SUBIACO couldn’t have bounced back more emphatically from a down year in 2020 to be the 2021 minor premiers, win straight into another Grand Final and coach Beau Wardman hopes they can just keep that going for one more game on Saturday.
Subiaco has been quite the powerhouse not only in recent years but for virtually this whole century and when the Lions run out onto Optus Stadium on Saturday to take South Fremantle, it will be their 14th Grand Final appearance dating back to 2003.
From those 13 Grand Finals previously this century, Subiaco has won eight premierships and even more recently prior to a down year in 2020 where they missed finals altogether, the Lions had played in six consecutive Grand Finals for four premierships in that period.
It's quite the impressive run of dominance but they did have to regroup and take stock at the end of that down year in 2020 to get themselves ready to rise back up the ranks in 2021.
While the recruitment of Brandon Matera and Chad Harris has certainly been handy, the improvement for the Lions has come from within and now coming into Saturday's Grand Final it's that group of emerging players who have been pivotal in getting to where they are.
Jack Mayo has returned to the Lions and overcome his knee reconstruction while Liam and Wil Hickmott, Jakob Atkinson, Nick Martin and Ben Golding are among a group yet to win a premiership but have been a big reason in getting Subiaco into this Grand Final.
Combine them with a senior group including four-time premiership player Lachlan Delahunty and three-time winners Leigh Kitchin, Hayden Kennedy, Jordan Lockyer and Aaron Heal, and it's the ideal blend.
That has seen Subiaco finish the season on top of the ladder and then control most of the second semi-final against South Fremantle at Leederville Oval before winning by 22 points to move straight into the Grand Final.
The Lions opened up a 40-point lead on the Bulldogs by early in the fourth quarter in what was a sixth consecutive finals victory against South Fremantle dating back to 2016.
Wardman is hoping for more of the same in Saturday's Grand Final but he knows South Fremantle are going to provide stiff opposition as reigning premiers.
"We have certainly focused on looking at how well we started that game two weeks ago," Wardman told TAB Radio.
"We've addressed the second half and have put in place some things to hopefully rectify that, but you always want to have the runs on the board and if we can get another fast start and get control of the game then we'll be in a much better position than chasing the game.
"That'll be the emphasis certainly in the first quarter and then we have some mechanisms that we can pull in the second half that we believe will be productive to ensure that when South Fremantle get a run on that it's about restricting that."
With over 25,000 tickets already sold for Saturday's Grand Final hot on the heels of the AFL spectacular held at the stadium last Saturday, the appetite for football in Western Australia has rarely been higher.
Wardman is now looking forward to being part of that in Saturday's Grand Final with at least 30,000 people on track to come to Optus Stadium but no matter how much excitement is there outside the playing group, the coach is determined to keep preparation as regular as possible.
"I think everyone's loving footy right now and we hope that flows into this week and we get a really good crowd out at Optus Stadium to finish off what's been a terrific season," Wardman said.
"We have spoken about how the preparation needs to stay as normal as possible. We know we are going to get lots of pats on the back and a lot of people reaching and wishing us luck, but we want to maintain things as normal as possible.
"This year is slightly different in terms of our squad being a little less experienced with eight guys making the league finals debut in our second semi.
"There have been opportunities there over the last couple of years for players coming through our program and we've put a fair bit of working into those guys, and that will make Saturday slightly different with a lot of guys playing their first league Grand Final.
"We are confident in what they can do and not much really changes on game day, it will be about the team that settles first and brings their brand of footy as early into the game as possible."
Wardman and his Subiaco league players had double duty to head down to Fremantle Community Bank Oval on Sunday for preliminary final day firstly to cheer their reserves into the Grand Final, and then to see their own opponents in action.
What Wardman saw from South Fremantle gave him some thinking to now use in preparation for this Saturday's Grand Final against the Bulldogs at Optus Stadium.
"Their start was obviously significantly different than what it was against us and I thought their contest and hunt was strong," Wardman said.
"They brought a couple of younger guys in which gave them a little bit of a mix up forward and their tall defenders stood up. They were able to force some pressure on the ball carrier to create high balls going in and that's South Fremantle's strength to intercept mark down back.
"I thought their midfield was able to get on top with Schloithe, Parker and young Blechynden. They are certainly going to be a formidable challenge this week and one we can't underestimate regardless of previous results.
"I thought South Fremantle's defensive pressure was right on and they were really able to restrict Claremont's run and carry game.
"They were able to rebound from the week before and it's been well publicised they were a couple of soldiers down, but that shows the character of the club and the players and depth that they have within their group that they can bring some guys in who performed strongly."
Wardman is proud that Subiaco has both their league and reserves teams into Grand Finals on Saturday at Optus Stadium after sticking together all year as an entire senior playing squad.
The Lions reserves take on Perth to open the day at Optus Stadium before the league side then plays South Fremantle later in the day as the main event, and Wardman couldn’t be prouder of the entire club effort from Subiaco to be so well represented on the big stage.
"We have heeded that message the whole way through that it's a total team effort for our entire senior group and it's a great reflection for our program to get the reserves into a Grand Final as well," Wardman said.
"We've had a number of guys who have come up from the colts this year and to go into a senior Grand Final in their first seasons either at reserves or league level is awesome for the club.
"It's a great reflection on the development that we've been able to have and it's brought great energy to the training track, and you can sense the guys are all pushing to earn their spots for Saturday.
"I'm really pleased all those guys will get a chance to play at Optus Stadium which not many footballers in Western Australia get the chance to do."