Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 2:03 PM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle coach Todd Curley has been blown away by the support the Bulldogs have received during the COVID-19 enforced delay to the WAFL season and can't wait to reward those fans, members and sponsors when action resumes.

There's no secret that the delayed start to the 2020 WAFL season thanks to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic raised some concerns over the financial viability of some clubs in the competition given the inability to bring any money in.

But at South Fremantle, the sponsors have reconfirmed their support to the club and then the fans have signed up in large numbers as members with the initial target of 1750 having now been reached for the first time in a decade.

That is remarkable when you consider that there has been no football action taking place on the field, but for Curley it is a stark reminder of how passionate those sponsors and members are in their belief in, and love of the South Fremantle Football Club.

That has buoyed the spirits of everyone involved at the Bulldogs and now with a start date of the season to aim for, Saturday August 1, Curley can't wait to have his team ready for battle and to reward those who have been so loyal to the club during the most unique of periods.

Curley doesn’t even care who the fixtures throw up, he has no doubt crowds will turn up in whatever number they are able to for the start of the season and he will ensure his Bulldogs players give the South Fremantle fans plenty to cheer about.

"It's no secret that the WAFL clubs need to play as many rounds as possible where we can have crowds and while the traditional derbies and opponents will bring people in, I just think people will be keen to watch any live footy after the period we've been in," Curley told 91.3 SportFM.

"The WAFL will be a great level of football for them to go and watch so whether the big games are rostered on early or they are held until later in the year when they are more likely to have bigger crowds, I'm not sure. 

"But if there are crowds available to go to games, I really don’t think it will matter too much about who South Fremantle are playing. 

"Our South Fremantle supporters and sponsors have been absolutely fantastic, we're almost up to our membership goal, which is fantastic considering we haven’t played a game, and all our sponsors have supported us. 

"No one has jumped off so we are just overwhelmed with the support from our supporters, members and sponsors. I'm sure they will be pretty to come and watch us play anyone, and we'll be happy to play anyone."

While getting back to training in recent weeks has been a little bit of a logistical challenge for Curley and the South Fremantle players to follow the COVID-19 protocols, the fact they now know they are building towards action officially has made that easier to accept.

The 2020 WAFL season will now begin on Saturday August 1 and given there was a very real possibility of no action taking place at all this year, Curley and his team are just making the most of being back together on the field and preparing for that Round 1 the best they can. 

"Logistically it has been a challenge, there's no doubt about that, but the boys have been fantastic and I think if you talk about fitness in terms of their ability to run, we're in really good shape," he said.

"For this time of year, they are certainly not battered because of the no contact and games. Now that six-week lead in until that first practice match gives us time to get footy fit now which is really exciting. 

"We're in a pretty good position where we don’t have to rush it and we'll build steadily over the next couple of weeks, and then get three or four solid weeks leading into Round 1 and then be ready to go."

One of the benefits of the later start to the season in 2020 is the fact that any players battling to be fit coming into the usual start date have now had plenty of time to get themselves ready to play.

Fitness levels certainly should be at an all-time high too in terms of aerobic capacity and the players' bodies should be as fresh as can be given they haven’t been knocked around.

So the football in August we see could be exciting on the back of how fresh the players should be and for South Fremantle, Curley expects to have just about a full list to select from at this stage aside from those ruled out with long-term injuries like Josh Collard.

"We should be pretty close to having everyone up and going, but I think most clubs will be the same barring a couple of long-term injured players," Curley said.

"I would expect every club just about to have most guys available and there is probably that likelihood that there might be a bit of a higher percentage of soft tissue injuries because of the unusual lead in to the season, but we think we have prepared the best we can and we'll keep preparing the best we can. 

"There'll be no excuses, everyone will be in the same boat and we are all just rapt to have the opportunity to play and get back to playing footy. I don’t think anyone will take going to training or playing in footy games and being able to spend time with your teammates for granted anymore. 

"It's been a really challenging time for the whole community, but it's great that we are making really positive steps towards getting back to what we know as normal."

After losing three successive preliminary finals and then seeing Ryan Cook, Ashton Hams, Cory Dell'Olio, Shane Hockey, Ben Saunders, Jarrod Parry, Matthew Parker, Steven Edwards and ultimately Marlion Pickett depart, there were big question marks over South Fremantle in 2019.

However, Curley has always trumpeted the depth at the Bulldogs and that proved accurate with the likes of Jacob Dragovich, Jake Florenca, Chad Pearson, Zac Dent, Brandon Donaldson, Andrew Haydon, Kyle Russell, Noah Strom, Seaton Thompson and Matthew Ward going to another level.

Then with Haiden Schloithe, Steven Verrier, Nick Suban, Dylan Main, Brock Higgins, Blayne Wilson, Zac Strom, Mason Shaw and Jason Maskos continuing to lead to the way, the Bulldogs had the perfect mix to reach the Grand Final.

It is that continued depth included by the additions of Ben Rioli and Cody Ninyette, and return of Steven Edwards that has Curley confident again that the Bulldogs have a squad capable of putting together another strong season in 2020 no matter how different it might look.

"We had a huge turnover probably 18 months ago where we lost a lot of senior players after being a pretty settled team who had played finals the last few years," Curley said.

"We lost a lot of the experienced guys in a short period of time, but the pleasing thing was that there 15 or so guys that have been in our system for that period getting little chances here and there, but not had the opportunity to nail down some regular senior footy. 

"Then last year we had a really strong core group of younger, emerging players who were able to come up and maybe surprise some people. 

"Leading into last year, I think a lot of people would have been surprised with what we were able to deliver in the season and now those guys will be much better again, and there's another crop under that. 

"We have some strong core senior players who have been fantastic, but the biggest area of growth comes from that next tier and we expect them to continue on the trajectory they have been. 

"It will be pretty hard fought for spots, we probably think we'll have at least 35 guys who we could roll out every week and be confident in them playing their role. It has been a long time waiting to see how the summer has improved us as a group so we can't wait to get it underway."