for 2020 on a high note.
It was an even first quarter with three goals apiece with Swan Districts up by a point at quarter-time, but the black-and-whites then really pulled away in the second term with six goals to three and that saw them lead by 22 points at the long break.
Neither team managed a goal in the third term with Perth kicking four behinds and Swan Districts failing to score, but then Swans closed the deal in the fourth quarter with two goals to one to end up winning 11.9 (75) to 7.6 (48).
The result improves Swan Districts to a 2-5 record on the season before they finish away to East Fremantle on Sunday while Perth has no choice but to give South Fremantle its first loss of 2020 if they want to play finals when they meet at Mineral Resources Park on Saturday.
Leigh Kohlmann kicked three goals for Swan Districts from four kicks and three marks while 244-game veteran Tony Notte added two majors as well.
Corey Gault was outstanding again in the ruck for Swans with another 21 possessions and 25 hit outs while Matt Riggio celebrated his 200th WAFL game in style. The dual fairest and best winner, premiership star finished with 14 possessions and a goal.
Jesse Turner racked up another 27 disposals for Swan Districts, Frank Anderson 24, Sam Fisher 23, Josh Cipro 21 and Steven Payne 16.
Logan McDonald kicked another three goals for Perth to retain his hopes of winning the Bernie Naylor Medal in his rookie season after he had a fascinating battle with fellow draftee later this year from Swans, Denver Grainger-Barras.
Fraser McInnes and Marshall Jones also kicked two goals each for the Demons.
The Demons just couldn’t find enough ball winners on the day with McInnes ending up having a fascinating ruck battle for much of the day adding to his two goals with 16 possessions, seven marks and 19 hit outs.
Brady Grey collected 16 disposals, Nathan O'Driscoll 15, Austin Davis 15 and Matthew Taylor 14.