It's very much the beginning of a new era for Peel Thunder moving towards 2022 with a new captain and coach to be called upon after a 2021 campaign that they will feel like they underachieved in.
It was quite the remarkable start to the season for the Thunder as they set new club scoring and winning margin records with 105 and 79-point wins against East Perth and the West Coast Eagles.
The Thunder team of early 2021 was perhaps the most potent the club has ever had and despite playing good football for a lot of the first half of the season, they couldn’t quite string the wins together their form was perhaps deserving of.
Following three losses of under 10 points to Swan Districts, Claremont and East Perth, Peel slipped to a 3-7 record and finals were looking a distant reach, and that proved to be the case.
There was a couple of horror weeks when the Fremantle-listed players were unavailable, but Peel again finished the year strongly with wins over the West Coast Eagles and Perth before almost pulling off the most remarkable of comeback wins against Subiaco in the last round.
There was a lot to like about what Peel did for a lot of the season which might sound surprising given their eventual 6-12 record, but they were a much better side than that suggested.
However, now Peel begins a new era with a new coach following the departure of dual premiership winner Cam Shepherd while inspirational captain Ben Howlett has also retired.
Homegrown talent shone for Peel during the season with 123-game veteran Ben Hancock and 20-year-old excitement machine Tyrone Thorne standing out to be named to the WAFL Team of the Year.
Blair Bell ended up as the leading goalscorer with 19 goals while Jackson Merrett continued to shine on the wing, Michael Randall consolidated himself in the midfield and new coach Geoff Valentine will have plenty to work with heading into 2022.
COACH: Cam Shepherd (Ninth (final) season, 70-101 record)
CAPTAIN: Ben Howlett
FINISHING POSITION: Seventh, 6-12, 94.74%
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE: It was quite the impressive start to the season for Peel and they were likely more potent offensively in the opening five games than ever before in their history. That included a record winning margin of 105 points against East Perth in Round 2 and then the Thunder kicked the club's biggest ever score of 24.12 (156) against West Coast in Round 5.
It's a toss of the coin between Tyrone Thorne and Ben Hancock as the standout Peel player in 2021. They went one-two in fairest and best voting, were both named to the WAFL Team of the Year and had outstandingly consistent seasons. But just for the fact that Thorne pipped Hancock for the Tuckey Medal and we'll go with him too. The 20-year-old played state football for the first time and had the season of his career, and that he promised when he was a standout in the colts. Spent more time than ever in the midfield and went on to average 23.1 possessions a game while getting forward enough still to kick 16 goals.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Michael Randall is one of the more exciting emerging local talents at Peel Thunder and he put it all together in what was likely the best game of his WAFL career in the come from behind Round 20 win against the West Coast Eagles. The Thunder produced a stunning turnaround from being 44 points down early in the third quarter to end up kicking the game's next eight goals to win by two points, and Randall was the central figure in all of it. He ended the afternoon with 36 possessions, made up of 22 kicks and 14 handballs, to go with 11 marks, five entries inside the forward and 50 and kicking two goals in one of the best individual games of the season – and most importantly a match-winning one.
Leno Thomas – Round 1 v East Fremantle
Brodie Lake – Round 1 v East Fremantle
Jarrad McIlvinney – Round 1 v East Fremantle
Joel Western – Round 1 v East Fremantle
Liam Henry – Round 2 v East Perth
Josh Treacy – Round 5 v West Coast Eagles
Brandon Walker – Round 6 v Perth
Jackson Knight – Round 6 v Perth
Sandy Brock – Round 10 v Claremont
Roy George – Round 10 v Claremont
Hayden Young – Round 14 v East Fremantle
Blake Acres – Round 16 v West Perth
Bodie Kitchingman – Round 16 v West Perth
Jake Howes – Round 17 v South Fremantle
Jackson Broadbent – Round 17 v South Fremantle
Luke Polson – Round 17 v South Fremantle
David Yaccob – Round 17 v South Fremantle
Tyler Nesbitt – Round 18 v Swan Districts
Brady Hough – Round 22 v Subiaco
He might not get talked about a lot north of Mandurah, but Ben Hancock is putting together a career worthy of having himself considered one of the all-time greats at Peel Thunder. He is now a veteran of 123 games, is a premiership player and he just had the best season of his career having become a regular midfielder in 2021. Much of his career was played down back, but he thrived as a big bodied on-baller this season averaging 22.3 disposals a game and being a lock for the WAFL Team of the Year having been regular selected in the Team of the Week throughout the season.
Michael Randall finished the 2019 season strongly having broken into the Peel team late in the campaign and then in the delayed and shortened 2020 season, he cemented himself as a regular in the Thunder midfield. He carried that into the 2021 season and the now 21-year-old put together a solid year as an on-baller with the Thunder averaging almost 20 possessions a game with the South Mandurah product proving his value as someone Peel can build around moving forward.
There was a lot to like about the way Peel opened the season. Across the opening five games they averaged 110.6 points a game in some of the most exciting home and away season football the Thunder have ever played. The performances of trio Tyrone Thorne, Ben Hancock and Michael Randall was without doubt a highlight and they will be banked on moving forward along with veterans Blair Bell and Brayden Lawler. Peel were good finishers across the season too especially in last quarters where they were ranked third, outscoring their opposition by 66 points.
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
It's somewhat out of their control in a lot of ways but Peel's performance was largely dependant on the availability of players from Fremantle. The Thunder haven’t built a team to be able to really compete with no AFL-listed players and that's what happened for a period in the second half of the season where they fell from finals contention. Building more depth in their local talent is always key, but again even if they do that it can lead to disappointment if too many Dockers become available. Starting games better in 2022 will be a focus too after they were ranked eighth for first quarters and sixth for second terms, being outscored by 119 points in first halves across the season in 2021.
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
There are plenty of unknowns heading into 2022 for the Thunder under new coach Geoff Valentine. As always, a lot of their success will depend on the availability of players from Fremantle and the regular use they have of them, but in terms of their local talent, replacing Ben Howlett and Jackson Merrett won't be easy. However, you know they will be well coached and there could be new excitement around the Thunder with the fresh start.