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Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 2:35 PM by Chris Pike

THE brilliant 2020 WAFL season for South Fremantle was celebrated at the WJ Hughes Medal night at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle on Friday night and it was a popular first-time winner named fairest and best for the Bulldogs to cap off proceedings.

It might have been a delayed start to the 2020 season thanks to the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic, but once things got up and running on Saturday July 18, South Fremantle quickly emerged as the team to beat in the competition.

The Bulldogs would go on to finish the nine-week home and away season on top of the ladder to claim the minor premiership and then despite a hiccup in the second semi-final, they would beat Claremont in a remarkable Grand Final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

The 2020 season was then celebrated last Friday night in the annual WJ Hughes Medal awards night held at the Esplanade Hotel Rydges with the main event being the announcement of the fairest and best winner for the premiership campaign.

And in the end it was versatile big man Zac Strom who was named as a winner of the WJ Hughes Medal for the first time in recognition for the best season of his career that has now spanned 117 matches.

Strom started his career back in 2013 as a key defender before through necessity he settled into a role as a hard-leading centre half-forward and that's when he really made his mark at league level for the Bulldogs.

He formed a tremendous partnership with Brock Higgins too with Strom splitting his time between playing at centre half-forward and then giving Higgins a chop out in the ruck.

Strom still went back at times when required but in 2020 his role changed once more with Mason Shaw and Jimmy Miller able to take the pressure off him required to be a permanent marking option in attack.

That saw Strom take up a role playing in the ruck on a more permanent basis for a couple of weeks when Higgins was sidelined with a hamstring injury, but it was on a wing where he truly had a significant impact.

With his size enabling him to provide a strong target on the wing and then still possessing the athleticism and running ability to stick with the other players in that position, it proved a master stroke from coach Todd Curley to use Strom in that role.

He then capped it off with a performance in the Grand Final that deserved to have him right in contention to win the Simpson Medal as he delivered 16 possessions, six marks and two goals in a brilliant performance.

All that added up to Strom being named the South Fremantle fairest and best winner for 2020 to take home the WJ Hughes Medal to cap off a season that saw him claim the premiership medal now on top of his 117 games of experience with the Bulldogs.

Strom finished the season by receiving 90 votes in the fairest and best count to win ahead of prolific on-baller Jake Florenca. He polled 73 votes before heartbreakingly missing the Grand Final triumph after rupturing his Achilles in the dying stages of the preliminary final victory against West Perth.

Kade Stewart finished in third position with 71 votes ahead of Haiden Schloithe (68), Ben Rioli (68), Jason Maskos (61), Dylan Main (53), Jimmy Miller (52), Chad Pearson (51), Blayne Wilson (46), Nick Suban (44), Jacob Dragovich (43), Brock Higgins 42), Zac Dent (41) and Noah Strom (40).

The night was a celebration of the premiership triumph, though, as the Bulldogs were able to break through for a first flag since 2009 and having built up to it in recent years after reaching the preliminary finals of 2016, 2017 and 2018, and the Grand Final of 2019.

All 22 players were first-time South Fremantle premiership players while only Nick Suban had played in a WAFL flag previously. In fact, Suban is now a four-time WAFL premiership player having previously won one at Claremont, and then being part of the back-to-back triumphs at Peel Thunder.

The Player of the Finals award was a hotly sought after accolade in a premiership year and that ended up going to 111-game defender Jason Maskos. Remarkably he is now a colts, reserves and league premiership player with South Fremantle.

Ben Rioli continued his remarkable family legacy at the Bulldogs in 2020 becoming a premiership player in his debut season following the tradition from his brother Dean, father Sibby and uncle Maurice. 

He was named Best First Year player while Zac Dent won the Culver Family Award for courage and perseverance, and Kyle Russell was named best clubman after being another hard luck story missing the premiership through injury.

Vice-captain Mason Shaw also claimed the John Gerovich Trophy as leading goalkicker for the second straight year on the back of also winning the Bernie Naylor Medal.

Meanwhile, Jacob Warne won the fairest and best award in the reserves to take out the Roy McGuinness Medal ahead of Manfred Kelly and Andrew Haydon, who was also named Player of the Finals.

And in the colts, Jaxon Bellchambers was named the fairest and best winner ahead of Solomon James and Toby Dodds.

WJ Hughes Medal (Fairest and Best): Zac Strom
N MacDonald Memorial Trophy (Runner-up): Jake Florenca
Past Player & Officials Trophy (Third place): Kade Stewart
Player of the Finals: Jason Maskos
John Gerovich Trophy (Leading Goalkicker): Mason Shaw (24 goals)
Shearer Family Trophy (Best First Year Player): Ben Rioli 
Culver Family Award (Courage & Perseverance): Zac Dent
Warren Medal (Best Clubman): Kyle Russell
The Benny's and Quest Award (Outstanding Performance): Zac Strom

Roy McGuinness Medal (Fairest and Best): Jacob Warne
Centurion Club Award (Runner-up Fairest and Best): Manfred Kelly 
Harold Harper Award (Third Fairest and Best): Andrew Haydon
Leading Goalkicker: Lachlan Feeney (9 goals)
Player of the Finals: Andrew Haydon

Dave Ingraham Memorial Medal & City of Fremantle Mayoral Trophy (Fairest and Best): Jaxon Bellchambers
L & F Mihaljevich Award (Runner-up Fairest and Best): Solomon James
Life Members Award (Third Fairest and Best): Toby Dodds
Len Gilchrist Award (Leading Goalkicker): Jakob Plunkett (12 goals)
Bob and Sabrina Maumill Award (Best Team Man): Regan Ward