IT was the most remarkable of finishes to the WAFL season on Saturday with it taking until the final siren of the last game to end to know just who would finish as minor premiers, and who wouldn’t and wouldn’t be playing next week.
The final round of the Optus WAFL Premiership Season for 2021 certainly presented four fascinating match ups with the five positions heading into the finals all to be decided what order they'd end up in.
For a lot of the afternoon, Subiaco was in control against Peel so top spot looked secure and it was South Fremantle and Claremont battling over second spot. The Tigers had to beat Swan Districts by more than the Bulldogs beat the West Coast Eagles, and it was quite a tight race most of the day.
However, South Fremantle won its game by 45 points and Claremont by just 22 to mean the Bulldogs would finish ahead of the Tigers, but then suddenly there was a chance they could also leapfrog Subiaco into top spot.
The Thunder produced a remarkable finish in Mandurah and almost snatched what would have been the most incredible comeback win over the Lions, but fell four points short. Had they won, South Fremantle would have finished on top and Subiaco in second.
What the final round results mean is that Subiaco finishes on top ahead of South Fremantle, Claremont, West Perth and Swan Districts.
Subiaco has the bye to open the finals with South Fremantle to play Claremont in a qualifying final on Saturday now with West Perth at home to Swan Districts on Sunday in an elimination final.
Saturday's final round results saw Claremont do enough to stay in third position by beating Swan Districts 11.11 (77) to 8.7 (55) at Revo Fitness Stadium.
Subiaco only just clung on despite a remarkable Peel Thunder fightback to win 14.9 (93) to 13.11 (89) at Mandurah's David Grays Arena.
West Perth overpowered Perth despite a slow start to end up defeating Perth 17.13 (115) to 10.5 (65) at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park.
South Fremantle made a flying start before cruising to a 13.17 (95) to 7.8 (50) win against the West Coast Eagles at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 22
CLAREMONT 11.11 (77) defeated SWAN DISTRICTS 8.7 (55)
Claremont geared up for another finals assault with a 22-point win against Swan Districts, but the Tigers didn’t quite get the margin they were after to snatch second position.
Both teams coming into the game on Saturday at Revo Fitness Stadium as their last hit out before being guaranteed of playing finals, and while Swans were pretty much locked into fifth spot, a big win for the Tigers could see them jump into second or even first place with a bit of luck.
There was a period early in the last quarter with Claremont up by 35 points where they could have kept on a roll to win by enough to leapfrog South Fremantle into second position and earn hosting rights for the qualifying final, but it wasn’t to be.
Despite coming into the game missing a host of key players including Corey Gault, Alex Howard, Lewis Jetta, Sam Fisher, Frank Anderson and Warrick Wilson, Swans actually finished the game impressively to at least take some confidence into the finals despite the eventual 22-point loss.
Claremont won the game 11.11 (77) to 8.7 (55) on home turf to see them end the season in third position at 13-5 ahead of a qualifying final match up with South Fremantle on Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
Swan Districts finished the season in fifth spot with a 10-8 record to now return to the finals for the first time since 2017, and first time with Adam Pickering as coach. Swans will take on West Perth this Sunday in an elimination final at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval.
Jack Buller and Alex Manuel kicked three goals in attack for Claremont while midfielder Bailey Rogers kicked another two goals to go with 30 possessions to continue his remarkable run of form.
Jye Bolton racked up another 32 possessions in a strong display for the Tigers while Ryan Lim finished with 25 disposals, Kane Mitchell 22, Jared Hardisty 22, Declan Mountford 20, Jason Carter 20 and Jack Lewsey 19.
Ruckman Oliver Eastland returned from injury with 17 touches and 29 hit outs.
Chris Jones went up forward to provide a marking target for Swan Districts and kicked three goals from seven kicks and six marks while Jesse Palmer kicked another two goals as well.
Jesse Turner marked his 100th game for Swan Districts with a strong showing with 29 possessions while Jackson Beck finished with 27 disposals, Josh Cipro 26, Jehb O'Donohue 21 and Nelson Waite 19.
Swan Districts didn’t really have a realistic chance of replacing West Perth in fourth spot even with a win on Saturday, but Claremont certainly still had a chance of snatching second from South Fremantle with a big win.
But it was Swans who got off to the perfect start with a goal to Jesse Palmer before the Tigers worked their way on top of the contest.
Claremont would have the next six shots on goal for the game to take control but the Tigers only converted two of those attempts into goals through Timm House and Alex Manuel.
That meant when Greg Ottaviano kicked a second for Swans just before quarter-time, the Tigers only led by the four points at quarter-time.
Manuel then kicked a second to open the second term for Claremont but again Swan Districts responded thanks to Callum Garcia and it was just a five-point ball game.
The game continued to follow that trend the rest of the first half with each Claremont goal answered by Swan Districts, and the five-point half-time lead for the Tigers was not what they needed as they tried to get a win big enough to leapfrog the Bulldogs into second place.
The second half started the same way with a Claremont goal to Manuel and then a response for Swan Districts by Chris Jones.
The Tigers finally built some momentum with goals to Jack Buller, Bailey Rogers, Isaac Barton and Manuel to close the third quarter and to be up by 29 points at three quarter-time.
Claremont then went up by 35 points to start the fourth quarter with another goal to Rogers and suddenly the Tigers were a real chance of building up a big enough win that could have seen them nab second position.
It wasn’t to be, though, with a couple more goals to Jones for Swan Districts closing the final margin to just 22 points in favour of Claremont.
PEEL THUNDER 13.11 (89) lost to SUBIACO 14.9 (93)
Peel Thunder almost pulled off the most remarkable comeback that would have had wide ranging consequences but Subiaco just clung to a four-point victory on Saturday.
All Subiaco needed to do was win the game at Mandurah's David Grays Arena on Saturday against the out of finals contention Peel to guarantee themselves the minor premiership and a week off to start the finals series.
And when the Lions went into half-time leading by 51 points and led by as much as 52 to open the second half, that didn’t appear in jeopardy whatsoever.
While Peel wasn’t playing for a finals spot, they did want to end their season on a high while having the added motivation of knowing that captain Ben Howlett was playing his last game while it was also the last time in charge for dual premiership winning coach Cam Shepherd.
All of a sudden, Peel only trailed by 23 points at three quarter-time and then were within three points heading into time-on with all the momentum.
Subiaco captain Leigh Kitchin stood tall to be the hero kicking what proved to be the winning goal even though Jack Sears answered soon after to keep Peel in the hunt.
However, Subiaco held on to win 14.9 (93) to 13.11 (89) to maintain top position and to now await the winner of this week's South Fremantle-Claremont clash in the following week's second semi-final at Leederville Oval.
Leigh Kitchin and Greg Clark were the two standout performers on the afternoon for Subiaco. Kitchin finished with 25 possessions and two goals with Clark adding 27 disposals and two goals.
Ben Sokol, Brandon Matera and Bailey Matera added two goals apiece for the Lions while Wil Hickmott finished with 27 disposals, Lachlan Delahunty 21 (23 hit outs), Harry Marsh 20 and Liam Hickmott 20 (12 tackles).
Jack Sears continued his impressive finish to the season for Peel with another three goals while retiring captain Ben Howlett added two as did Ryan Bennell.
Tyrone Thorne capped off his breakout season with another 23 possessions for Peel with debutant Brady Hough outstanding with 22 possessions and nine marks.
Stefan Giro also had 22 disposals for the Thunder, Jackson Merrett 20 and Ben Hancock 18.
Subiaco made the perfect start with a goal to Ben Sokol knowing they just needed to win the game to secure top spot and the week off to open the final series.
But Peel soon responded thanks to Jack Sears to show they wouldn’t be a pushover even though the Lions soon took control closing the first quarter with goals to Brandon Matera, Nick Martin, Greg Clark, Sokol and Ben Golding to head into quarter-time leading by four goals.
Two players at the opposite end of their careers for Peel, the retiring Ben Howlett and debutant Brady Hough, kicked goals to start the second term impressively for the home side, but the Lions took back control once again.
It started with a goal to Bailey Matera and he would add another before half-time as would older brother Brandon. Clark, Wil Hickmott, Max Walters and captain Leigh Kitchin also goaled before the break with the Lions well on top by 51 points.
Subiaco's lead then grew to 52 points to start the second half and any dreams South Fremantle or Claremont had of snatching top spot from them by a Peel victory looked dead and buried.
However, wanting to finish their season on a high and try to farewell their captain and coach in style, Peel weren’t ready to give up the ghost and delivered quite the stirring fightback.
It started with goals to close the third quarter from Blair Bell, Nathan O'Driscoll, Joel Western, Ryan Bennell, Howlett and Brayden Lawler to close the gap to just 23 points at three quarter-time.
Eventually 13 minutes into the last term, Peel kicked another goal through Ryan Bennell and then minutes later Sears added another and all of a sudden it was just a nine-point ball game.
Then at the 19-minute mark Brodie Kitchingman kicked another for Peel and the home side had all the momentum and just a three-point deficit.
Subiaco looked likely to be overrun until captain Kitchin kicked truly from a set shot to steady the ship. Peel still got back within four points shortly after with a goal to Sears to have a chance, but the Lions just held on for what was a critical four-point win in the finish.
PERTH 10.5 (65) lost to WEST PERTH 17.13 (115)
Perth sent an early scare into West Perth on Saturday at Mineral Resources Park, but once the Falcons found their accuracy they were able to pull away and end up cruising to a 50-point win heading into finals.
The Demons were playing their last game of what has turned into a horror season largely through key personnel being unavailable because of injury the whole way on the back of their breakthrough finals appearance in 2020.
One of the highlights was ending their drought against West Perth but Perth had lost 10 straight coming into Saturday's game and coming up against a Falcons outfit wanting to take some momentum into the finals.
Perth started well and even led by 16 points midway through the second quarter, but West Perth soon took over by kicking the game's next 12 goals on the way to winning 17.13 (115) to 10.5 (65).
That means the Falcons finish the season with a 12-6 record in fourth position ahead of facing Swan Districts in an elimination final this Sunday at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval.
Perth's season ends on an 11-game losing streak with a 4-14 record, but they did at least avoid a wooden spoon.
Sasha Kernutt was the start in attack for West Perth kicking four goals for the day with Keegan Knott, Conal Lynch and Tyler Keitel kicking two apiece.
Shane Nelson also kicked two goals for the Falcons to go with 25 possessions while Trent Manzone marked his return from injury with 34 disposals. Aaron Black had had another 33 touches, Tristan Hobley 21 and Steve Potente 21.
Kristian Cary, Clayton Giblett and Jack Steel all kicked two goals apiece for Perth while Brady Grey compiled 26 possessions, Austin Davis 23, Corey Byrne 18 and Fraser McInnes 16 to go with 14 hit outs.
Ruckman Christian Eyres called time on his 113-game career with 14 touches and 36 hit outs as did Brant College following 112 WAFL matches along with three in the AFL with the West Coast Eagles. He had 14 possessions as well.
Perth had mixed feelings coming into the game, they had won on their last attempt against West Perth to end that 19-game losing streak but they hadn't won since losing their past 10 matches while the Falcons had booked in a finals campaign along the way.
West Perth was unlikely to move from fourth position no matter the result on Saturday but still the start to the game wasn’t what they were after heading into the finals with two quick Perth goals from Fraser McInnes and Clayton Giblett.
West Perth's inaccuracy from last week against East Fremantle continued early until Sasha Kernutt kicked truly. But the Demons went back up by 10 points with a goal to Kristian Cary and they still led by four at quarter-time despite a second West Perth goal to Steve Potente.
The Falcons looked to have picked up the momentum with goals to Keegan Knott and Tyler Keitel to open the second term, but the Demons were in for a fight to close the season by the 21-minute mark, the have kicked four goals in the space of just 10 minutes.
That saw the Demons open up a 16-point edge but the Falcons hit back well before half-time with goals to Tom O'Donnell, Mitch Peirce, Shane Nelson and Kernutt.
The Falcons then continued on with the job with the only four goals of the third quarter to go into three quarter-time in control by 31 points.
Two more goals to Kernutt, and one each to Keitel and Knott started the fourth quarter impressively with West Perth having kicked the last 12 goals of the game to lead by as much as 56 points, and going on to win by 50 leading into the finals.
SOUTH FREMANTLE 13.17 (95) defeated WEST COAST EAGLES 7.8 (50)
South Fremantle blew the West Coast Eagles away in the first 20 minutes on Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval before cruising to a 45-point victory.
The Bulldogs knew they had to beat the Eagles at home on Saturday by more than what Claremont defeated Swan Districts at the same time to guarantee second spot, and they quickly went about piling on six goals in the game's opening 17 minutes.
Three of those came from excitement machine Cody Ninyette and that was enough to set up the eventual comfortable 13.17 (95) to 7.8 (50) victory for the Bulldogs.
The result means that South Fremantle now finishes the regular season in second position with a 13-5 record and they actually went remarkably clos to nabbing top spot.
Had Peel kicked one more goal against Subiaco to win in Mandurah, it would have been the Bulldogs grabbed first position from the Lions and earned a bye in the first week of the finals.
It wasn’t to be, though, and South Fremantle ends up second to now host Claremont in a qualifying final this Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
West Coast ends the season with the wooden spoon and a 4-14 record.
Cody Ninyette threatened to have the game of his life with four goals to his name inside the first quarter and-a-half, but he was rarely sighted from that point on and finished with just the four majors.
Fellow small forwards Brandon Donaldson and Jesse Motlop both kicked two goals apiece as well meaning it was the little men who combined for eight goals while big men Mason Shaw, Jimmy Miller and Blake Schlensog combined for just two.
Jake Florenca continued his stunning return from a ruptured Achilles with another 28 possessions for South Fremantle while Nick Suban gathered 25 disposals, Jacob Dragovich 23, Tom Blechynden 23, Haiden Schloithe 20 and Zac Strom 18.
South Fremantle's back-line was again superb led by Noah Strom with 21 possessions and 12 marks. Chad Pearson also had 22 disposals and eight marks, and Zac Dent 21 touches and six marks.
Brock Higgins returned in the ruck with 15 touches, four tackles and 39 hit outs with the Bulldogs to now choose between him and Hamish Free for the finals.
West Coast's goals all came from individual sources while Brayden Ainsworth gathered 30 possessions, Ben Johnson 29 and Hamish Brayshaw 27.
It was the most remarkable of starts to the game from South Fremantle with a spectacular opening 20 minutes of the game. With Brock Higgins back in the ruck, he gave his on-ballers first use of the ball who drove the ball quickly and long into attack for their tall forward targets.
They were doing well marking with Mason Shaw and Blake Schlensog kicking a goal each, but it was the dynamic Cody Ninyette who was the star of the show with three goals in those 17 minutes with South Fremantle already up by 38 points.
West Coast didn’t have its first inside-50 entry until the 20-minute mark and the Eagles did close the opening term with the last two goals through Kieran Hug and Ben Johnson.
The Eagles then added another to start the second term courtesy of Harry Sinclair but South Fremantle responded with the next two from Nick Suban and then a fourth to Ninyette.
But West Coast had found a way back into the contest around the ground and got another goal back from Jak Cary to only be trailing South Fremantle by 31 points at the major break.
It remained a competitive contest for most of the second half too with both teams kicking three goals apiece in the third quarter with South Fremantle's lead down to just 27 points by three quarter-time.
The Bulldogs managed the only two goals of the final term, both courtesy of teenager Jesse Motlop, and that saw them win by 45 points and do enough to host the qualifying final against Claremont next Saturday.