CLAREMONT has been banging on the door of a premiership for some time now and for so many of this playing group that's been there for the whole ride, it could very well be now or never for the Tigers.
Claremont was the dominant WAFL team at the turn of the decade winning four straight minor premierships between 2010-13 which they converted into three Grand Final appearances and flags in 2011 and 2012, but it's been a slow build back to being a powerhouse since.
They only played one final between 2014-17, but the Tigers' rebound began in 2018 reaching a first semi-final after winning an elimination final. They were genuine contenders by 2019 reaching the preliminary final and then went up a gear in the shortened 2020 season.
Claremont made the Grand Final only to lose in heartbreaking fashion to South Fremantle by three points. But it's been a build from winning a final to reaching a preliminary final and then a Grand Final where the only way up now in 2021 is to win the premiership.
The Tigers put added pressure on themselves by replacing coach Darren Harris with Ashley Prescott for the 2021 season so the suggestion is that nothing but a premiership is going to be accepted at Claremont this season.
Which creates another area of intrigue because Prescott was outstanding in his first stint as Claremont coach reaching Grand Finals in 2004, 2005 and 2007 but not quite able to win a premiership.
However, the core of Bailey Rogers, Jye Bolton, Callan England, Declan Hardisty, Declan Mountford, Ryan Lim, Dylan Smallwood, Oliver Eastland, Lachlan Martinis and Jared Hardisty are all the peak of their powers, and it's unlikely they'll ever get a better shot at that premiership glory as a unit.
THE SEASON SO FAR
With a new coach on board and coming off the heartbreaking Grand Final loss of last year, Claremont opened 2021 on fire beating Swan Districts, South Fremantle, Perth and West Perth over the first four games.
The Tigers came back to earth with a thud with a Round 5 loss to Subiaco but were back to their winning ways after with victories against East Fremantle, East Perth, West Coast and Peel to hold an 8-1 record after Round 10.
The second half of the season wasn’t quite as impressive for the Tigers starting with losses to the Falcons and Bulldogs.
They rebounded by beating Peel again narrowly in Mandurah before a 43-point win over East Fremantle, but then two more losses at the hands of East Perth and Subiaco.
Claremont ended the home and away season with wins over the Demons, Eagles and Swans to end up with a 13-5 record but just in third position to set up a qualifying final with South Fremantle this Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
KEY WINS OF THE YEAR
Claremont got its revenge on South Fremantle in Round 2 in a Grand Final rematch coming back from a nine-point deficit at half-time to win by 16 points, which was set up by a commanding seven goal to three third quarter.
The Tigers were emphatic after half-time and were led by veteran Kane Mitchell who finished with 25 disposals and three goals. Lachlan Martinis was pivotal off the half-back flank with 31 disposals and five marks setting up his outstanding season while Claremont’s leading goal kicker for the year Alex Manuel finished with three goals.
Then in Round 10 against Peel Thunder, coming back from a 12-point margin at the 21-minute mark of the final term, the Tigers roared home with three goals in the final six minutes of the match.
Peel put up one of their strongest sides of the season boasting 10 AFL-listed players including Fremantle regulars Bailey Banfield and Hayden Young as well as West Coast premiership player Will Schofield.
The victory was led by a best on ground performance from Jye Bolton who finished with 35 disposals and nine inside 50s while rising star Jack Buller kicked four goals for the day including the match winner.
MATCH UP WITH FELLOW FINALISTS
Claremont enters the finals having beaten three of the four other finalists during the home and away season with the Tigers not losing to Swan Districts either but failing to defeat Subiaco.
Starting with Saturday's opponent in the qualifying final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval, Claremont split its two matches with South Fremantle during the season with each team winning on their home turf.
While Claremont did beat South Fremantle in Round 2 this year and in last year's second semi-final, the Tigers have lost six of the last eight meetings with the Bulldogs including seven of the last eight at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
Saturday's qualifying final will be the fifth finals meeting between the two teams in three years with all of them played at the port. South Fremantle won the qualifying and preliminary finals of 2019 and last year's Grand Final with Claremont's lone win in last year's second semi.
Meanwhile against Subiaco, Claremont has had a tough time in recent times losing both meetings in 2021 and 12 of the previous 13 with the only win lately for the Tigers coming in last year's shortened season when the Lions missed finals.
The last time the two teams met in a final was the 2011 Grand Final with Claremont winning by 56 points. Subiaco had beaten Claremont previously in Grand Finals in 2004 and 2007 as well despite the Tigers winning the preliminary final in 2005 and second semi-final of 2007.
Claremont has a fascinating recent history with West Perth and quite the heated rivalry. The two teams split their two matches in 2021 with the home team winning on each occasion while going back further, the Falcons have won six of the last nine clashes.
In terms of finals, they last met in the first semi-final of 2018 with West Perth winning by 53 points. Prior to that, West Perth also won in an upset second semi-final result at Claremont Oval in 2013.
However, Claremont won the five previous finals clashes after West Perth won the first ever in the 1942 Grand Final.
Then against Swan Districts, Claremont has won the last nine clashes including both in 2021 by 22 and 24 points.
Their last finals battle was the 2012 second semi-final won by Claremont on the back of the most remarkable of Grand Finals in 2010 where Swan Districts won by a point.
PLAYERS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT
Bailey Rogers - Plenty has already been said about this player, but he’s shown in recent weeks why he has finals footy written all over him. While he’s been an accumulator moving to a more permanent midfield role this year, it’s been his ability to hit the scoreboard that makes him such a finals footy threat showcased in his 36 disposal, 16 mark and three goal game against the Eagles two weeks ago.
Anton Hamp – The Tigers will be desperately hoping the 161-game veteran will be able to return from a hand injury as he’s one of the competition best defenders but also has the auspicious ability to swing forward when needed.
Isaac Barton – The livewire small forward has been one of the finds of the season. Missing just the one game this year, his ability to consistently pop up in crucial moments with a goal, a tackle or a one percenter makes him born for finals football.
KEYS TO WINNING
The Tigers boast one of the most intimidating midfields in the league, led by two-time Sandover Medallist Jye Bolton, who may be on his way to a third Medal but could be upstaged by teammate and 2021’s breakout star Bailey Rogers, who’s averaging 28 disposals, six marks and over a goal a game this season.
These two superstars of the competition are joined by co-captains Jared Hardisty and Declan Mountford, the ultra-consistent Ryan Lim, state representative Ben Edwards and former skipper and Sandover Medallist Kane Mitchell in a stacked engine room that’s roving to one of the league’s most dominant ruckmen in Oliver Eastland.
If everyone in this midfield gets going and is able to play their role, the Tigers will be hard to stop this finals series.
The Tigers will be sweating on a host of stars to return for finals in the coming weeks. Ben Edwards is expected to return from a corked quad this week however star defenders Lachlan Martinis (ankle) and Anton Hamp (hand) face tests, while former Port Adelaide listed player Jake Patmore (hamstring) is no certainty to return this week either.
Another worry for the Tigers is they haven’t beaten Subiaco in the two games they’ve played each other this season, which included one of the games of the year at Revo Fitness Stadium in Round 18 where the Lions prevailed by five-points.
4 – The number of Simpson Medals Jye Bolton has won, albeit three of them for being best WA player in State Game, with the other in last year's Grand Final loss. But nonetheless the two-time Sandover Medallist is a proven big game player and finals performer.
1 – The number of players still on Claremont’s list who were part of their last premiership in 2012, that player is Kane Mitchell.
1st – Where Claremont's attack is ranked this season. The Tigers are averaging 89.7 points a game in 2021, scoring over 100 points a game on five separate occasions.
27 – The number more possessions Claremont is averaging per game this season than their direct opponents.
1st – Where Claremont ranks in terms of third quarter performers this season, having outscored their opponents by 185 points in third terms alone. In comparison, they are ranked fifth for first quarters, fourth for second terms and fourth for final stanzas.