STATE League football officially returns to the West on Saturday as Round 1 of the West Australian Football League (WAFL) bounces down across all levels. Having taken the field in preseason scratch matches over the past fortnight, teams will finally get the chance to play for premiership points in 2020, while a bunch of fresh faces will be looking to begin life in the WAFL on the right note. Four different venues will be used across a super Saturday of action, hosting the first set of fixtures for each grade, with Reserves and Colts games jerking the curtain for League showcases in most cases.
>> SCROLL down for Rd 1 fixtures
Peel Thunder and Perth will play off in the technical League season opener, with the first bounce set for 2:00pm at David Grays Arena. Hayden Ballantyne and Josh Bootsma are among the familiar faces set to return to the top level for Peel, who will again be led out by Ben Howlett. The Thunder’s depth will be tested by a lack of Fremantle-listed players, but young Thunder products like Tyrone Thorne and Ryan Bennell should inject some flair to the lineup.
Speaking of youth, 2020 AFL Draft hopeful Logan McDonald is set to feature up forward for Perth, joined by fellow 2019 State Under 18s squad member Regan Clarke, and the debuting Kieran Delahunty. Skipper Corey Yeo looms as a major absentee, but the likes of Chris Masten and Brady Gray should provide plenty of top-level class. Nathan O’Driscoll will be one to watch at Colts level, as will Isiah Winder for Peel.
Moving on to the 2:30 League starts, and reigning premier Subiaco will look to kick off its flag defence in style against Claremont at Leederville Oval. The Lions carry over a 14-game winning run from 2019, as well as a nine-game streak over their traditional rivals – nearing a 74-year-old record. While the Tigers will again be lead into battle by Kane Mitchell, potential injury blows to Jye Bolton and star recruit Ryan Nyhuis threaten to unravel their season opener before it even begins.
Stalwart defender Jordan Lockyer is set to play his 100th League game, while Nicholas Martin, Will Hickmott and Andy Doyle are all in line to make their debuts for Subiaco having been named among the extended squad. Reigning Sandover Medalist Lachlan Delahunty and leading goalkicker Ben Sokol have both been named among the forward six, just two of the big names among Subiaco’s stacked lineup.
It may be the Tigers who hold the edge at Colts level though, as the likes of Joel Western and Kalin Lane are set to star, with the latter poised to take on 197cm 19-year-old Zac Caulfield in the ruck. Draft Central will provide scouting notes on this, our featured Colts game of the week.
A bunch of exciting ins will help Swan Districts go a long way to improving on its last-place League finish in 2019, but West Perth stands in the Black Ducks’ way at Steel Blue Oval, fresh off a finals campaign. Leading West Australian draft prospect Denver Grainger-Barras has been named at half-back for his second top level outing, while Victorian recruits Frank Anderson, Sam Fisher, and Deven Costigan are all set to feature having made the move from VFL unit, Northern Blues. Anderson and Fisher should thrive under the ruck craft of Corey Gault, as co-captains Tony Notte and Matt Riggio look to drive marked improvement from their side.
West Perth skipper Aaron Black has been named at the heart of the Falcons’ lineup, with much of the ball winning responsibilities falling on his shoulders, and those of midfield partner Shane Nelson. Reigning club champion Tyler Keitel will again play a key role as he continues to develop, and should thrive off the delivery of the aforementioned pair. Heath Chapman is the Falcons’ leading Colts prospect, but will have his hands full should the likes of Zane Trew, Ty Sears, and Rhett Bazzo all feature at the level, and not for the Reserves.
The Round 1 milestones continue as South and East Fremantle cap off the opening weekend’s League fixtures, with Bulldogs champion Haiden Schloithe penciled in for game 150. The inclusion of Ben Rioli will bring back some great memories and continue a rich history for his family at Souths, while the likes of John Levien, Jimmy Miller, Kye Barker, and Travis Abbott are others in line to make their debuts.
For the Sharks, boom recruit Cody Leggett slots straight in at half-back having made the much-publicised move over from Perth. Brodie Riach and Jordan Mills are others who may debut for East Fremantle, with reigning best and fairest Matthew Jupp named despite an interrupted preseason. 2019 leading goalkicker Luke Strnadica is also back, set to play a big role in the relatively inexperienced side led by bigman, Jonathon Griffin.
While last year’s second-placed League side will fancy itself against its rivals improvements, the Sharks may have the edge at Colts level. Twin Fremantle NGA prospects Brandon and Chris Walker have both been named in the East Fremantle side, along with State Academy hub members Finn Gorringe, and Jack Carroll. Luke Polson is one of the Bulldogs’ leading talents, although they may crucially be without midfield/forward gun Ira Jetta for this clash.
WAFL ROUND 1 FIXTURES
Peel Thunder vs. Perth | David Grays Arena | 2:00pm
Subiaco vs. Claremont | Leederville Oval | 2:30pm
Swan Districts vs. West Perth | Steel Blue Oval | 2:30pm
South Fremantle vs. East Fremantle | Fremantle Community Bank Oval | 2:35pm
South Fremantle vs. East Fremantle | Fremantle Community Bank Oval | 12:00pm
Subiaco vs. Claremont | Leederville Oval | 12:00pm
Swan Districts vs. West Perth | Steel Blue Oval | 12:00pm
South Fremantle vs. East Fremantle | Fremantle Community Bank Oval | 9:30am
Subiaco vs. Claremont | Leederville Oval | 9:30am*
Swan Districts vs. West Perth | Steel Blue Oval | 9:30am
Peel Thunder vs. Perth | David Crays Arena | 4:30pm
* – denotes Draft Central featured Colts game of the round
Picture: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian