WAFL Round 1 Wrap
The 2022 WAFL season has commenced in sensational fashion, with four of the five matches in the opening round decided by under 10 points over the Easter weekend.
Claremont, East Perth, Peel Thunder, Perth and South Fremantle all tasted success in the opening round, only Peel winning by a double figure margin thanks to a seven-goal final term that saw them overcome a three quarter time deficit against East Fremantle.
The Sport FM commentary team headed to Arena Joondalup for the season opener between West Perth and Claremont, Darren Harris back at the helm of the Falcons after his controversial dismissal from Claremont after the 2020 season that saw them finish runners up.
In a low scoring arm wrestle of an opening half the Falcons opened up a narrow lead, Tyler Keitel with two goals with support from fellow talls Zak Patterson and new recruit Anton Hamp.
Having started the match across half back dual Sandover medallist Jye Bolton was sent back in to the midfield for the second half to lend support to fellow star midfielder Bailey Rogers, Claremont taking the lead thanks to a three goal to one third term.
The visitors kicked five straight goals either side of the three quarter time siren, Alex Manuel the most influential forward on the ground as he slotted four majors.
West Perth made a late charge towards the finish line to set up a tense finale, goals to Conal Lynch and Keegan Knott in the final ten minutes leaving the game on a knife edge as the final siren approached.
The Falcons ran out of time, the siren sounding with Claremont claiming a four point win 9.11 (65) to 8.13 (61).
Bolton led all comers with 38 disposals in a fine start to his season, Lachlan Martinis with 35 disposals across half back while fourth gamer Sam Alvarez (29 disposals) and former Adelaide Crow Ronin O’Connor (28) were all influential.
Falcons captain Aaron Black fought gallantly as always to claim 32 disposals along with Trent Manzone, Luke Meadows with 30 disposals in his first match for the club since 2020 as the home side was left to rue first half inaccuracy that kept the door open for their opponents, in a clash that is likely to be repeated come finals time.
East Perth started 2022 with a similarly narrow win over Swan Districts, the Royals tasting round one success for the first time since 2014 in a terrific contest at Leederville Oval.
After an even first term the Royals opened up a gap on their opponents in the second quarter, kicking three goals to one to lead by 12 points at the half, Sebit Kuek, Eddie Simpson and former Falcon Thomas Medhat all looking dangerous up forward for the home team.
Swans stayed in the game after half time thanks to recruit Ryan Kemp and key forward Brayden Noble, an even midfield battle making for a superb contest.
Scott Jones was winning the ruck battle with Matthew Germs, giving his team a slight edge around the contest in a close clash throughout, Jeremy Barnard’s side clinging to a five point lead at the final break.
In a pulsating finish the lead changed hands twice during time on of the final quarter, Nathan Ireland putting Swans in front before goals to Angus Scott and Sebit Kuek steadied the Royals.
Aidan Clarke’s goal in the dying seconds wasn’t enough for Swan Districts, last year’s finalists suffering heartache again in the first game of 2022 to go down 12.7 (79) to 11.9 (75).
Gun recruit Hamish Brayshaw was telling for East Perth, recording 30 disposals and kicking a goal while young gun Harley Sparks had 26 touches, Angus Scott amongst his best players with 25 disposals and a telling late goal while Scott Jones won 43 hitouts in a dominant effort in the ruck.
Jesse Turner toiled manfully on a wing with 28 touches while new recruit Jarvis Pina had 27 disposals and took 14 marks, Noble with five goals up forward and Ryan Kemp with three for the black and whites.
Peel’s AFL experience and class shone through against East Fremantle at Rushton Park, kicking seven final quarter goals to completely outclass a Sharks outfit that had challenged the Thunder for three quarters.
New coach Geoff Valentine’s first game at the helm will have to wait another week after the former Falcons coach entered health and safety protocols the day before the match, Mark Tilbury taking the reins for a second time having also deputised for former Peel premiership coach Cam Shepherd last year.
The home side took a narrow lead in to quarter time as the Sharks wasted their chances going forward, returning 2.4 in the first term while Peel kicked 3.1.
Fremantle midfielders Connor Blakely and rookie recruit Karl Worner were having an impact in midfield, Lloyd Meek too big around the stoppages for Brynn Teakle as the Thunder kept their noses in front in another even contest.
The lights came on for the second half and it was East Fremantle who found their spark in the third term, kicking four goals to three to snatch the lead going in to the final break with Jonathon Marsh (3 goals) having a big say on the match.
Bill Monaghan’s men could easily have been further in front but squandered some opportunities, kicking 4.4 to only lead by seven points at three quarter time.
Peel Thunder’s senior AFL contingent regrouped in the final term, completely outgunning their opponents with a seven-goal blitz to run away with the game, 17.8 (110) to 11.12 (78).
The margin was only six points halfway through the last term when Dillon O’Reilly goaled for East Fremantle, but the final four goals of the match saw the Thunder smiling on Good Friday.
Worner marked his WAFL debut with 31 disposals, ten marks and 2 goals, while diminutive midfielder Tyrone Thorne had 32 disposals to go with a goal and Blakely was telling around the packs with 31 disposals.
East Fremantle ran out of steam against a good opponent, Blaine Boekhorst with 31 disposals and 11 marks with Cam Eardley (30 disposals) and Milan Murdock (27) also had an impact, Marsh the only multiple goal scorer for the Sharks.
Saturday’s matches saw Sport FM head to Lathlain Park for a battle of the co-tenants Perth and West Coast, a battle between the ninth and tenth placed sides from 2021 looking to start the new season with a win.
West Coast looked in command early with Jake Waterman, Jack Williams and Xavier O’Neill all slotting goals in the opening term, Perth wasteful in kicking three behinds despite being competitive around the ball.
The game turned in the second term as Perth had their turn with the breeze, Dakota Baldwin-Wright getting his team on the board followed by majors to Kieran Hug and Oscar Bird to see scores level at the half.
In warm conditions it appeared Perth were tiring at the start of the third term, several players struggling with cramp as Rob Wiley’s side began to take control.
Xavier O’Neill and young Josh Browne were the two most influential midfielders for West Coast, O’Neill responding well to his omission from the AFL side last week as he tried to lift the WAFL Eagles over the line.
Williams second major of the afternoon had the margin at 20 points early in the last term, co-captain Fraser McInnes lifting Perth up off the canvas to spark the game back to life, the Demons with three goals in five minutes with McInnes snaring two and Haydn Busher the other.
McInnes was coming back to haunt his old side, taking another strong mark and converting inside 50 to give his team the lead as time on in the final term arrived, setting up a cracking finish.
West Coast peppered the goals in the final minutes, Jake Waterman with a chance to win the game from the left forward pocket in the last two minutes pushing his kick wide to level the scores.
Perth made the fast break down the outer side, Kasey Nicholas getting on the end of a Busher kick inside 50 to give himself a chance to be the hero.
Only needing to score his kick hit the post to give his team the lead, McInnes marking the long kick inside the centre square as the siren sounded to give his team a thrilling victory.
His torpedo punt after the siren bounced through a behind to make the margin two points, 9.8 (62) to 8.12 (60) as Perth broke an eleven game losing streak dating back to round 8, 2021.
Matthew Taylor was terrific across half back with 32 disposals while Andrew Fisher (26) and Brayden Ainsworth (25) also having impacts against their former side.
McInnes finished with 3.3 from 18 disposals, Ajang Ajang with two goals in his Demons debut while Busher collected ten marks to showcase his worth to the side in a gutsy win.
O’Neill had 27 disposals and ten inside 50’s to be his team’s best player, Waterman kicking 2.2 from 18 disposals and 12 marks to showcase his dominance at WAFL level, not quite enough to get his team over the line.
The round concluded with the much anticipated Grand Final rematch between Subiaco and South Fremantle at Leederville Oval, the Lions severely undermanned due to a number of key players being in covid health and safety protocols.
It was no detriment to the reigning premiers in the first term, Subiaco making a brilliant start if not slightly squandering some chances in front of goal, kicking 3.5 to the Bulldogs 2.0 in the first term, a late Dylan Main goal keeping them in touch.
Subiaco maintained the ascendency in the second term, Lions captain Leigh Kitchin crucial for his side, as was club debutant and former Docker Stefan Giro.
Ben Sokol was having an impact up forward, slotting two first half goals to keep his side ahead at the main break.
Ryan Borchet’s goal at the start of the third term pushed the lead out to 10 points in the third stanza, Mason Shaw responding in kind in a match that became a defensive arm wrestle, both sides appearing to tire in a grind of a contest.
The Lions ran out of puff as they failed to score at all in the final quarter, Caleb Datson and Jake Florenca’s goals 21 minutes apart the only scores of the final quarter as the Bulldogs extracted some revenge for last October’s Grand Final defeat, winners 8.7 (55) to 6.11 (47).
Florenca was vital to the result for the Bulldogs, winning 28 disposals and kicking 2 goals after an injury plagued 2021 season to dominate in midfield.
Chad Pearson (26 touches) was his usual self in defence, Toby McQuilkin showing why he has attracted interest from AFL scouts by winning 25 disposals and first gamer Steely Green also outstanding with 25 disposals and a team high seven inside 50’s.
Kitchin was Subiaco’s best player with 28 touches and eight inside 50’s, Giro also with 28 as the only two players to win more than 20 disposals in a contest that saw them score only one goal in the second half, running on empty with so many players either recovering or missing due to covid.
Round two commences next Saturday April 23rd, with 91.3 Sport FM covering two games as part of the round with Claremont and Subiaco on Saturday followed by Perth and East Perth on Sunday at Lathlain Park.
IMAGE: The West Australian.