South Fremantle proved they will be one of the teams to beat in 2017 with a gritty 39-point win against Subiaco at Fremantle Community Bank Oval today.
After leading by as much as 44 points in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Bulldogs held off a spirited Lions fight back to eke out a 17.14 (116) to 11.11 (77) victory.
Bowing out in the preliminary final against eventual premiers Peel last year, the South Fremantle showed they have the artillery to go deep into the finals series again this year with a complete performance against league heavyweights the Lions.
The home team had winners across all lines, Dylan Main, Haiden Schloithe, Ashton Hams, Brendan Verrier and captain Ryan Cook dominating through the middle of the ground.
Main, Schloithe and Verrier each had 27 possessions, Schloithe adding eight tackles and six inside 50s in an impressive all-round effort.
Defenders Marlion Pickett, Josh Pullman and Blayne Wilson gave little away, teenager Kyle Russell also doing well on debut for the Bulldogs.
Ben Saunders kicked four goals for the winners, Zac Strom, Hams and Brandon Donaldson each finishing with three.
Three-times Bernie Naylor Medallist is set to play a key role for the Bulldogs through the season if he can remain injury free.
Midfielder Leigh Kitchin worked tirelessly for the Lions, with unheralded ruckman Damon Guinness and forward Max Walters emerging as players of the future for the premiers of 2014 and 2015.
Guinness, who played 18 colts games for West Perth in 2012, finished the match with 22 possessions, 31 hit-outs and four inside 50 in an encouraging league debut.
Walters, in just his third game, had 27 possessions, five marks, three inside 50s and kicked two goals.
Full forward Mason Shaw slotted the first two goals for the Bulldogs, proving to be a handful for reliable Lions defender Declan Jackson.
Strom and Cory Dell-Olio finished accurately soon after, the home team ahead with the first four goals before Subiaco had scored.
Dell-Olio was returning to WAFL ranks after a year-long suspension linked to the Essendon supplements program.
The 27-year-old is expected to slot seamlessly back into a potent Bulldogs attack.
Former South Fremantle squad member Bailey Matera helped set up Lachlan Delahunty’s first goal for Subiaco at the 19-minute mark of the first quarter.
The 20-year-old switched clubs between seasons seeking more opportunities after being restricted to three league games in five seasons at the port club.
South Fremantle led by 23 points at the first change and had extended that to 38 points by half time.
Subiaco played an improved brand of football in the third quarter, with will’o’wisp forward Liam Ryan breaking free from Steven Edwards to kick two goals.
The Lions outscored the Bulldogs by six goals to three in the third term to reduce the margin to 24 points at three-quarter time.
South Fremantle steadied, Hams booting the first two goals of the last stanza to put his team on the path to victory.
Subiaco’s loss was further soured when defender Hayden Kennedy appeared to aggravate a shoulder injury in the dying minutes of the match.
It was the 21-year-old’s first game since being forced out after round 10 last year.
SOUTH FREMANTLE 6.1 10.4 13.8 17.14 (116)
SUBIACO 2.2 3.8 9.8 11.11 (77)
GOALS – SOUTH FREMANTLE: Saunders 4; Z Strom, Donaldson, Hams 3; Shaw 2; Dell-Olio, S Verrier. SUBIACO: Ryan 3; Walters 2; Phelan, Delahunty, Wheeler, Powell, Matera, Perkins.
BEST – SOUTH FREMANTLE: Main, Wilson, Schloithe, Pickett, Saunders, Hams, B Verrier. SUBIACO: Kitchin, Walters, Guinness, Phelan, Kennedy.
INJURIES – SOUTH FREMANTLE: S Verrier (broken hand). SUBIACO: Kennedy (shoulder); Horsley (foot) replaced in selected side by Walters.
UMPIRES: D Johansen, A Martin, R McCaw.
CROWD: 1600 (approx) at Fremantle Community Bank Oval