2021 WAFL Preliminary Final wrap: Bulldogs advance to the big dance

THE Western Australian Football League (WAFL) can now begin grand final preparations, with the South Fremantle Bulldogs defeating the Claremont Tigers in the preliminary final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval on Sunday afternoon. The clubs have created a rivalry of sorts over recent years and Sunday’s clash marked the sixth times the two teams have faced off in a final over the past three years, and another classic was delivered.

The Bulldogs held their opponents goalless for three quarters of the game, and while this sounds like a blowout, the Tigers stormed home to make things tense for their opponents, but South Fremantle were able to put a sudden stop to the run of goals to record a third consecutive grand final appearance, with Subiaco waiting for them on Saturday.

The game began in the contested and tough brand of football fans have come to expect from these two sides, with defense winning the opening minutes. The Bulldogs drew first blood through Haiden Schloithe, who spent much of the game forward and booted his side’s first major of the day. South Fremantle’s second came through youngster Jesse Motlop, who slotted a goal from an incredibly tight angle to give his side a 13-point lead heading into the second term, while their opponents were unable to register a six-pointer.

The Bulldogs extended their lead with goals through skipper Mason Shaw and small forward Manfred Kelly, who joined Motlop in slotting a goal from a tough angle. This gave the Bulldogs a 26-point lead as the Tigers headed into half time still searching for their first major.

Things went from bad to worse for Claremont to kick off proceedings in the second half, and despite their heavy attacking play in to open the third quarter, they could not convert this to a major. To add insult to injury, South Fremantle took the ball down the other end and booted their fifth of the day through a clever snap from Cody Ninyette. Schloithe’s second looked to be the nail in the coffin, as the Tigers entered the final term trailing by 35 points.

Claremont understood the do-or-die mentality that was required to pull off a miracle comeback, and goals to Isaac Barton and Callan England saw a slight glimpse of hope among the playing group. It was the final quarter heroics of Jye Bolton, whose two goals saw the margin reduce to just 11 points. Unfortunately, the goals would be the final scores of the match, with the Bulldogs holding on just long enough to advance to the decider.

Schloithe was outstanding for the victors with 20 disposals and six tackles to go with his two goals, while teammate Nick Suban delivered a typically tough performance to drive his side to the upcoming grand final. For the Tigers, had they won, Bolton’s performance would go down in club folklore given the significance of his clutch plays.

In the Reserves, Claremont found themselves overrun in the final term, as Subiaco booted four goals to none in the fourth quarter to claim an eight-point win that delivered heartbreak for their opponents. Subiaco’s Kaidyn Fullgrabe was outstanding in the win, while Claremont’s Ben Elliot topped all-comers in the disposal count with 24 for the day.

In the Colts, Swan Districts were able to hold off an almighty comeback from East Fremantle to claim a two-point triumph in their preliminary finals matchup which was impacted by lightning. Swan Districts took a 27 point lead into half-time, but East Fremantle reduced the margin to just two points with 30 seconds to go, but time conquered the comeback story. Max Chipper gathered 30 possessions for Swan Districts, while East Fremantle were well served by Jack Williams and his three-goal outing.

Photo credit: WAFL

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