FIRST SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW V PEEL THUNDER

Saturday, September 10, 2016 - 6:46 PM by Chris Pike

WEST Perth returns to HBF Arena on Sunday looking for a 13th straight win overall over Peel and a 12th in succession at home over the Thunder in the WAFL first semi-final.

Peel qualified for the WAFL finals for the first time in history in 2015 and its first ever final was also at the Joondalup venue against West Perth. It wasn’t a day to remember for the Thunder with the Falcons beating a depleted Peel outfit by 109 points.

It's fair to say the circumstances are vastly different going into this Sunday's game not only in terms of the personnel of both teams, but also because the game is cut-throat unlike last year's qualifying final when both went on to fight another week.

West Perth enters Sunday's first semi-final having finished the home and away season in third position on the WAFL ladder with a 13-7 record on the back of winning 12 of its last 15 games.

But it was a day to forget last Saturday at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with a 52-point loss to South Fremantle.

The positive is that the Falcons get a second chance this Sunday and they have the comforts of their home ground to play at in an attempt to get back to a second straight preliminary final.

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Peel, meanwhile, qualified for the finals for a second straight time finishing in fourth spot with an 11-9 record before hosting East Perth in last Sunday's elimination final.

The Thunder put in a comprehensive performance to win by 49 points to win the club's first ever final since entering the WAFL in 1997.

Now the winner on Sunday will advance to the preliminary final next Sunday which will be at the home venue of the loser of the Subiaco and South Fremantle second semi-final battle.

For West Perth it will be a second straight preliminary final having beaten East Perth in the corresponding match last year on the way to a grand final while for Peel it would be its first ever preliminary final appearance.

The season will be over for the loser meaning the stakes couldn’t be higher.

West Perth has hosted four finals at HBF Arena previously losing preliminary finals to Swan Districts and Subiaco in 2008 and 2011 respectively before beating Peel last year in the qualifying final and East Perth in a preliminary final.

The Falcons have also won 20 of the 22 meetings ever against the Thunder at the Joondalup venue. West Perth has won the last 11 home games against Peel with the Thunder's last victory at HBF Arena coming in Round 21, 2006.

West Perth has dominated Peel overall in recent years as well winning the last 12 meetings between the two teams. The Thunder's last win over the Falcons came in Round 13, 2011.

The two teams met twice this season with West Perth winning by 17 points in Round 8 at HBF Arena and then by 44 at Bendigo Bank Stadium in Round 16 while holding the Thunder to a record low score of 1.5 (11) in horrible weather conditions.

West Perth coach Bill Monaghan knows Peel will be a tough opponent but he has no doubt it will be a different Falcons outfit this Sunday.

"Apart from in that final last year when they only had three, we've actually copped them with between 14 and 16 Fremantle players four out of the last five times we've played them," Monaghan said.

"We welcome that challenge and we can't control that, we just need to make sure that our effort and hunger for the contest is better than it was on the weekend.

"Whoever they put out there is who they put out there, but you will see a different side take the park for us this weekend and hopefully that will be enough to get over the top of them."

After a slow start to the 2016 season, West Perth did well to qualify for the finals from third position but last Saturday's qualifying final could have hardly gone worse for the Falcons.

Despite having a team vastly more experienced in finals than South Fremantle, it was the Falcons who were caught off guard by the pressure and made uncharacteristic mistakes highlighted by Nick Rodda conceding goals through the Bulldogs pressure at one end, and key forward Michael Lourey dropping a mark all alone in the goal square at the other.

It's reasonable to expect a much more levelled performance by West Perth this Sunday back on its home floor and with the Falcons' season at stake.

Dean Munns, Shane Nelson, Tyler Keitel and Steve Potente all returned to the West Perth line-up last Saturday meaning some tough calls had to be made.

That saw experienced performers like Laine Rasmussen, Aidan Lynch, Drew Rohde and Luke Tedesco missed out on selection.

While Rohde and Tedesco haven’t been considered again for this Sunday by the Falcons coaching staff, midfielder Lynch and vice-captain Rasmussen are into the squad and should be inclusions.

Jordan Mills and Tyson Moulton are the other two players added to West Perth's squad but at this stage there have been no outs named.

Peel's team in last year's qualifying final against West Perth had almost all its Fremantle-listed players taken out. But it's a different story this time around and in last Sunday's win over East Perth, the Thunder line-up featured 17 Dockers players.

Now the only forced change for this Sunday is with the injured Anthony Morabito going out with Clancee Pearce likely to replace him having overcome a hamstring complaint.

The only other intrigue over Peel's selection is around the big men. Last week it was Jonathon Griffin who was left out with Zac Clarke and Jack Hannath sharing the ruck duties while also playing as another target in attack along with the imposing Michael Apeness.

Peel might decide to go extremely tall this week by adding Griffin or perhaps the most likely options is that Griffin replaces Hannath in the line-up.

FIRST SEMI-FINAL
WEST PERTH v PEEL THUNDER – HBF ARENA, SUNDAY 2.15PM
Broadcast – 91.3 SportFM, KIX Digital

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