AFTER such an eventful NAIDOC Round in the WAFL last weekend, the five matches this week are going to be critical as the race for the finals heats up.
Coming into Round 15 of the Optus WAFL Premiership Season, it's going to take a remarkable run of form from one of the teams outside the top five at present for one of them to play finals.
But if Peel Thunder, East Fremantle, Perth or East Perth want to keep those hopes alive, then they need to start stringing wins together and that makes their contests in Round 15 virtual must-win affairs given there's a three-game gap from fifth to sixth on the WAFL ladder.
While the top five teams are all well placed to reach finals, they all are still precariously placed in terms of finishing anywhere from first to fifth. Top three teams Subiaco, Claremont and South Fremantle all sit on 8-3 records and are just separated by percentage.
Then there is West Perth and Swan Districts just a game back at 7-4 and again only percentage separates them, and they aren’t too far behind the top three teams in terms of that either so little is between all five clubs.
All five match ups in Round 15 loom as fascinating ones too with four of them all in the traditional Saturday afternoon time slot including Subiaco taking on the West Coast Eagles at Leederville Oval.
Swan Districts and South Fremantle then play one another for the first time in 2021 when they meet at Bassendean's Steel Blue Oval with West Perth also at home to East Fremantle at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval.
Perth and East Perth then lock horns attempting to keep their seasons alive at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park before the round concludes on Sunday afternoon at Mandurah's David Grays Arena with Peel Thunder hosting Claremont.
Last time Subiaco and West Coast met only back in Round 11 saw the Eagles win their first game of the season with the huge upset of the Lions with the five-point victory.
West Coast went on to back it up with a win against East Fremantle a week later and then only narrowly lost to Swan Districts last Saturday while Subiaco suffered another surprise loss a week later to Swan Districts before bouncing back to beat Perth last Saturday.
That means that it's a top against bottom battle at Leederville Oval on Saturday with Subiaco coming into the game in first place at 8-3 while the Eagles are last at 2-9, but it should be a much closer contest than that suggests.
From the Subiaco team that beat Perth for a 10th straight time last week, Jakob Atkinson, Ben Golding, Nick Menegola, Connor Patterson and Lewis Putt have all been added to the squad.
Defensive pair Hayden Kennedy and Kaidyn Fullgrabe go out for the Lions.
The Eagles went down in a thriller last week against Swan Districts and have plenty of changes for this Saturday with Jarrod Brander, Jordan Busher, Jak Cary, Ethan Hansen, Michael Humble, Harry Sinclair and Alex Witherden the inclusions.
Harry Edwards, Jarrod Garlett, Mark Hutchings, Xavier O'Neill, Zane Trew, Connor West and Taj Williams are the players going out of the West Coast team.
West Perth deserves to lay claim to being the form team in the WAFL right now so they pose a significant challenge for East Fremantle at Provident Financial Oval.
The Falcons have now won four games in-a-row to be in fourth position on the ladder and depending how other results go on the weekend, if things fall their way and they beat the Sharks, they could be as high as in second spot.
West Perth started the 2021 season a little slowly losing three of their opening four matches, but they have been outstanding since winning six of their past seven games including the last four straight against East Perth, Swan Districts, Claremont and then the Royals again.
It's a big task ahead of East Fremantle who has lost its past two matches to West Coast and Peel Thunder by a combined 77 points to slip to a 4-7 record and to be three games outside a finals position.
To remain in finals contention the Sharks will need to find a way to cause the upset but if there's anybody who could plot the downfall of West Perth it's the man in charge of East Fremantle. Bill Monaghan has coached West Perth to more games and wins than anybody in history.
West Perth is in hot form which continued with their win over East Perth last Saturday and as a result, there are only inclusions to their extended squad so far coming into the clash with East Fremantle.
Sasha Kernutt, Matthew Mant, Jacob Turner and Troy Yukich have been added while there are no outs at this stage for the Falcons.
East Fremantle was disappointing last week in losing to Peel Thunder but Harry Taylor was one of the shining lights kicking four goals and he goes straight out of the team this week.
Cody Smith is also out for the Sharks while Finn Gorringe, Corey Holmes, Jonathon Marsh, Jamie Meade, Jordan Snadden and Tom Wallis are all in contention to earn selection from coach Bill Monaghan.
The Game of the Round does appear to be at Steel Blue Oval in the only clash of the weekend featuring two top five teams with Swan Districts playing host to South Fremantle.
Swans come into the clash at home on the back of winning their past two matches to Subiaco and the West Coast Eagles by a combined three points, but the two thrilling victories have them solid inside the top five with a 7-4 record.
South Fremantle has also won its past two matches against Perth and Claremont to still be in third spot but with an 8-3 record they are only percentage off top spot and the Bulldogs could very well end the round in top spot should other results go their way.
It looms as a fascinating battle on Saturday afternoon especially considering both teams haven’t played another at all since Round 5 last year when South Fremantle beat Swan Districts by 20 points at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
From there, the Bulldogs went on to win the premiership in 2020 while Swans missed out on playing finals and now they haven’t met yet in 2021 with their scheduled game for earlier in the season cancelled thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Not only is this the first meeting between the two teams since August 15 last year, it's the first time they've played at the Bassendean venue since Round 1, 2019.
South Fremantle has also enjoyed life against Swan Districts in recent times with the Bulldogs coming into Saturday's game on a seven-game winning streak against Swans with an average winning margin of 38.9 points.
South Fremantle has also won on its last two visits to Steel Blue Oval winning by four points in Round 1 last year and then by 30 points back in Round 19, 2018.
The last win for Swan Districts against South Fremantle came on home soil way back in Round 2, 2017 when the black-and-whites prevailed by 21 points.
That 2017 season was the last time Swans have reached the finals as well and the Bulldogs ended up ending their campaign with an 80-point first semi-final hammering at Fremantle Community Bank Oval later in the year.
Saturday's game could be a significant one for both clubs though. A win for Swan Districts would put them right in the hunt for a top three finish while a loss will make that job significantly harder especially given their percentage.
South Fremantle will enhance their top two prospects with a win on Saturday while a loss will have the Bulldogs just fighting to cling to third position.
Swan Districts consolidated fourth position with their tight win over West Coast last week and now their defence gets a significant boost to take on South Fremantle with the return of 167-game veteran Alex Howard.
Jake Dugan, Nathan Ireland and Greg Ottaviano are the other players that the black-and-whites have added to their extended squad at this stage ahead of the clash with the Bulldogs.
South Fremantle got over Claremont by a point last week and did so without captain Dylan Main, vice-captain Mason Shaw and premiership ruckman Brock Higgins.
Only Bernie Naylor Medallist Shaw will be right to return this Saturday to take on Swan Districts while exciting young forward Jesse Motlop will also make his league debut after earning a taste of senior football in the reserves last week.
Jaxon Bellchambers and Matthew Ward have both been included into the squad for the Bulldogs as well after good form recently in the reserves.
Perth and East Perth go to battle at Mineral Resources Park trying to find some better form and to get a much-needed win to keep their finals prospects alive.
The Demons were a remarkable story playing finals in 2020 for the first time since 1997, but things have never got going for them in 2021 and now they come into Saturday's game on a four-game losing streak.
Perth has struggled markedly across those four losses to Subiaco, East Fremantle, South Fremantle and then the Lions again as well to now slip to a 4-7 record and to also hold the second worst percentage in the league.
East Perth is a game further back of Perth at 3-8 but the Royals do at least have a slightly better percentage and they had been in better form with wins against South Fremantle Peel Thunder prior to last week's five-goal loss to West Perth.
However, it was a 59-point three quarter-time deficit last week so the Royals did finish the game with the only five goals of the last quarter and they will be hoping to bring that momentum with them into the clash with the Demons.
The two teams haven’t met in a long time, though, with their last clash way back in Round 2 last year. On that occasion, the Demons beat the Royals by 21 points on their home ground and they have actually won the last three battles with East Perth.
East Perth's last win against Perth was at Leederville Oval in Round 17, 2018 when Kyle Anderson kicked the winning goal in stunning circumstances.
Perth will be desperate to snap its four-game losing streak to remain any hope of playing finals again but those hopes aren’t helped with Regan Clarke, Brant Colledge and Chris Masten going out.
Masten has now retired after a 215-game AFL career at the West Coast Eagles including the 2018 premiership to go with 50 WAFL matches between East Fremantle, East Perth, Perth and West Coast.
Oscar Bird, Tarkyn Brogan-Henry, Brent Edmonds, Christian Eyres, Connor McPartland, Jacob Peletier and Connor Sing are those who have been added to the squad for the Demons to take on the Royals.
East Perth is looking to bounce back from last week's five-goal loss to West Perth as well. Ajang Ajang, Nathan Eaton, Sebit Kuek and Harley Sparks have been added to the squad for the Royals nobody has been named out at this stage.
The final game of the round will then take place on Sunday afternoon in Mandurah with Peel Thunder hosting Claremont.
Peel comes into the game fresh off a win last week against East Fremantle by 26 points which snapped their five-game losing run while Claremont went down to South Fremantle by a point in the Grand Final rematch.
That means that both teams have no shortage of motivation coming into Sunday's game with Peel needing another win to stay in the finals race while Claremont can't afford another loss or that could lose their top two spot and even drop down as low as fourth as a result.
Peel Thunder kept its season alive last week with a win over East Fremantle and from that team, Connor Blakely, Mitch Crowden, Stephen Hill, Ben Howlett, Lloyd Meek and Nathan O'Driscoll all loom as handy inclusions.
Ethan Hughes and Luke Valente are two players already named to go out of the Peel team to take on Claremont on Sunday.
The Tigers are playing away from home for the second straight week following last Saturday's one-point loss to South Fremantle.
From that team, Sam Alvarez, Cameron Anderson, Jacob Blight, Isaiah Butters, Steven Miller, Rylie Morgan and Anthony Treacy have all been added to the squad with Jacob Van Rooyen the only omission at this stage.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 15
SUBIACO (8-3, 1st) v WEST COAST EAGLES (2-9, 11th) – LEEDERVILLE OVAL, SATURDAY 2.10PM
Live scores, stats
Livestream: West Coast Eagles
WEST PERTH (7-4, 4th) v EAST FREMANTLE (4-7, 7th) – PROVIDENT FINANCIAL OVAL, SATURDAY 2.10PM
Live scores, stats
Radio: 91.3 SportFM
SWAN DISTRICTS (7-4, 5th) v SOUTH FREMANTLE (8-3, 3rd) – STEEL BLUE OVAL, SATURDAY 2.10PM
Live scores, stats
TV: Channel 7
PERTH (4-7, 8th) v EAST PERTH (3-8, 9th) – MINERAL RESOURCES PARK, SATURDAY 2.10PM
Live scores, stats
Livestream: Front Row Screens
PEEL THUNDER (4-7, 6th) v CLAREMONT (8-3, 2nd) – DAVID GRAYS ARENA, SUNDAY 1.10PM
Live scores, stats
Livestream: The West Australian