WE have one round to go in the 2020 Optus WAFL Premiership Season and we couldn’t ask for more in terms of battle for finals positions with five all teams all fighting over the remaining top four positions.
The WAFL season suffered a delayed start thanks to COVID-19, but it has proved to be worth the wait over the first eight rounds and now with one weekend to go, things go up a gear significantly as finals spots are directly on the line.
South Fremantle is the only team playing this weekend guaranteed of reaching finals coming into the final round with the Bulldogs so far undefeated and having the minor premiership secured.
Claremont has the final round bye but will play finals as well no matter but where they finish is still to be determined.
West Perth could end up finishing second while the Falcons could also miss out altogether should they lose by a big enough margins and other results really go against them.
That leaves Subiaco, Perth and in an outside chance East Perth still fighting for a spot setting the stage for an enthralling three games on Saturday.
Saturday's action begins with West Perth hosting Subiaco at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval with East Perth taking on Peel Thunder at Leederville Oval.
Then later on Saturday, Perth hosts South Fremantle at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park.
The round then concludes on Sunday with a game between two out of contention teams, East Fremantle and Swan Districts at New Choice Homes Park.
Things get underway on Saturday afternoon at Leederville Oval with East Perth needing to beat Peel Thunder to be any hope at all of playing finals still.
East Perth played so well for most of their game against South Fremantle last Saturday to be leading by 32 points midway through the third quarter.
If the Royals held on, that would have put them in a golden position now to just need to beat Peel and they would play finals in 2020. But they conceded the last nine goals to South Fremantle and now their hopes do look forlorn.
East Perth now comes into the last round with a 3-4 record so in order to reach finals the Royals must win big against Peel, and then hope that Perth loses to South Fremantle and that Subiaco loses to West Perth, and then hope their percentage is enough to get them into fourth spot.
Peel, meanwhile, is coming off the bye and still looking for its first win of 2020 but it was always going to be a challenging season for the Thunder with the loss of access to Fremantle's AFL-listed players with no real ability to find replacement players.
From East Perth's team that lost ultimately to South Fremantle by 22 points last week, Thomas Amos, Jack Cooley, Daniel Rowe and Jonty Turner have been added to the squad at this stage.
Peel Thunder last played two weeks ago at home to South Fremantle and from that team, Ryan Bennell, Brad Holmes, James Ewing and Jordan Boullineau come into the side.
Hayden Ballantyne, Raymond Giudici, Oliver Walton and Raymond Schindler-Taylor.
It's then a massive clash between West Perth and Subiaco at Joondalup's Provident Financial Oval with plenty on the line for both teams.
The Falcons coming into the game having lost to Claremont last week to be in third position with a 5-2 record. They can now reclaim second position and a finals double chance with a win over the Lions.
As for Subiaco, they have stormed into fourth position after winning their last two games against Perth and East Fremantle to mean that should the Lions beat the Falcons on Saturday, they will play finals once again.
Coming into the game, Subiaco has beaten West Perth in the last 10 meetings between the two teams which includes the 2018 Grand Final where the Lions won by 81 points.
West Perth's last win against Subiaco was back in Round 10, 2016 at Leederville Oval by 26 points which was on the back of the Lions winning the 2015 Grand Final also by 66 points.
West Perth has made five changes from its team that lost to Claremont last week with Mark Hamilton, Sasha Kernutt, Tyson Moulton, Zak Patterson and Liam Tedesco coming in.
Heath Chapman, Tom O'Donnell, Sam Rotham, Kris Shannon and Dylan Yem go out for West Perth.
It's a significant game for the Falcons as well with inspirational captain, premiership player, Sandover Medallist and dual fairest and best winner Aaron Black playing his 200th game for the club.
Ryan Borchet, Wil Hickmott, Harry Marsh, Oskar Matthews, Jacob Miller and Ben Reid have all been added to Subiaco's squad with Isaac Clinch and Hayden Kennedy the two players out at this stage.
Then with South Fremantle looking to win to go through the season undefeated in a rare feat heading into hosting the second semi-final and with spots in the team hard to come by as well, there'll be no let up from the Bulldogs.
And given South Fremantle just had the bye two weeks ago, there's not going to be any need for resting players and there's no sign of the Bulldogs feeling charitable to help Perth achieve their fairytale first finals appearance since 1997.
The two teams have also developed a bit of a rivalry in recent times too which would heighten the sense that South Fremantle won't be interested in handing anything Perth's way.
While South Fremantle reached last year's WAFL Grand Final and had played in three preliminary finals prior to that with Perth continuing its finals drought, the Demons have actually won three of the last four meetings between the sides.
That included two wins by a combined nine points in 2019 so South Fremantle actually hasn’t beaten Perth now in more than two years and that was a 78-point win back in Round 20, 2018 at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.
South Fremantle's last win at Mineral Resources Park was by 10 goals back in Round 8, 2017.
And now coming into this final round of the season, Perth has no choice to win the game to be any hope of that finals drought not stretching to 23 years.
The Demons haven’t played finals since 1997 but for most of 2020 it has looked like happening after they won their opening three matches against Peel Thunder, East Perth and East Fremantle.
And now over the last month, Perth did beat Claremont in an impressive road performance but either side has lost to West Perth, Subiaco and Swan Districts to now hold a 4-3 record and be on the outside of the top four looking in.
Even with a win over South Fremantle, Perth will also need West Perth to beat Subiaco on Saturday so their destiny is no longer in their own hands. But all the Demons can worry about is take care of what they can and trying to beat the Bulldogs for a third straight time.
The start to the game could be fascinating and it has been a weakness of South Fremantle so far. Remarkably over the first seven games, the Bulldogs have kicked a total of 11.26 in first quarters but then 34.11 in fourth terms.
They are far and away the best fourth quarter team in the WAFL so for Perth to be any hope, they will need to start well and be well on top by three quarter-time judging by trends so far.
South Fremantle will make the two changes to its side from the one that beat East Perth with Travis Abbott back to provide a forward target with Jason Maskos back to strengthen the defence.
Kye Barker and Andrew Haydon are the two players to make way while Noah Strom and Zac Dent are still to return for the Bulldogs.
Perth has made just the one change from its team that lost to Swan Districts last Saturday with 102-game ruckman Christian Eyres returning at the expense of Jacob Payne who had just seven possessions last week.
The round, and the home and away season, then concludes on Sunday afternoon at East Fremantle's New Choice Homes Park with the Sharks hosting Swans.
Neither team can play finals but both will be hungry to end their seasons on winning notes.
The game will also be the last in the tremendous career of East Fremantle captain and ruckman Jonathon Griffin while Swan Districts' dual fairest and best winner and premiership player Matt Riggio will play his 200th game for the club a week after celebrating 200 WAFL matches.
Griffin is back into the East Fremantle team for his last game along with Luke Strnadica while Alexander Montauban and Brynn Teakle go out for the Sharks.
Swan Districts has made just the one change with Brayden Noble returning for the expense of Thomas Edwards.
OPTUS WAFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON – ROUND 9
WEST PERTH (5-2, 3rd) v SUBIACO (4-3, 4th) – PROVIDENT FINANCIAL OVAL, SATURDAY 2.30PM
Live scores, stats
Broadcast – 91.3 SportFM
EAST PERTH (3-4, 6th) v PEEL THUNDER (07, 9th) – LEEDERVILLE OVAL, SATURDAY 2.30PM
Live scores, stats
PERTH (4-3, 5th) v SOUTH FREMANTLE (7-0, 1st) – MINERAL RESOURCES PARK, SATURDAY 4.30PM
Live scores, stats
Broadcast – Livestream
EAST FREMANTLE (1-6, 8th) v SWAN DISTRICTS (2-5, 7th) – NEW CHOICE HOMES PARK, SUNDAY 2.05PM
Live scores, stats
Broadcast – Channel 7