Last chance saloon could draw bumper crowd
Peel have pulled a home crowd above 3500 just twice in their quarter-century and 240-game history in Mandurah but that could be all about to change this Sunday.
Through good fortune, a random draw and Channel 7’s broadcast requirements, the last match of the WAFL home-and-away season will be the Thunder’s most important game since the 2017 grand final.
And it is clearly in the handful of most significant matches in Peel’s history.
The standalone fixture, which was moved recently to Sunday to suit Channel 7, carries plenty of weight for Swan Districts as well given the value of the prize awaiting the winner of the clash of the league’s fifth and sixth-placed teams. Peel and Swans have each won 10 games so the winner will qualify for finals while the loser will have all summer to plan their next move.
And given the stakes are so high, with Fremantle’s elimination final the previous night having its own substantial ramifications on selection and future prospects, a bumper crowd should be in attendance.
The biggest crowd at Rushton Park was for Peel’s inaugural match in 1997 when 5781 people watched the newcomers towelled up by eventual premiers South Fremantle.
And 4200 were present for the-then Foundation Day round five years later.
Normally, a Sunday match in Mandurah on Father’s Day – even a sudden death play-off - would not attract a big crowd.
But this year is different.
Despite this season producing the lowest average attendances in WAFL history – surely the product of football’s dramatically changing landscape even more than the league’s paucity of promotion - the competition between the six teams still in finals contention makes this one of the most compelling season climaxes ever seen.
Each of the top four teams could finish in any position from first to fourth while the elimination final will be foreshadowed by a match with the same status a week earlier. And no WAFL observer could predict with any certainty which team will win the flag this season, let alone which pair will make the grand final.
The absence of AFL competition last weekend prompted more than 10,000 people to attend the five WAFL games, which is surely a pointer for the WA Football Commission to consider when fixturing its future grand finals.
They included 2518 at Rushton – Peel’s fifth-highest home crowd – as footy fans flocked to see 29 AFL-listed players in action. There won’t be that many present on Sunday though a couple of remarkable selection dilemmas could add spice to the game preparations.
Swans veteran Tony Notte, the league ironman given he played 194 consecutive matches until a bout of Covid ended that streak in May, ruptured an ACL this month and was given no chance to play until 2024.
Bugger that, Notte said. He believes he can play this week if his shredded knee is strapped adequately and has been pestering the club to let him run out on Sunday.
If that doesn’t happen, he intends to play the first round next season with his knee either unrepaired or with an artificial graft. The other side of the coin is Sebit Kuek, the mid-season draftee, who needs to play one more league match to qualify for the finals.
The Kuek selection has been a disaster with his original club East Perth cruelled by his absence while his development has stalled while he has languished in the Peel reserves. Fifteen Dockers have played the required six games, including two after round 10, but Kuek needs to play on Sunday to join them.
WEDNESDAY HERO: Brandon Erceg is the sort of heart and soul footballer that Swan Districts fans love to have represent them. Erceg is not flamboyant nor highly skilled but what he lacks in flash is made up with dedication, determination and absolutely unconditional commitment to the Swans cause. Watched on Saturday by most of the members of Swans’ premiership hat-trick teams of 1982-84, Erceg produced career-best returns of 32 disposals, 23 kicks and 17 marks to inspire his men to a tight win over West Perth. There is a lot of Stan Nowotny about him.
IMAGE: Shazza J Photography