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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Wednesday WAFL: Challenges at top and bottom of the ladder

Peel were on top of the WAFL ladder when Fremantle gifted them the seventh best eligible footballer in the country.

Making the WAFL’s best team even better was not planned by the football gurus who conjured the AFL midseason rookie draft but the irony could hardly have been lost on poor old Perth.

The battling Demons, whose premiership drought is closing in on half a century and have not won a final for half of that period, lost their best player Jaiden Hunter to that hideous lottery.

Yet a Thunder team buoyed by 13 or 14 full-time professional footballers in recent weeks received one of the best free kicks of recent seasons.

Ethan Stanley’s prospects as an elite footballer will become apparent over time but the anomaly that allows one of the leading premiership contenders to get stronger while a perennial battler is ravaged is hopefully not lost on WA football’s administration.

Those powerbrokers have been making sympathetic noises for years about Perth’s plight but there is considerably more say than do about their responses.

And even then there has barely been a word uttered about giving Perth a short-term hand – helping find a replacement player before the June 30 clearance deadline, for example.

Peel, on the other hand, have quietly dropped the selection arrangements with Fremantle that restricted the team to an initial quota of just 11 Dockers before adding one league player for every extra picked in the reserves.

That model was designed to protect the Peel pathway by guaranteeing a reasonable number of places for locals rather than treating them with the disdain that occurred in 2016 when a rort was used to parachute Harley Balic into the Thunder finals team or a year later when Aaron Naughton was dumped after helping his WAFL qualify for finals.

Fremantle’s healthy AFL list has forced a rethink of the protocol – understandably so given the number of senior players unable to force their way into the Dockers team – but the new arrangements have converted Peel into a de facto Fremantle reserves team from the dual-purpose model operating for the past few years.

Under the new scheme, original Peel products Nathan Wilson and Josh Draper are considered local players for the purposes of the quota which means the Thunder could field 13 Dockers before having to apply the one-for-one deal.

And that 13 could become 14 or 15 or 16 when the returns of Heath Chapman and Sean Darcy and Jaeger O’Meara in the coming weeks has an impact on senior selection. Good luck Haydn Matthews and Guy Barnes and Ty Anderson getting a game in coming weeks.

While the challenges faced by Peel and Perth are no less daunting for being chalk and cheese, West Coast’s situation is no doubt attracting considerable attention and energy as they languish at the foot of the current AFL and WAFL ladders.

And they were barely a rung above it after the recent AFLW season.

The Eagles make considerable noise about the recruiting restrictions that they claim prevent them putting a competitive WAFL team on the park but it cannot be a coincidence that all three of their football programs are floundering so badly.

And was it recruiting restrictions that persuaded them to sack contracted player Zac Langdon while still paying him to play for an opposition club?

Langdon may not be the greatest footballer in WA history but he has proved himself good enough to play 56 AFL matches, appears to be a sound character and surely would have added some value if he had been retained for the West Coast reserves team rather than paid handsomely to run around for the West Perth twos.

Oh well, West Coast have landed the nation’s highest ranked eligible player, will have the No.1 draft pick to either split, sell or employ in a few months’ time and might have a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.



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