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Top 10 WAFL games of 2021

2021 presented us with some great games on 91.3 Sport FM, called by our commentary team of Glenn Mitchell, Jacob Landsmeer, Chris Mitsopoulos and Tony Micale.

Jacob Landsmeer reflects on the games, which have been replayed on Sport FM over the Christmas and New Year’s break.

10. Lion Kings: Subiaco topple Bulldogs for 2021 Flag

2021 WAFL Grand Final, Subiaco v South Fremantle, Optus Stadium

Subiaco missed the finals in 2020. Sure it was an eight game season decimated by COVID-19, but it was as rare as hen’s teeth to see the dominant club of this millennium not feature in finals football.

It was little surprise that with a normal length season things returned to normal for Beau Wardman’s side, finishing the season as minor premiers and winning their way through to the decider at Optus Stadium with a convincing 2nd semi-final win over South Fremantle.

The Bulldogs were shooting for back-to-back premierships after bouncing back in the preliminary final against Claremont, although were a wounded force without key players Blayne Wilson, Blake Schlensog, Brandon Donaldson and captain Dylan Main due to injury.

Subiaco were heavy favourites, but the Dogs were in the game early despite goals for Michael Braut and Harry Marsh, Mason Shaw getting his team on the board late in the opening term as the red and whites had the better of general play.

Early in the second term it was all South Fremantle, an upset brewing as the Lions were forced to defend grimly against a barrage of forward 50 entries.

Late goals saw Subiaco pull away at the half time break, Greg Clark sparking his team to life in the third term as the heavens opened with consecutive goals on his way to a Simpson Medal and AFL opportunity with West Coast.

Dominant season: Greg Clark celebrates a goal on his way to winning the Simpson Medal in the 2021 WAFL Grand Final. IMAGE: The West Australian.

By the time the three-quarter time siren sounded there was no doubt surrounding the result, Subiaco coasting to their third flag in four seasons and fifth since 2014 to win by 44 points, 13.7 (85) to 5.11 (41).

The game was perhaps closer than the final score line suggested, the Bulldogs premiership defence scuppered by injuries late in the season while Subiaco got better with every game. Another year, another maroon and gold premiership.

Familiar Feeling: Leigh Kitchin and Beau Wardman celebrate the 2021 WAFL premiership. IMAGE: WAFL website.

9. Souths see off stoic Swans

Round 21, South Fremantle v Swan Districts, Fremantle Oval

Swan Districts were one of the great stories of the 2021 season.

Having languished near the bottom of the ladder for most of coach Adam Pickering’s tenure, the mighty fighting black and whites made a surge up the table in 2021, eventually qualifying for finals for the first time since 2017.

A late season clash with South Fremantle at Fremantle Oval loomed as a great test for Swans, already assured of a finals spot but wanting to prove they belonged at the business end of the season.

The Bulldogs seemed to have Swans measure for most of the day at the Port, only for Swan Districts to stay with them for the most part.

The final three goals of the third term gave South Fremantle a 20 point lead, only for the Black Ducks to come storming home in the final stanza, kicking four successive goals to hit the front.

Brayden Noble was moved in to the ruck with devastating effect for Swans, kicking a superb boundary line goal that looked like it would win the game for the visitors.

Instead a Nick Suban kick inside 50 landed on the chest of acting captain Mason Shaw for the Dogs, calmly slotting the match winner in the final minute to help the 2021 premiers remain undefeated at Fremantle Oval for the season with the 10.16 (76) to 11.5 (71) result.

It wasn’t to be the last heartbreak for Swans fans in the 2021 season, but a fantastic finish to a good afternoon of football at the Port.

Leaving it late: Mason Shaw kicked the winner against Swans in round 21. IMAGE: The West Australian.

8. Tigers overcome Falcons in semi-final classic

First Semi-Final Claremont v West Perth, Claremont Oval

The first two weeks of the 2021 finals series were an outstanding advertisement for the competition.

Week one saw two games decided by a grand total of five points, setting up two outstanding semi-finals.

The first semi-final saw Claremont and West Perth pitted against one another, two of the in-form sides of the competition looking for a spot in the preliminary final against a wounded South Fremantle.

There was feeling in the game from the start, Sandover Medallists Kane Mitchell and Aaron Black involved in plenty of niggle to keep the umpires busy.

Having split their regular season matches at 1-1 there was again not much between the teams, West Perth gaining a slight early lead thanks to their spearhead Tyler Keitel and small forward Keegan Knott.

Rudy Riddoch lit up the second term with a pair of goals to give the visitors an 11-point lead in a game with plenty of emotion on both sides of the fence.

The Falcons made their move at the start of the third, Knott with a late goal of the year contender as he slotted a goal deep at right full forward, pushing out to a four-goal lead.

Ben Edwards slotted a sublime goal of his own to bring the Tigers back in to the match along with former Eagles rookie Callan England, reducing the lead to one straight kick with a quarter to play.

With everything on the line a sensational final quarter ensued, West Perth skipper Black going down with a knee injury in a moment that deflated his side.

Jye Bolton bombed a goal from beyond 50 while Alex Manuel and England also had their moments, the Tigers overrunning their plucky opponents with a six goal to one final term, kicking the final five majors to win by 24 points.

The final score line wasn’t a true reflection of how close the match was, played in front of a crowd of 4768 at Claremont Oval in an outstanding contest. Claremont won the match, but WAFL footy was also a winner.

Double Trouble: Jye Bolton and Bailey Rogers celebrate a final term goal against West Perth. IMAGE: The West Australian.

7. Swans stave off inaccurate Peel

Round 9, Peel Thunder v Swan Districts

Swan Districts set up their return to finals football with early wins, and this sunny June afternoon at Rushton Park was one of their best.

Against a Peel side that had nine AFL listed players plus former AFL players Will Schofield, Ben Howlett and Jackson Merrett, the Black Ducks kept their noses in front in an arm wrestle of a game all afternoon played in glorious early winter sunshine in Mandurah.

It was a stalemate early with no goals in the opening 19 minutes, Swans breaking away late in the term courtesy of midfield dominance from Frank Anderson, Sam Fisher and ruckman Corey Gault.

Peel dominated the second stanza but returned 2.7 for their efforts with milestone man Ben Howlett missing a pair of sitters in his 100th game.

The most bizarre passage of the match came at the start of the third term when experienced Thunder midfielder Ben Hancock burst out of the middle for his side, charging to centre half forward and setting his sights long on goal… to the wrong end.

The ball was marked by gleeful Swans forward Warwick Wilson on the goal line, gifted a major at the start of the second half and leaving one Sport FM broadcaster a little confused.

Peel couldn’t buy a goal in front of their own sticks, yet Hancock’s kick never looked like missing the goals at Swans end until it ended in the hands of Wilson a metre out. Football is a funny game sometimes.

Howlett finally found his range in front of goal after the three-quarter time siren to give his team the lead with a quarter to play.

Former One game Thunder wonder Lachlan Riley popped up with a pair of crucial goals for Swans at the start of the last term, Peel again squandering their chances much to the frustration of the home fans.

Cam Shepherd’s side attacked relentlessly for the final 15 minutes of the match but couldn’t find a goal, defenders Alex Howard, Tony Notte and 2021 recruit Chris Jones taking clutch intercept marks to help their side hold on for an eight-point win.

Peel failed to kick a goal in the final term, Alex Pearce’s final kick of the match hitting the post as the stay-at-home defender went forward in one last hurrah for the Thunder. It wasn’t enough as they slumped to the first of five defeats by under 10 points for the season.

Hot contest: Swans and Peel players fight for the footy in a hard fought WAFL clash in round nine. IMAGE: The West Australian.

6. Tigers claw past Peel at home

Round 10 Claremont v Peel Thunder

A week after coming so close to a win over Swans it looked like Peel would claim an even bigger scalp, leading Claremont for most of the day at Claremont Oval.

The visitors led at every change, up by twelve points in time on of the final stanza before the Tigers broke Thunder hearts for a second straight week, kicking the final three majors to win a classic in the western suburbs.

Jack Buller kicked four goals including the sealer for the Tigers, the young forward having an absorbing battle with premiership Eagle Will Schofield all day with both players among the best on the ground.

Luke Valente matched it with Claremont’s much vaunted midfield lead by dual Sandover Medallist Jye Bolton, Bailey Rogers and Declan Mountford, Thunder debutant Roy George with a pair of superb set shot goals from 50 metres out to give his side a chance.

It was a brave effort from Peel who had only six Dockers in their side for the clash, Fremantle hosting Gold Coast in a match that started 25 minutes after this contest got under way.

The home crowd urged their side home in time on of the final stanza, Claremont breaking free of their honest opponents, Jake Patmore with a hurried snap that put the Tigers in front for a rare time in the match before Buller nudged Schofield under the ball to mark and convert his set shot to bring the home faithful to their feet.

It was the start of an unconvincing patch of form for Claremont, their premiership credentials slipping as the season went on, but this was one such day the Monts fans went home happy.

Battle of the big men: Lloyd Meek and Ollie Eastland clash in a ruck contest during the round 10 clash between the Tigers and the Thunder. IMAGE: WAFL website.

5. Falcons fly past Bulldogs at Joondalup

Round 20 West Perth v South Fremantle

It’s a fairly long drive down the Mitchell Freeway to Arena Joondalup, but every trip seemed to be worth it in 2021 for the Sport FM commentary team.

It almost seems criminal that this game lands at number five in the countdown. From the opening passages of this sunny Sunday clash in August you knew this was going to be a beauty.

South Fremantle seem to be the only team that can leave Joondalup with four points in the bank on a consistent basis, having won the previous five matches against the Falcons at the venue dating back to 2016.

The opening salvos suggested things wouldn’t change in this crucial top five clash, both sides jostling for positions to set themselves up for a tilt at a premiership.

The red and whites kicked four goals to one in the first term, comeback kid Jake Florenca lifting his side immediately with 11 disposals and a major in his first game since tearing his Achilles in the 2020 preliminary final against the same opponent.

The home side fought back to level the scores in the second term, Zach Strom with a late major to put his side up at the major change.

Haiden Schloithe went forward with devastating effect in the third term as the visitors led by as much as 26 points, only for some Rudy Riddoch brilliance and gut running from skipper Aaron Black to renew hope for the Falcons.

In one of the best quarters of football all season long on 91.3 Sport FM the teams traded blows in a heavyweight battle, Tyler Keitel finally breaking free of marksman Noah Strom to kick two quick goals, Conal Lynch putting his side in front for the first time in the match early in the last.

Souths hit back with goals to Schloithe and Blake Schlensog before some more magic from Riddoch deep in the pocket levelled the scores with little time on the clock.

Keitel won a free kick after being tripped in a ruck contest with Hamish Free, slotting what would prove to be the match winning goal from 25 metres out, giving Geoff Valentine’s side a superb win by six points, 11.7 (73) to 10.7 (67).

We sat in the grandstand for this one at Arena Joondalup, and the roof nearly came off it at the final siren, not that I heard it. A beauty on a Sunday afternoon, the team in red and blue producing one of their best performances of the season against a quality opponent.

It was perhaps the best round of the season, with three games decided by a grand total of ten points. Yep, we had some quality football in 2021.

Classic Finish: Tyler Keitel celebrates the winning goal with team mates Rudy Riddoch and Keegan Knott. IMAGE: The West Australian.

4. Lions claw past Tigers in Western Suburbs epic

Round 18, Claremont v Subiaco

In late July in to early August, eventual premiers Subiaco faced fellow contenders South Fremantle, West Perth and Claremont in consecutive weeks. They would topple all three to stamp their credentials for the 2021 flag, but this win over the Tigers in enemy territory was perhaps their best of the season.

This was one of the most spiteful WAFL games in many a year. Star midfielders Leigh Kitchin and Kane Mitchell were both suspended for second quarter incidents, Kitchin for a headbutt on the 2012 Sandover Medallist and Mitchell for a dangerous sling tackle.

A melee followed with emotions spilling over, fans at fever pitch in a match that meant plenty to all concerned.

Claremont burst out to a big early lead, registering 12 scoring shots in the first term to Subiaco’s three to lead by 35 points at one stage, despite losing running defender Lachie Martinis to an ankle injury in the opening minutes of the match.

Subiaco hit back in and amongst the physicality of the second term, but the Tigers appeared to have their rivals measure for the most part, still leading by 17 points at the final change having weathered the Lions charge.

Claremont hit a wall in the final stanza, coming off a six-day break having played in heavy conditions at a muddy Leederville Oval against a Subiaco side that all of a sudden had all the running.

Liam Hickmott kept prolific ball winner Jye Bolton to just 11 disposals to render the dual Sandover Medallist ineffective.

Midfield tyros Greg Clark and Lachlan Delahunty took command around the stoppages and Ben Sokol proved the match winner up forward for the visitors, kicking the winning goal from 50 metres out at right half forward in the dying stages, the first time his side had been in front in the match.

The siren sounded moments later to seal a superb Subiaco win, Sokol with six goals in a triumph that essentially sewed up the minor premiership.

It was Claremont’s only home loss of the season, Tigers fans left wanting a finals rematch that would never materialise as Ash Prescott’s men exited at the preliminary final stage.

Tough contest: Subiaco's Bailey Matera tackles Kane Mitchell in a close finish at Claremont Oval in round 18. IMAGE: The West Australian.

3. So close, yet so far; Hardisty misses chance to be a Tiger King

South Fremantle v Claremont, Qualifying Final

The first week of the 2021 finals series was nothing short of sensational. While the AFL preliminary finals fizzled, the WAFL produced two absolute classic September contests that left fans walking away wanting more.

South Fremantle and Claremont are familiar foes in recent seasons. Since 2019, the sides have now met eleven times, nine of those at Fremantle Oval and six of them finals.

The Tigers were after retribution at the start of their 2021 finals campaign, having suffered a three-point loss in the 2020 Grand Final at Fremantle Oval to the red and whites.

Claremont’s pain with Fremantle Oval continued in round 14, their return to the venue for the first time since the 2020 Grand Final a one-point loss.

Most clashes between the sides would follow a familiar pattern; low scoring, with every goal hard fought and not much between the sides.

It looked like we were set for a similar narrative when the first 18 minutes saw both sides trade behinds in a defensive scrap, the opening goal scored by Bailey Rogers.

Claremont looked the better side in the opening half as they slowly established a lead, winning the midfield battle with Ollie Eastland getting the better of finals debutant Hamish Free in the ruck.

Their forward line led by Alex Manuel and Timm House looked the more potent of the two sides, House shrugging off an early report for rough conduct that left Zachary Dent concussed and out of the match.

The game turned in the third term as the returning Matt Parker inspired a Bulldogs comeback, kicking two goals for the term as Claremont’s four goal lead was trimmed to four points at the last change.

Parker had sensationally been cleared to return to his WAFL club by his AFL side Richmond, having been recruited mid-season by the Tigers. He came out of two weeks of home quarantine on the morning of the match to take his place in the Bulldogs 22 as a late inclusion.

Isaac Barton kicked the first goal of the term to give the Tigers some breathing space, before Souths rallied in to time on with a stoppage snap from Haiden Schloithe.

Yet another Bulldogs/Tigers clash was coming down to the wire when Brandon Donaldson put the home side in front with a snap on his non preferred right boot, the red and white army on their feet as they hit the lead for the first time in the match deep in time on.

Claremont co-captain Jared Hardisty willed himself to one final contest, collected high in a tackle in the left forward pocket from a boundary throw in.

The siren sounded with Hardisty striding back to take his kick, his team two points down and needing a goal to win the match and progress to the second semi-final against Subiaco.

Hardisty, who finished with a remarkable 16 tackles and 26 disposals for the match pushed his set shot from 30 metres to the right, Bulldogs players racing in to celebrate as a devastated Hardisty was consoled by his team mates.

South Fremantle had won by a point in yet another classic clash between two proud clubs, in one of the greatest finals finishes in recent WAFL history.

Hard pill to swallow: Tigers co-captain Jared Hardisty after missing a chance to win the qualifying final after the siren. IMAGE: WAFL website.

2. Alexandre breaks Sharks hearts

Round 15 West Perth v East Fremantle

One of the most remarkable games I’ve covered on 91.3 Sport FM.

Heading in it loomed as a fairly simple assignment for West Perth, who had won their past four games and hadn’t lost to the lowly placed East Fremantle since 2016.

On a grey July afternoon, the Falcons and Sharks clashed for the first time in season 2021, as part of a rescheduled round from earlier in the season due to a covid lockdown.

Former Falcons premiership coach Bill Monaghan had East Fremantle playing inspired football in the opening term, the blue and whites kicking six goals to one as the rain clouds circled the Northern suburbs.

Cameron Eardley was in everything as was Blaine Boekhorst and Jarrad Jansen, the Falcons with work to do as the heavens opened.

Led by experienced midfielders Aaron Black and Shane Nelson and star forward Tyler Keitel West Perth produced a stirring fightback, keeping the Sharks goalless for the best part of an hour as a 27-point quarter time deficit became a 28 point three quarter time lead.

Rudy Riddoch was at his talismanic best in the Falcons revival, delivering the ball on a platter to spearhead Keitel who was able to break free of tight checking defender Matthew Jupp.

The game looked gone with half an hour to go before East Fremantle produced a stunning comeback of their own in the final stanza, Jansen thrown in to the ruck with immediate effect as the Sharks kicked five unanswered goals to grab the lead back from a stunned home side.

The lead would change hands four times in time on in a grandstand finish, Keegan Knott and Lachlan Bailey both benefiting from questionable free kicks to give their sides the lead.

A superb pass from Tyson Moulton in the final moments found the chest of a diving Nathan Alexandre, the West Perth utility slotting the match winner from 15 metres with what proved to be the final kick of the match.

An absolute heart stopper of a contest with more twists than an Agatha Christie novel, West Perth found a way to win as they did so often in season 2021. The Sharks were left to lick their wounds after another tight loss, although they would extract revenge in round 21 at Shark Park.

1754 fans made the noise of 3000 in the dying moments of a memorable WAFL contest.

Last Gasp Hero: Nathan Alexandre kicked the match winner against East Fremantle in round 15. IMAGE: WAFL website.

1. Antonio the hero in finals classic

Elimination Final West Perth v Swan Districts

One of the great WAFL finals. When the WA Football Commission releases it’s promotion for season 2022, it should run a highlights tape of this clash.

On a sunny mid-September afternoon at Arena Joondalup more than 3400 fans turned out for the 2021 Elimination Final, the Falcons and Swans with the strongest and most passionate supporter bases in the league.

The rivalry had already been fierce in the home and away season, Swans President Peter Hodyl accusing West Perth of raising a white flag during their financial troubles of 2018 that left the club in liquidation and on the verge of folding.

The Falcons had won both matches against Swans but had to dig deep at home in round six without Tyler Keitel to win a scrappy contest by nine points, winning comprehensively at Bassendean in round 12 by nearly eight goals.

For most of this clash the margin remained under two goals either way, a classic finals arm wrestle with everything to play for in a cutthroat contest.

Swans started the better through their star forward Jesse Palmer and midfield brigade Sam Fisher, Frank Anderson and Jesse Turner, West Perth keeping themselves in the game despite being largely outplayed.

14 points down at the half the home side rallied in the third through small forward Keegan Knott, who kicked three goals for the term to reduce Swans lead to two points with a quarter to play.

They hit the lead through Tyler Keitel and looked like running away with the match as they kicked the first three goals of the term, only for Swans to get off the canvas with three goals in a row of their own, Aidan Clarke with a long-range goal to return the lead to the black and whites.

Disaster then struck for Adam Pickering’s side when Frank Anderson collapsed on the outer wing, his right knee buckling from underneath him as he was helped from the ground to play no further part in the match.

Rudy Riddoch goaled moments later to give his side back the lead, but Swans refused to die down as Lewis Jetta bobbed up with a clutch set shot goal that looked like it would be enough for his side to progress to a semi-final berth with Claremont.

In what was a 35-minute final term due to Anderson’s injury the match would be decided in the 33rd, Mitchell Antonio plucking a mark from a Riddoch kick and coolly slotting the major from 20 metres out, bringing the Falcons fans to their feet.

24-year-old Antonio had played just three games in four seasons before 2021, playing more than 50 reserves games between WAFL league appearances.

The forward was involved in an unfortunate accident in a reserves clash in 2016 that left East Perth player Beau Chatley paralysed, an incident that for a while looked like it might ruin two careers.

While Chatley’s plight remains a devastating one, you couldn’t help but feel pleased for Antonio getting his chance to etch his name in to WAFL finals folklore.

Without question game of the season, as heard on 91.3 Sport FM. We can’t wait for season 2022 to start.

Game of the Season: West Perth players embrace on the final siren after their thrilling win over Swan Districts. IMAGE: The West Australian.

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