Peel prepares for 2021 after “whirlwind” season

TWELVE months ago, Peel Thunder was coming off a wooden spoon with bucketloads of young talent and little expectations on them ahead of the 2020 West Australian Football League (WAFL) Women’s season. Fast forward to 2021, and the Thunder have turned from the hunter into the hunted, having experienced a “whirlwind” of a season to storm from last to first and claim their inaugural WAFL Women’s premiership.

For Peel Thunder coach Steve Markham, it has been a remarkable past 12 months, but there was little time to rest on their laurels as the reigning premiers got back to work for the new season which had been brought forward to run concurrently with the AFL Women’s.

It’s been a whirlwind to be honest, obviously we’ve had the flag and then the season was brought forward,” Markham said. “The girls really haven’t had a break but there’s the excitement and energy around the place has been unbelievable. It’s been really, really exciting.”

“We’ve got the (West Australian) State Program on and we’ve got 12 girls engaged in that at the moment. “Obviously Demi Liddle and Sarah Verrier got drafted so it’s been really successful for us and we’re building for Round 1 next week.”

Like every football team in the country, Peel Thunder was forced to alter its plans over the past 12 months, and managed to manoeuvre its way through the challenges of a global pandemic to lift the premiership cup. With the threat of COVID-19 still in the air, Markham said his side was prepared to adjust with the times and what ever was needed to evolve.

“It’s always evolving,” he said. “Obviously last year we had COVID so we went into the pods. “This year it’s been a challenge in a respect it was hard getting the whole squad together as the state girls are up at state, and the South West girls only come up once a week. “So we do have to do repetitive drills a little bit so we’re all on the same page and get to how each other’s playing.”

“Nothing too much, last week was obviously shut down with COVID. “The girls are engaged, we gave them a running plan, we have a chat group through Messenger and they’re all posting what they’re doing and the repertoire and the team harmony in there has been really, really good. “It shows that they’re all engaged and ready so they’re all in a pretty good place.”

At this stage just two players – Shannon Whale and Kate Ditchburn – from the premiership-winning side will not be around in 2021, with Aisha Wright to step up from the State Academy as a key inclusion, alongside former State 18s player Kerrilee Brown. Others who Markham has earmarked as “inclusions” are those who have either missed years through injury – such as Shantae Freeman – or those who predominantly played Rogers Cup but will have an increased role – such as Beth Schilling.

Markham said young gun Bella Mann will have a greater chance to impact this year as well, after promising signs later in the year for the Thunder, but one player expected to take another step forward in her development is top-age young star, Courtney Rowley. When asked what role the versatile Rowley could play, Markham admitted he wished he did not have to choose.

“Yeah Courtney’s an interesting one, I’d like to have four or five of her because she can play all over the ground, but I love her on the outside because she runs and spreads and delivers inside 50,” Markham said. “We’ve used her a little bit last year forward when she copped an injury and she was able to hit the scoreboard.” So at points we’ll drift her forward and she’s done some impressive things inside 50, so we’ll throw her around a little bit this year and just see what suits us best on the day.”

Coming off a flag, the overall balance of the team is clearly strong enough to be a contender, but for Markham, he said the squad prided itself on its defence, and described them as “hard to score against”.

“I think our backline was strong last year, we obviously lose Demi Liddle and Shannon Whale but the replacements in Kerrilee Brown and a couple coming through is going to be really strong, it’s going to be hard to score against. “So I think that will be a real strength, and with Ella Roberts up forward and KP (Kira Phillips), Jaide Briggs I think our forward line looks pretty potent, but I think our defence will be rock solid.”

Markham said the side had been counting down the days until Round 1 for the best part of a couple of months. Now the first match was just over a week away, and he said his team – which would face perennial challengers East Fremantle in Round 1 – was “really excited and ready to go”.

“We’ve done a really big preseason, the girls really didn’t have much time off, they only had about six weeks, so for some of them that week was good for them,” he said. “I think we’re in a pretty good place, you never know where the opposition is at, but playing East Freo as the premiers the year before, if you can challenge East Freo at any time you’re going pretty well so we’re excited to have them first up.”

Picture credit: Owen Davies / Peel Thunder