Only 187 days after the 2022 grand final, the new WAFL season has finally arrived.
The longest pre-season campaign in living memory – Claremont coach Ash Prescott said after the season-opener that many of his players started training a week after their heart-breaking grand final loss – gave way to an opening round that provided enough substance to confirm the early suggestions of a season of rare equality.
The WA Football Commission should also be congratulated for promoting the league in a fashion not seen this century.
Not since Grant Dorrington rode Westar Rules into town has the W been so prominent in WAFL.
Putting the entry price up to $20 in the toughest economic times in a decade appeared to be completely counterintuitive but there was enough of a customer response to suggest there might be some method in the madness.
Didn’t Concorde do something similar by doubling prices to increase sales 40 years ago?
A total of 14,642 spectators attended the five games – the best round one turn-out since 1994 when Fremantle were still on the horizon and Peel not even conceived – though the Easter weekend played a significant part in that robust showing.
Still, last season also started at Easter and the crowds tallied just 9585 to indicate that perhaps lively promotion, good weather and astute fixturing can make a difference to the league.
The two biggest winners from round one sit at different ends of the ladder.
Claremont reversed the grand final result by overpowering a West Perth team that was unusually flat for an outfit that has been unconditional in its effort and commitment under coaches Bill Monaghan, Geoff Valentine and Darren Harris.
The biggest unknown for the Falcons at the start of the season was how they would respond to their premiership success.
Poorly, was the immediate assessment.
Their best result probably came in the fortune of Sam Rotham, who was reported for three separate offences in the same incident yet emerged with three reprimands.
In a game of centimetres, Rotham was only millimetres away from a long stretch on the boundary given his sling tackle caused limited damage and a roundhouse right missed its target.
Rotham was one of the few Falcons players to take the contest up to Claremont and could be a vital figure given their lack of ruck options.
Twenty premiership players were in action at Joondalup on Good Friday, with former Giant and Eagle Zac Langdon adding his considerable skill to the mix, yet the team proved considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Not so the Tigers.
The six-month wait has whetted their appetite and sharpened their resolve.
And the addition of former AFL-listed duo Teia Miles and Jack Maibaum has stiffened their defence while big forward Jack Buller, the nearly man in the grand final, had another similar outing with a spectacular display in the air and wayward exhibition in front of goals.
Yet the biggest winner from the opening round is the team that sits a game below bottom.
South Fremantle are still in the red but own the best percentage in the league.
Having received the harshest punishment in WAFL history for a crime that isn’t close to the worst ever committed, there was a danger that the Bulldogs could lose all their teeth before the season started.
There was no evidence of that at Fremantle on Saturday.
Newcomer Jordan Gallucci has elements of Ryan Cook in his demeanour and impact while Jimmy Miller is threatening to become the player he has always threatened to become.
Jake Florenca and Noah Strom are waiting in the wings while giant Solly James made such a good start that maintenance of his form means that neither the returning Brock Higgins nor tyro Jackson Broadbent should wrest the main ruck spot from him.
Claremont and South both had points to prove in the first week; their clash on Saturday is not only tantalising but will provide further proof of their credentials this year.
IMAGE: WA Football