PEEL Thunder will be hoping to avoid a return to the dark days when football returns this season, after enduring possibly the most tumultuous preseason of any West Australian Football League (WAFL) club. Due to the AFL’s COVID-19 directives, the Thunder have lost access to all Fremantle listed players for the 2020 season in what will be a true test of the club’s depth. With the exception of former Essendon midfielder Ben Howlett’s best and fairest triumph in 2018, Peel has not had a non-Fremantle player win either its best and fairest or leading goal kicker awards since 2012, when the club finished last.
On top of that, Peel will also be without former captain Gerald Ugle, one of the club’s most consistent performers over the course of the past few seasons. To help cover their losses, the Thunder have secured the return of premiership key defender Josh Bootsma from country football, and will have full-time use of Hayden Ballantyne’s services following his AFL retirement.
Peel will have to rely on its depth to cover for the losses and take the next step from a finals contender to a consistent finals threat. Last season’s bottom place Reserves finish will be a little concerning, but a Grand Final appearance for the Colts in 2019 gives hope that the youth of the club can contribute immediately.
Colts graduates Tyrone Thorne and Ryan Bennell were both part of last year’s State Under 18s squad and were given games in the senior team last season. Look for them to receive extensive opportunities as the club re-builds. Jackson Knight could also be a seniors candidate after a strong season in the Colts last year while Ben Middleton finished the campaign with 26 goals in his final eight Colts games and snagged four in his Reserves debut as a tall forward. If the young talent can be guided by captain Ben Howlett and experienced campaigners in Ballantyne, Blair Bell and Jackson Merrett, perhaps this season could turn into a positive one.
It’s hard to get a read on where the team is at without a preseason match against another club. Instead, the Thunder’s Round 1 match against Perth will provide the first look at this fresh outfit. The primary concern from the outside is the lack of experienced key position players, roles recently covered by Dockers players such as Griffin Logue, Brennan Cox, Lloyd Meek and Hugh Dixon. Instead, the local talent will finally get a chance to shine outside of the Fremantle shadow.
Due to the loss of players, Peel will not be fielding a Reserves side in this year’s competition, raising questions about how much quality competition those hanging on the fringes of the side will face. The Colts side will be looking to continue its form that saw a Grand Final appearance in 2019. The Thunder will have three players included in this year’s NAB AFL Academy in Tyler Nesbitt, Luke Polson and Isiah Winder.
Stability could be an issue for the side with potential senior opportunities available throughout the year. Early signs have been positive though with a 22-point win over Swan Districts in their only practice match and the Thunder will be hoping that their Colts can again be the club’s shining light.
Picture: Aaron Kirby/Coastal Times