ANOTHER chapter was written into the budding South Fremantle-Claremont rivalry and this time the Bulldogs prevailed in Sunday's preliminary final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval on the back of keeping the Tigers goalless for three quarters.
It was the sixth time that the Bulldogs and Tigers had met in a final in the past three WAFL seasons with the incredible quirk being that all of them had taken place at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
Claremont had scored the biggest win of the previous five encounters with a 47-point win in last year's qualifying final but South Fremantle had won each of the other four battles including last year's Grand Final by three points and this year's qualifying final by one point two weeks ago.
Since that clash a fortnight ago, South Fremantle lost to Subiaco in the second semi-final and then lost premiership trio Dylan Main (foot), Brandon Donaldson (ankle) and Blayne Wilson (knee) along with the versatile Blake Schlensog (ankle) to injury leading into the preliminary final.
Claremont booked in their preliminary final spot with a come from behind win over West Perth, but it didn’t take South Fremantle long to take control of the clash by kicking two goals to nil in each of the opening three quarters.
By holding the Tigers goalless for three quarters, the Bulldogs led by 38 points when Haiden Schloithe kicked their sixth and final goal of the preliminary final at the 12-minute mark of the third quarter.
South Fremantle hadn’t quite jammed the door shut on Claremont, though, and the Tigers kicked four goals in the first 12 minutes of the last term to be within 11 points and put the game up for grabs.
However, there would be no further score and South Fremantle held on to win 6.7 (43) to 4.8 (32) in the lowest scoring WAFL preliminary final of all-time as the Tigers' recorded the lowest ever score.
South Fremantle has now won five of those six finals the last three years over Claremont but more importantly will now play in a third straight WAFL Grand Final against Subiaco at Optus Stadium on Saturday.
This loss will take some getting over for Claremont with the goalless first three quarters before they showed a glimpse of what they were capable of when taking the game on.
Haiden Schloithe spent a lot of the game forward for South Fremantle and kicked two goals to go with 20 possessions and six tackles.
Chad Pearson was outstanding down back with 24 possessions and eight marks while being rock solid defensively as was Noah Strom on Jack Buller along with Aiden Hall and Toby McQuilkin on Alex Manuel and Callan England.
Tom Blechynden worked hard in the midfield for the Bulldogs for 22 disposals and six tackles while Jacob Dragovich finishing with 21 possessions on the wing while Zac Strom had 16 touches and five marks on the other side.
Nick Suban made sure his 14 possessions and seven tackles all counted for the Bulldogs as he chases a fifth premiership of his WAFL career.
To their credit, Trent Newton, Travis Abbott, George Wessels and Glenn Byron came in to play their role for the Bulldogs while workhorse ruckman Brock Higgins was superb with 10 touches and 41 hit outs.
Ryan Lim was one of few four-quarter performers for Claremont producing 29 possessions from the wing while Jye Bolton tried to inspire his side with 27 disposals, eight inside 50s and two goals in the last quarter.
Lachlan Martinis tried to be creative off half-back with 25 possessions while Bailey Rogers again started forward but went into the middle in the second half for 24 disposals.
Jack Lewsey was a strong worker down back with 18 touches while Tom Baldwin did well on Cody Ninyette while having 15 possessions. Co-captain Declan Mountford also finished with 18 possessions and six tackles.
Scoring was always going to be a challenge in the preliminary final just because of how good defensively both teams are, how well they know one another and the tight, tough and contested brand of football the Bulldogs and Tigers end up playing against one another.
That's exactly how it panned out but South Fremantle did score first when Haiden Schloithe swooped deep in the forward pocket to kick truly in heavy traffic.
South Fremantle would hold Claremont to just the one point for the entire first term and by kicking another goal thanks to the clever and dangerous 17-year-old Jesse Motlop from a tight angle on the Fremantle Prison side of the ground, he put the Bulldogs 13 points up by quarter-time.
South Fremantle took further hold of the preliminary final in the second term with an early goal to stand-in captain Mason Shaw before small forward Manfred Kelly kicked a beauty from another tight angle.
That ended up giving the Bulldogs the only four goals of the first half with the Tigers managing just the three behinds and South Fremantle in control by 26 points at the long break.
Claremont couldn’t afford to fall further behind to start the second half and the Tigers did go on the attack, but couldn’t find that elusive goal while up the other end, a clever trademark snap from Cody Ninyette saw South Fremantle extend the lead.
Schloithe kicked his second soon after and South Fremantle's lead blew out to a game high 38 points and was still 35 by three quarter-time with the Tigers remaining goalless with eight behinds to their credit.
Claremont had to throw caution to the wind in the final quarter and the Tigers did come out aggressive, trying to move the ball forward quickly and directly, and they were rewarded.
Isaac Barton kicked their first goal of the game at the two-minute mark of the last quarter and then Jye Bolton ran hard forward and ran into an open goal just three minutes later.
Then suddenly at the nine-minute mark when Callan England grabbed his chance to kick truly, Claremont's belief was building, they had all the run and momentum and were back within just 17 points.
Bolton then delivered a trademark long goal from outside 50 when given too much space and Claremont had kicked four goals in 12 minutes and the margin was just 11 points.
South Fremantle had to dig deep to stop Claremont's momentum and there would be no further score for almost 20 more minutes. It became a game of stoppage after stoppage, fierce tackling after fierce tackling, and the ball just lived between the 50m arcs.
The end result was South Fremantle held on for the 11-point victory to break the hearts of Claremont once more and reach a third successive Grand Final.
The day began at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with a thrilling colts preliminary final between Swan Districts and East Fremantle.
Despite leading by 27 points at half-time, Swan Districts was taken to the wire by the Sharks who kicked the only four goals of the third quarter. The margin was just two points when Jack Williams kicked a goal with 30 seconds remaining, but Swans held on for the 9.9 (63) to 9.7 (61) victory.
The result sees Swan Districts advance to Saturday's Grand Final against Claremont at Optus Stadium. It will be a fascinating contest with Swans having only lost twice in 2021 but both those have come at the hands of the Tigers.
Brayden Fawcett and Jaxon Pitts kicked two goals each for Swan Districts with Max Chipper gathering 30 disposals, Ben Hewett 18 and Noah Hannan 17.
Jack Williams kicked three goals for East Fremantle while Josh Browne finished with 27 possessions, Corey Warner 24, Jed Hagan 23, Sam Emery 22 and Taj Woewodin 22.
Claremont began a heartbreaking afternoon at Fremantle Community Bank Oval by being overrun by Subiaco in the reserves preliminary final.
The Tigers appeared in control of the contest by half-time on the back of four goals to nil in the second quarter before still leading by 14 points at three quarter-time.
However, the Lions kicked the only four goals of the final term to end up winning 8.4 (52) to 6.8 (44) and advance to Saturday's Grand Final against Perth at Optus Stadium.
Aaron Breman and Jordan Faraone kicked two goals apiece in the come from behind win for Subiaco while Kaidyn Fullgrabe gathered 19 possessions, Noah Ash 19, Jack Beverley 18, Sandon Page 17, Connor Patterson 16 and Isaac Clinch 16.
Claremont didn’t have a multiple goalkicker with Ben Elliott finishing with 24 possessions, Rylie Morgan 21 and Oliver Sheldrick 18.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – FINALS SERIES
SOUTH FREMANTLE 2.2 4.5 6.7 6.7 (43)
CLAREMONT 0.1 0.3 0.8 4.8 (32)
SOUTH FREMANTLE: Goals – Schloithe 2; Ninyette, Shaw, Kelly, Motlop.
Best – Pearson, Higgins, Blechynden, Schloithe, Suban, Dragovich, Z Strom.
CLAREMONT: Goals – Bolton 2; England, Barton.
Best – Bolton, Lim, Lewsey, Baldwin, Rogers, Martinis, Mountford.