Nothing changes as finals campaign gets underway
John Townsend Nothing has changed for Claremont.
The Tigers ended the qualifying final against East Fremantle needing to win three matches to secure the premiership. Their two hours of ordinary football in between strengthened East Fremantle’s claims to their first flag in nearly a quarter of a century but it did little in practical terms other than ensure that the Sharks have to win only two more games.
But Claremont’s hefty loss to the Sharks underlines why a second chance is so vital.
In the tightest WAFL season in living memory, a bad finals game along the way may not make much difference to the contenders – as long as it is not a sudden death encounter. A small snapshot of the season indicates that minor premiers West Perth have lost twice to the Tigers, East Fremantle have beaten Claremont twice in three weeks, the Falcons have accounted for Peel in both their meetings and the Thunder have beaten each of the other three finalists at least once during the home-and-away season.
West Perth’s best streak this season has been six wins, Claremont and East Fremantle have won five straight and Peel won four on the trot. Anyone who claims to have identified a hot premiership favourite is kidding themselves even though West Perth, with history on their side, are the frontrunners.
The Falcons should be confident of making the grand final, at the very least, though as financial planners suggest in their advertisements, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Still, a top five finals system has been used 10 times since it was introduced in 1991 with the minor premiers reaching the grand final in each of those seasons and winning the flag six times.
The week’s break at the start of the finals is a clear advantage for the minor premiers though, in seasons past, this year’s finalists West Perth (1993) and Claremont (1994) were undone on the last day of the year despite finishing on top.
And top team Subiaco ran into a surging Peel team on grand final day twice last decade, prompting rule changes to prevent the aligned team loading up with AFL players in the finals. Echoes of that contentious period remain, particularly as a powerful Peel team accounted for a wasteful South Fremantle on Sunday, but it has not been reflected over the season.
The Thunder were beaten twice this year while fielding 13 Dockers – one more than they will have against Claremont on Sunday – to suggest that the unfair advantage of which they have been accused since winning the elimination final may, in fact, be neither.
Mind you, they were exceptionally well served by their AFL-listed players in their tight elimination win over the Bulldogs.
The 14 Fremantle players in action had combined for 671 AFL matches with Nathan Wilson, Travis Colyer and Matt Taberner recording centuries and Joel Hamling, Ethan Hughes and Connor Blakely falling not far short.
Taberner and Colyer are not eligible to play any more finals, having fallen short of the six match qualification criteria, while the potential selection of young forward Jye Amiss would require the omission of another listed player.
Ruckman Lloyd Meek, rebounding defender Wilson and midfielder Blakely provide Peel with significant points of difference but West Perth boast Sandover and Bernie Naylor medallists, the Tigers have two Sandover winners and the Sharks have a suite of stars with bite.
There are four teams left in the premiership race and each has to win either two or three finals to take the flag.
It won’t be easy for any of West Perth, East Fremantle, Claremont and Peel but neither should it.
Nothing has changed for all these teams.
After the closest season in many seasons, there is no reason to think the finals campaign will be any different.
WEDNESDAY HERO: Haiden Schloithe’s Sandover Medal status and 200th game appearance meant his retirement after the elimination final loss overshadowed the simultaneous departure of his South Fremantle team-mate Nick Suban. It should not have. Suban has an outstanding record of his own and has been a substantial player at AFL and WAFL level. That record includes 156 muscular games for Fremantle and flags at three WAFL clubs. Gerard Neesham is the only other player to win premierships at three clubs. But Suban will not be lost to football. He is considering an offer to coach North Fremantle and will almost certainly play some games there or at another amateur club next year.
IMAGE: WA Football