Bulldogs turn focus to home second semi-final

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 8:02 PM by Chris Pike

IT was an emotional evening at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park on Saturday when Perth beat South Fremantle to reach the finals for the first time since 1997, but the Bulldogs now turn their focus to making the most of their minor premiership winning season.

While understandably all the focus was on Perth's quest to reach the finals for the first time in 23 years, and then since has been garnered around their achievement of doing so, it shouldn’t diminish what South Fremantle has achieved in the 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season already.

South Fremantle already had the minor premiership secured no matter the result of Saturday's game against Perth and the Bulldogs still did well to be in a winning position with a 15-point lead when the three quarter-time sounded.

Perth dominated the last quarter, though, to win 8.18 (66) to 9.7 (61) and hand South Fremantle its first loss of the season, but the Bulldogs now get ready to host Claremont in this Sunday's second semi-final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with a Grand Final spot up for grabs.

More than 2000 fans turned out to Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park on Saturday evening and most of them had their hearts in their mouths for the next four quarters to see if a 23-year wait would be over.

With Perth not having played finals in the WAFL since 1997 and while there have been plenty of wooden spoons and poor seasons along the way, there's also been some close calls and none more so than 12 months ago when they had been in the top five all season long before a late fadeout.

It's been a similar story in this shortened WAFL season too with the Demons coming out on fire winning their first three games, but then having only won one of the last four heading into Saturday evening's clash.

And as luck would have it for Perth, it was an undefeated South Fremantle team standing in their way who while they had secured the minor premiership and a home second semi-final, the Bulldogs weren’t going to take it lightly.

South Fremantle did only have a bye two weeks ago so there'd be no need for the Bulldogs to reset anyone and then add in the fact that the finals start next week and a host of players in the team desperately trying to secure a spot in that final 22 the following weekend.

So nothing would be handed the Demons way out of sentiment and if they wanted to play finals for the first time in 1997, they would have to earn it by outplaying the Bulldogs on the night in front of their patient and loyal home fans.

The game got off to the perfect start for the Demons with teen sensation Logan McDonald kicking the first goal of the game inside five minutes. His day didn’t go to plan from there, but it was at least a good start and it was even better when Brant Colledge ensured Perth got the first two goals.

But South Fremantle steadied starting with a goal from Kade Stewart before Caleb Datson added another and then Mason Shaw kicked his first to keep his Bernie Naylor Medal lead over McDonald with one goal separating the pair coming into the final round.

That saw the Bulldogs lead by six points at quarter-time but it was the Demons who again started strongly in the second quarter with a quick goal to left-footer Matthew Rogers. Marshall Jones then extended the lead to nine points.

Brandon Donaldson and Jack Richardson then traded goals for either side before Stewart kicked a second to close the half for South Fremantle and scores were all tied at the major break only heightening the nerves and tension in the Perth faithful.

Things then took a real turn for the worse for Perth with South Fremantle taking control of the game with the first three goals of the third quarter courtesy of Datson, Dylan Main and Ben Rioli. 

Rioli's courage and desperation to run back with the flight of the ball to take a mark and then cop a heavy hit to earn a 50m penalty was inspirational for the Bulldogs.

South Fremantle's lead did grow to 15 points and it was still there when Shaw kicked his second at the 23-minute mark of the third term, but the Demons lifted sensing it was now or never.

Fraser McInnes took a big mark and kicked a goal before Rogers goaled on the siren to have Perth's spirits rise on three quarter-time and having clawed back within nine points.

It was then a remarkable last quarter. You could just sense almost a supernatural force pushing the Demons players on and the ball virtually never left their half of the ground the entire quarter.

It was always going to be a dramatic occasion if the Demons ever broke their finals drought and this couldn’t have been a more frustrating quarter for the Perth fans watching on.

They dominated the final quarter but kept on missing shots on goal, some difficult attempts and some not so, and the groans grew louder and louder with every miss.

Six behinds saw Perth get within three points of South Fremantle with the Bulldogs just completely unable to get the ball out of their back 50. 

Perth was eventually rewarded when Rogers kicked the only goal of the last quarter at the top of the goal square and the celebrations were wild, but still there was time on the clock.

South Fremantle still couldn’t get the ball forward and Perth did enough to win the game 8.18 (66) to 9.7 (61).

The celebrations were then understandably emotionally firstly with the players who played, then the extended playing squad and then the Demons fans and supporters spilled onto Lathlain Park to join in and it was hard to not get caught up in the emotion of it all.

Kade Stewart, Caleb Datson and Mason Shaw kicked two goals each for South Fremantle, and for Shaw that was enough to give him 23 for the season in eight matches to win his first Bernie Naylor Medal.

Jacob Dragovich was tremendous again for the Bulldogs with 27 possessions and seven tackles while Chad Pearson finished with 21 disposals, Kade Stewart 19, Nick Suban 16, Brandon Donaldson 16 and Caleb Datson 16.

Brock Higgins did all he could for the Bulldogs again in the ruck with 11 disposals, 36 hit outs, four tackles and three marks.

South Fremantle's colts opened the day at Lathlain with a strong 13.7 (85) to 7.8 (50) victory against Perth.

Jesse Motlop was brilliant for the Bulldogs with four goals while Jacob Plunkett kicked three and Julian Hulten two.

Aaron Drage finished with 21 possessions, Jaxon Bellchambers 17, Hulten 16, Jesse Heywood 16 and ruckman Shannon Neale 15 to go with 21 hit outs and six tackles.

That ended up not quite being enough for South Fremantle to reach finals in the colts with East Fremantle replacing them in fourth spot with a win over Swan Districts on Sunday.

Then in the reserves, South Fremantle lost in nail-biting fashion as Perth won 7.12 (54) to 8.5 (53).

Cody Ninyette and Toby McQuilkin kicked two goals apiece for the Bulldogs with Manfred Kelly, Andrew Haydon, James Russell and Jacob Warne also kicking a goal apiece.

That sees South Fremantle finish in fourth position setting up a first semi-final clash with Claremont this Sunday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 9

SOUTH FREMANTLE        3.3    5.6    9.7    9.7 (61)
PERTH                2.3    5.6    7.10    8.18 (66)

SOUTH FREMANTLE: Goals – Stewart, Shaw, Datson 2; Rioli, Donaldson, Main.
Best – Dragovich, Stewart, Higgins, Rioli, Datson, Barker.
PERTH: Goals – Rogers 3; Richardson, College, Jones, McInnes, McDonald.
Best – Fisher, Rogers, Taylor, Colledge, Hill, Jones, Grey.