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Friday, September 10, 2021 - 1:22 PM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle's quest for back-to-back premierships for the first time in nearly 70 years gets underway this Saturday in the qualifying final against Claremont at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

Remarkably it's the fifth finals meeting now in the past three seasons between South Fremantle and Claremont at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with the Bulldogs looking to make it a fourth win from those five encounters.

The reward will be moving straight into a second semi-final next week with Subiaco with a Grand Final spot at stake with South Fremantle attempting to back up last year's premierships by winning back-to-back flags for the first time since the hat-trick of 1952-53-54.

The Bulldogs and Tigers have built up quite the rivalry in recent years and that has seen them play two finals each of the past two seasons with all four of them taking place at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

That will be the scene of Saturday's qualifying final once again with a spot in next weekend's second semi-final against Subiaco at Leederville Oval the prize on offer.

The loser will stay alive, though, and will host next week's first semi-final against either West Perth or Swan Districts.

Remarkably little separated the two teams by the end of the home and away season with both finishing with 13-5 records. 

South Fremantle only ended up in second position courtesy of a 2.47 percentage advantage over Claremont which is why Saturday's qualifying final will be played at Fremantle Community Bank Oval and not Revo Fitness Stadium.

It's only fitting that the Bulldogs and Tigers meet once again in their fifth final clash of the past three years on the back of splitting the two clashes during 2021 with the home team winning on each occasion.

Going back to 2019 and South Fremantle beat Claremont in the qualifying and preliminary finals to end up playing in the Grand Final only to lose to Subiaco by 96 points.

Then it was Claremont who broke through to win last year's second semi-final by 47 points to be straight into the Grand Final but South Fremantle would join them there and end up winning a classic by three points.

All four of those games were held at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with South Fremantle winning three of the four while winning six of the last eight meetings overall with Claremont.

South Fremantle comes into the finals on the back of winning their last two matches against Swan Districts and the West Coast Eagles after being overrun up at Joondalup in Round 20 against West Perth.

This is a sixth consecutive finals campaign for the Bulldogs under coach Todd Curley on the back of three straight preliminary finals, a Grand Final appearance and then winning the premiership the previous five years.

From the Bulldogs team that beat the Eagles last week by 45 points, Jarrod Salmeri, Matthew Parker, Hamish Free, Blayne Wilson and captain Dylan Main are all included in the extended squad for the qualifying final with Trent Newton the only out at this stage.

Claremont, meanwhile, enters the finals on the back of three consecutive wins against Perth, West Coast and Swan Districts to do enough to finish third and secure a finals double chance.

From the side that beat Swan Districts last Saturday, Claremont has added Bailey Bennett, Jacob Blight, Ben Edwards and Lachlan Martinis to the extended squad with no outs at this stage.

South Fremantle coach Todd Curley is now excited to be part of another finals series.

"I think it's exciting to get to finals and if you look at all the teams in the top five, it's been settled for quite a while even though the positions could still move around," Curley said.

"That can be a challenge because you know you are going through but have to keep playing. It's always exciting to get to finals because it's always a new season and you know that if you just keep winning, you're still alive. That's the exciting part."

What Curley does feel playing an opponent in Claremont that's so familiar is that personal rivalries develop out there between some players, but really both teams are changing all the time.

But what he knows from history is that it's likely to be a tough and tight affair, and he'd expect nothing less in a final.

"We're happy to play anyone if we're in the finals to be honest, but we've had some good battles with them and we are two pretty even teams. It will be a pretty good game I think," Curley said.

"They are playing a little bit differently but we haven’t played them for a little while now and until this week hadn’t really looked too closely at them because we've been looking at the opponents we've needed to.

"They'll have some different personnel from last time we played them and so will we, but they'll have 22 fit ones out there and so will we, and we'll roll them out and see how we go.

"When you have a bit of a rivalry like this, it's more the familiarity with each other that comes into it out on the field. You might have played on the same guy a few times so you have those internal rivalries, but we'll just focus on playing the best we can.

"But as a group we'll concentrate on playing the best footy we can and they'll be similar. Traditionally they have been pretty close and tough, physical games. Finals are like that so it probably suits it."