Preliminary Final Preview v Subiaco

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 12:24 AM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle is just one win away from the club's first WAFL Grand Final appearance since 2009 heading into Sunday's preliminary final against Subiaco at Leederville Oval.

The Lions and Bulldogs occupied the top two positions in the WAFL for the majority of the season but now after both saw their winning streaks come to an end at the expense of Peel in the opening two weeks of the AHG WAFL Finals Series, there is only room for one in the 2017 Grand Final.

South Fremantle finished second for the second straight season and entered the qualifying final on a nine-game winning streak before losing to Peel by 18 points at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

The Bulldogs were back on home turf last Sunday in the first semi-final and bounced back emphatically against Swan Districts to win by 80 points to move into this Sunday's preliminary final.

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Subiaco, meanwhile, came into the finals on a 19-game winning streak having earned the minor premiership for a third straight season. 

That earned the Lions the break in the opening week of the finals but last Sunday they trailed from start to finish to lose to the reigning premier Thunder by 24 points at Leederville Oval in the second semi-final in a Grand Final rematch from last year.

Given Subiaco's dominant season and then the pain of losing last year's Grand Final, not reaching a fourth straight Grand Final will be seen as a great underachievement for the minor premiers.

But having finished second for two straight years and now reaching consecutive Grand Finals, South Fremantle will be desperate to not at least take the next step in 2017 and reach the big dance.

That all sets the stage for what shapes as a fascinating preliminary final with a spot in the 2017 Grand Final against Peel Thunder next Sunday at Domain Stadium on the line.

Adding to the intrigue of the preliminary final and with the fact that it would be seen as a great disappointment for the loser to fall short of a Grand Final appearance in 2017 is that their two games this season against one another have been fascinating.

South Fremantle opened the season in Round 1 at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with a tremendous performance beating Subiaco by 39 points. However, the Lions didn’t lose again for the season.

Subiaco bounced back against the Bulldogs in Round 9 at Leederville Oval also ending up winning by 39 points.

Going back to last year, Subiaco won all three meetings over South Fremantle to the tune of 31 points in Round 7, 11 points in Round 18 and 40 points in the second semi-final at Leederville Oval.

Also in 2015, the Lions won all three meetings over the Bulldogs by 89, 22 and 44 points.

So before Round 1 this year Subiaco had won six straight against South Fremantle and 15 of the last 20 since the 2009 Grand Final.

Finals meetings between the two clubs have been relatively common as well this century with the most recent being the second semi-final last year which Subiaco won by 40 points.

Last year was South Fremantle's first finals appearance since the 2011 first semi-final that saw Subiaco also win by 85 points.

But back in 2009, South Fremantle beat Subiaco in both the second semi-final and Grand Final by 70 and 18 points respectively.

Prior to that, Subiaco ended South Fremantle's season in 2007 with a 95-point preliminary final thumping on the back of wins in the 2006 second semi-final and Grand Final.

But in 2005, South Fremantle scored another commanding 10-goal victory against Subiaco in the second semi-final on the way to the premiership.

That was their first finals meeting with one another since the first semi-final of 2001 won by South Fremantle by 28 points.

Sunday will be only third preliminary final ever contested between South Fremantle and Subiaco. The first was in 1914 and won by South Fremantle before Subiaco won the most recent one in 2007.

The preliminary final is going to be a tremendous contest all over the field. The two teams were by far the highest-scoring teams in the competition during the season with star-studded forward lines.

South Fremantle's forward-line was at times unstoppable with Blaine Johnson booting 53 goals during the home and away season, Cory Dell'Olio (49), Ben Saunders (44), Mason Shaw (41), Haiden Schloithe (27) and Tim Kelly (22).

Subiaco is led by Bernie Naylor Medallist Liam Ryan who kicked 68 goals during the home and away season with support from Ben Sokol (42), Clancy Wheeler (22), Brad Stevenson (22), Max Walters (21) and Liam Baker (16).

It might not be so much about which forward-line fires on Sunday, but which back-line can do the best job of limiting the score conceded by their team that has the biggest say in the result.

The midfield battle is going to be tremendous too with Subiaco facing a big job to try to compete in the ruck firstly against South Fremantle's Brock Higgins. Clancy Wheeler and Lachlan Delahunty will look to double-team him with Rowen Powell to even run him around at times.

But at ground level it's difficult to separate Subiaco midfielders Leigh Kitchin, Kyal Horsley, Adam Cockie, Scott Hancock and Justin Joyce, and South Fremantle's Shane Hockey, Tim Kelly, Haiden Schloithe and Dylan Main.

South Fremantle has made just the one forced change from the team that beat Swan Districts by 80 points in last Saturday's first semi-final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

Steve Verrier suffered a groin injury early in the game in a nasty knock and he hasn’t recovered in time with his place to be taken by Jacob Dragovich who returned from a hamstring injury in the reserves second semi-final victory last Sunday with 38 possessions, 10 marks, seven tackles, seven inside 50s and a goal.

While Josh Pullman, Brendan Verrier, Brandon Donaldson, Jarrod Parry, Jake Florenca, Kyle Russell and Chad Pearson missed selection, they remain a chance if an opportunity presents in the Grand Final if South Fremantle prevails on Sunday. 

Or at worst they will play in the reserves decider next Sunday at Subiaco Oval against the winner of Sunday's preliminary final in the reserves between Subiaco and Claremont.

Coming off last Sunday's second semi-final loss to Peel Thunder, Subiaco has made three changes to that team with strong midfielder Craig Hoskins, big man Adam Creeper and small defender Hayden Kennedy losing their place.

Kennedy goes out with a shoulder injury with the 2015 premiership player to be sorely missed given he would have been the likely match up for Cory Dell'Olio.

Hoskins is also a significant loss after he played every game this season, averaged 17.8 disposals and did some tremendous run-with roles. He likely would have spent significant time on either Tim Kelly or Haiden Schloithe in the preliminary final.

Creeper is then an intriguing selection decision having carried the ruck for much of the second season. His absence will mean that Wheeler, Delahunty and Rowen Powell will all try to take up the ruck role against Higgins.

Powell is one of the inclusions for the Lions coming out of last Sunday's reserves second semi-final loss to South Fremantle. 

Chris Bryan will come in to fill the role of a small defender left vacant with Kennedy's absence while Brad Stevenson comes in to provide another tall forward option in attack and to allow Delahunty and Wheeler to spend time in the ruck.

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