EAST Fremantle coach Steve Malaxos is glad to be entering his first finals series as a coach with a full squad to pick from against East Perth on Saturday at East Fremantle Oval with the Sharks aiming to win their first final since the 2000 preliminary final.
The Sharks home and away season of 14 wins was the club's best return since the last premiership year of 1998 and even though hosting Saturday's first semi-final against the Royals is a good reward, Malaxos is well aware that East Fremantle still has a lot of work to do.
He only has to look back to East Fremantle's last finals appearance in 2010 when East Perth beat the Sharks at East Fremantle Oval in a first semi-final to know that home ground advantage won't just get the job done for the Sharks on Saturday.
East Fremantle lost to the Royals by four points at home in Round 6 this season before beating them by 64 in Round 17 and again at Medibank Stadium a fortnight ago by just seven.
What that says to Malaxos, who coached East Fremantle's colts to the 2010 premiership but will coach his first league final on Saturday, is that either side is capable of winning on Saturday.
"There have been two real close games that could have gone either way, and we got away in the other. That doesn’t matter when it comes to Saturday now. Every game has different scenarios and different things it throws up like injuries, umpiring decisions and conditions. What it does show is that both teams are capable of winning," Malaxos said.
"We've been playing pretty well, we haven’t got many injuries and we go into the finals in as good a shape as we can be in. Whether that's going to be good enough, I don’t know. East Perth is good opposition but we can't be in much better shape than we are and if we are good enough to get through, then we will."
Physically Malaxos is happy with where his team is at heading into the finals as well on the back of wins against West Perth, East Perth and Peel.
Young exciting forward Max Duffy, who kicked 33 goals before injuring his ankle in Round 15, is back in the mix to play as is running defender James Bayliss with Malaxos waiting on Eagles pair Koby Stevens and Mitch Brown to see if they are released.
"We are pretty good. We are waiting on Koby Stevens from the Eagles to see if he will be available, but most of our guys are in pretty good shape," he said.
"Duffy will be available and James Bayliss will be as well, but we are really just waiting on Koby Stevens. Everyone else should be available."
One area that East Fremantle will have to be on guard about with East Perth is in the ruck. Paul Johnson and Zac Clarke are potential match-winners for the Royals so there is a big job for Rob Young and Russell Gabriel to do.
Gabriel has struggled for the most part in his first season in the WAFL, but played his best game of the season last week against Peel and Malaxos needs him to continue that form now.
"He probably played on Saturday how he can play. That was just more like what he is capable of," he said.
"Clarke and Johnson are really good ruckmen obviously so that is going to be a real challenge for our guys there's no doubt that."
East Fremantle might not have the tall forward targets like East Perth does with Josh Smith and even Clarke when he's down there, but Malaxos is happy with the mix that has been working well.
Brock O'Brien has kicked 38 goals for the season, Jack Perham 33, Brad Dick 22 and Rob Young 21 with retiring veteran Leith Teakle playing an outstanding game last week with 19 possessions, 12 marks and four goals so Malaxos is happy with the mix he has there.
"We've got a forward-line that has a mix that is a little bit different than a lot of other clubs and we've had to be a bit inventive about it," Malaxos said.
"Guys like Perham and Brock O'Brien are creative, and sometimes they all want to create and not do the other stuff, but they have both been pretty good and our forward-line has worked a lot better this year."