WEST Perth has been a regular contender since their last premiership in 2013 and even though they enter the 2021 final series from fourth position, this could very well be the year the Falcons make that extra leap.
At the end of Round 8, West Perth were in trouble with just three wins to their name and placed eighth on the WAFL ladder. The Falcons had lost three of their opening four matches and four of the first seven.
However, the Falcons have turned their fortunes around, winning nine of their last 11 games to stake their claim as the form team of the competition heading into finals.
With some of the league's standout players in their positions across the field including Tyler Keitel in attack, Shane Nelson and Aaron Black on the ball, and Noah Pegoraro and Zac Guadagnin down back, it's a West Perth with a strong core and impressive emerging group coming through.
Geoff Valentine has them well drilled as coach and now West Perth deserves to be feeling good about their prospects entering the finals despite having no second chances from fourth position, and starting with a home elimination final this Sunday against Swan Districts.
West Perth, however, would like to go one better than their recent finals records suggest.
While they’ve played finals every year bar one since claiming that last premiership in 2013, and finished as the runner-up twice in that time, they’ve only won five from their 13 finals matches.
West Perth missed finals in 2014 on the back of that premiership but were back in a Grand Final by 2015 losing to Subiaco by 66 points at Subiaco Oval.
The Falcons were knocked out by Peel Thunder in 2016, by Swan Districts in 2017 and then produced a remarkable preliminary final upset to reach the 2018 Grand Final only to again lose to the Lions, this time by 81 points at Optus Stadium.
The West Coast Eagles knocked out the Falcons in 2019 before it was a preliminary final loss last year to South Fremantle so the time could be now for West Perth to repeat that success of 2013.
If they can put together complete performances throughout the finals, and if recent form is anything to go off, the Falcons will be a force to be reckoned with in the finals.
THE SEASON SO FAR
It was a horror start to the 2021 season for West Perth beginning with a 21-point loss to South Fremantle. While they bounced back with a big win against the West Coast Eagles, losses to Subiaco and Claremont left the Falcons vulnerable.
They did bounce back to beat Swan Districts and then Peel Thunder to begin to build some momentum, but then was a surprise loss to Perth – their first in 20 attempts against the Demons.
However, from that moment West Perth found some tremendous form the rest of the season starting with a thumping WA Day win over East Perth before also defeating Swan Districts, Claremont, East Perth again, East Fremantle and Peel Thunder to go on a six-game run.
Subiaco broke that winning streak but West Perth responded by beating the Eagles and Bulldogs before a surprising 46-point loss to East Fremantle where they kicked 9.23 while the Sharks kicked 20.3.
West Perth then finished the season with a 50-point win over Perth to now be one of the form teams heading into the finals even though they attack the series from fourth position with no second chances.
KEY WINS OF THE YEAR
While strong wins against Swan Districts and Claremont in Rounds 11 and 12 kickstarted their impressive run of form, West Perth's win against South Fremantle at home in Round 20 showed the competition why they’re a threat.
The Bulldogs had the lead for the majority of the day, and halfway through the third quarter it looked to be a task too far for the Falcons.
But West Perth, led by a 40-disposal effort from captain Aaron Black, kicked into gear after a goal out of nowhere from Rudy Riddoch.
It led to an exciting finish where the teams traded the lead throughout the final term, before the Falcons got up by six points with spearhead Tyler Keitel making the most of a free-kick in front of goal to go back and seal the deal.
MATCH UP WITH FELLOW FINALISTS
While West Perth hasn’t been able to beat Subiaco in their two meetings of 2021, they have tasted victory against the other three teams they are in the finals alongside.
Starting with their elimination final opponent on Sunday at Joondalup, West Perth has won the last four meetings with Swan Districts, and going back further 11 of the last 13 dating back to 2015.
That includes wins of 46 and nine points this season for the Falcons against Swans. And in terms of finals, the Falcons have only beaten Swans once in history and that was second semi-final in 1975.
Outside of that, Swans have beaten West Perth in a first semi-final in 1943, first semi-final of 1985, preliminary final of 2008, first semi-final of 2009 and most recently, elimination final of 2017.
The last time West Perth played Claremont in a final was the first semi-final in 2018 which the Falcons won by 53 points. They also beat the Tigers in a shock second semi-final result at Claremont Oval on the way to the premiership in 2013.
But going back through history and Claremont has won five of the other six finals meetings with West Perth.
As far as regular season action goes, things have been fascinating between the Falcons and Tigers in recent times, including them splitting both meetings in 2021. The Falcons have won six of the last 10 clashes.
West Perth hasn’t enjoyed life against South Fremantle as much in recent times, with their Round 20 win snapping a six-game losing run against the Bulldogs.
The Falcons have lost 14 of the last 16 against the Bulldogs, but the two wins give them heart with one in the most recent meeting and another in the preliminary final of 2018.
Then there is Subiaco who West Perth has lost 12 of the last 13 clashes with. The lone win in that time for the Falcons was last year while that 12 losses included two heavy Grand Final defeats in 2015 and 2018.
PLAYERS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT
It all starts from their engine room, led by Shane Nelson and Aaron Black, who are ranked first and second for disposals across the competition. These men work hard to get the ball on their terms in the middle, while also working hard up and down the ground to win the football.
Their game style compliments their forward line, led by the WAFL’s leading goal scorer Tyler Keitel.
The 25-year-old kicked 64 goals for the season and taking home the Bernie Naylor Medal for the competitions leading goal kicker, and provides a big target for the Falcons to kick to.
However, Keitel is not alone, with dangerous forwards in Keegan Knott and Rudy Riddoch (38 and 25 goals, respectively) both chipping in to show different avenues to goal.
Riddoch is one to watch in the finals, as he provides moments where he can create something from nothing. Multiple times this season, the 28-year-old has provided a spark, turning the game in the Falcons favour.
He’s the kind of player who doesn’t need many disposals to have an impact, and could play an important role in the finals.
Down back, the side is well disciplined and is structured behind the ball, with Noah Pegoraro playing the intercept role, and Zac Guadagnin capable of locking down the dangerous forwards of the competition.
KEYS TO WINNING
Their resurgence since Round 8 has come through a variety of factors, but it’s been their ability to execute their game style.
Geoff Valentine’s men are ranked No. 1 in the competition for both kicks and marks, which has allowed them to maintain possession of the football across the ground.
If West Perth are to go the distance and become premiers for the first time since 2013, they will do it without having first use of the football.
The Falcons are ranked last in the competition for hit outs, with the team opting to win the ball around the ground and maintain possession where they can.
This is also reflected in their tackling pressure, where they sit fourth among the top five in total tackles, narrowly ahead of Claremont.
It means that opposing teams are able to use the ball how they want to, which can be a setback.
However, the mindset of the Falcons’ midfield is to work hard defensively, with players like Black and Nelson constantly seen in the backline winning the football.
Perhaps the most important factor for West Perth is their own consistency.
Although their best is up there to compete with the top WAFL clubs, they can have lapses where they fall away, and then need to work themselves back into the contest.
This is particularly relevant in the close games where the game is decided by slim margins.
The stats show close games bode well for West Perth, as they have won two thirds of their games decided by under three goals. It shows that when under pressure, they’re a team that stands up and it’s a system that has the potential to meet the demands of finals football.
West Perth's 12 wins this season came at an average winning margin of 33.7 points while their losses were by an average of 25.3 points. In those wins, they averaged a score of 92.3 points for and 58.6 against. In the losses, they scored 66.3 points a game and gave up 91.7.
Across the course of the season, West Perth is ranked third for scoring at 83.6 points a game while sitting fourth for their defence giving up 67.2.
Taking out rushed behinds and West Perth has a 61 per cent goalkicking accuracy for this season, going at 222.141. Factor in the 32 rushed behinds and they have scored 222.173 for the season going at 56 per cent.
West Perth is the fourth ranked team for first quarters across the season, outscoring their opponents by 84 points. They are third for second quarters winning those by 71 points. It's third quarters where the Falcons have been best, ranked second outscoring their opposition by 129 points. Last quarters haven’t been as kind with West Perth placed eighth, losing them by 32 points.