AFTER winning its first final since 2000 last Saturday, East Fremantle now looks to book a spot in the club's first grand final since then as well but coach Steve Malaxos knows that a strong Swan Districts team and hostile crowd awaits the Sharks at Steel Blue Oval on Sunday.
East Fremantle beat East Perth by 37 points at East Fremantle Oval last Saturday in the first semi-final to advance to the preliminary final. That win was the Sharks first finals victory since the 2000 preliminary final.
That year the Sharks went on to lose the grand final to East Perth and before this year had only played in two finals since – first semi-final losses to West Perth in 2002 and East Perth in 2010.
However, the Sharks broke the drought with a comprehensive win over East Perth last Saturday and now enter this Sunday's preliminary final against Swan Districts looking to book in a grand final berth against Claremont.
East Fremantle did beat Swans just recently in Round 18 by 63 points at the Bassendean venue as well, but Malaxos knows this Sunday is a whole different challenge. However, with the colts and reserves also in preliminary finals he is hoping it's a big day for the Sharks.
"It will be a long, good day we hope starting with the colts. Hopefully we get as many Sharks supporters as we can up there and there's no doubt it is going to be a Swans crowd," Malaxos said.
"They are vocal and very supportive of their team, but we just have to factor that into how we prepare and play. That's part of the deal when you are playing in a prelim having come through the first semi. That's just something we have to deal with, but every little bit of support will be handy."
East Fremantle regained the services of Fremantle ruckman Jonathon Griffin last week against East Perth, but he won't be there this Sunday after injuring a hamstring.
However, Malaxos isn’t too concerned because Russell Gabriel was relegated back to the reserves last week and will come straight back in after a best on ground display in the league side in Round 24 against Peel.
"I was happy to have Griffo and was happy with his performance, but I don’t think he dominated the ruck. I thought Johnson played pretty well for East Perth," he said.
"We thought our best player the week before was Russell Gabriel who was in the ruck but he made way for Griffo so it wasn’t as though we had desperation to have Griffo in our team. It was good to have him, though, and we were happy with his performance."
Looking back to the first semi-final win, Malaxos was happy with most aspects of his team's performance.
The defence stood up well highlighted by Mitch Brown shutting down Josh Smith, and now Brown will get the job on Ash Hansen this Sunday.
Rory O'Brien also racked up 30 possessions and Mark McGough 24 with Leith Teakle and Rob Young booting three goals. Malaxos didn’t like some of the free kicks and 50-metre penalties the Sharks gave away though.
"I was happy with nearly everything about our play. I thought that our stoppage play was pretty good, we moved the ball pretty well and defensively we were pretty good. Individually, nearly every player played their role as well," he said.
"The one blight was a little bit of getting caught up in stuff that isn’t going to have a positive effect on the scoreboard and we coughed up some relayed frees and 50s, mind you East Perth did as well."
Max Duffy and James Bayliss both returned from injury in the reserves loss to Claremont last Saturday as well with Kieran King, Gabriel, Aiden Tropiano and Justin Monaco others still in contention for a league recall.
"Both Duffy and Bayliss played and got through in the reserves but it was a pretty tough day for Max because the team only had about 11 inside 50s in a half," Malaxos said.
"He was playing forward and had four shots on goal in the end, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for him. James Bayliss was under the pump in defence, but they have been regular players for us this season up until they were injured so they will come into consideration."