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Tuesday, September 26, 2023 - 9:10 AM

East Fremantle has broken a 25-year premiership drought, producing it’s finest performance of the 2023 season to defeat Peel Thunder by 39 points in the WAFL Grand Final on Sunday.  

The Sharks made a blistering start, kicking the game’s opening three goals inside seven minutes to set the tone for the afternoon, never surrendering the lead on their way to a 12.13 (85) to 6.10 (46) triumph at Optus Stadium.  

Milan Murdock was awarded the Simpson Medal for his outstanding game, playing the majority of the match as a forward in a new look forward line to record 27 disposals and a goal in a match that featured no passengers in blue and white.  

Beautiful conditions greeted the two sides for the biggest match of the 2023 season, the clubs having played out an epic second semi-final a fortnight earlier with the Sharks clinging on to win by five points to book their spot.  

The Thunder produced a powerful performance to defeat Subiaco in the preliminary final to set up a rematch at the home of WA footy, Geoff Valentine’s side featuring a strong Fremantle contingent with 11 AFL listed players in their line-up.  

Jonathon Marsh was the hard luck story of Grand Final week, ruled out of the contest with a quad injury sustained at training in the lead up to the match while fellow key forward Dillon O’Reilly was left out, having not featured at league level since round 18 due to a hamstring injury.  

Peel named the same 22 they had featured right through the finals series, in a Grand Final that promised to be a high quality contest.  

East Fremantle went with a small forward line, Milan Murdock starting at centre half forward with Alex Montauban and Brayden Lawler also looming as focal points.  

Harry Marsh produced a brilliant goal on the run from outside 50 inside the opening minute, the dual premiership Lion putting his side on the board.  

Tom Joyce produced a superb run-down chase on Corey Wagner to win a holding the ball free kick, duly converting his set shot from 50 metres out to give the blue and whites a dream start.  

Murdock then received a Luke English handpass to snap truly for the Sharks third goal in a blistering opening burst, Peel fumbling and reactionary to their opponents forward pressure.  

Peel did take their opportunities later in the term, Ben Middleton and Brody Wemm kicking goals to keep their side in the game, the Sharks becoming slightly wasteful with 3.5 for the term to lead by 11 points at the first break.  

The second term was more of an arm wrestle with the Thunder fighting hard for a way back in to the contest, Luke English producing a cracking set shot from right full forward before Travis Colyer produced a trademark snap for Peel at the other end.  

Josh Schoenfeld and Ben McGuire matched Colyer’s effort with great snaps of their own to keep the deficit at three goals, Colyer able to kick his second of the term to bring his side back towards parity.  

Peel attacked late in the term but missed some opportunities to push even closer, East Fremantle still with a 14 point lead at the major break.  

Hugh Dixon produced a strong mark and even better finish to start the second half as the Sharks made their move in the third term, maintaining a great intensity and showcasing far more run than their opponents.  

Tom Joyce was having a huge impact in the clinches, Marsh and Jarrad Jansen also important with their big bodies while the backline was giving little away, Matthew Jupp keeping Josh Corbett quiet while Cameron Eardley and Jack Cleaver were repelling many a Thunder forward thrust.  

Jack Sears found the target from long range for the Thunder but the Sharks were circling, McGuire cousins Ben and Reuben having a telling say on proceedings in the third quarter.  

An inadvertent mark from Ben McGuire saw the former Royal play on and spear a pass to Reuben who calmly slotted an important major from left full forward.  

Ben McGuire also found the target as the margin pushed out beyond four goals, Ben Hancock missing a late chance to respond for Peel as the margin remained 28 points at three quarter time.  

Sharks fans were beginning to dream of a drought breaking flag when Alex Montauban snapped the first major of the last term to push the margin out beyond five goals.  

While Riley Smith answered for the Thunder it was all academic, East Fremantle never relenting with a superb team performance as they sealed the win with goals to Tom Bennett and Josh Schoenfeld to record a 30th premiership.  

The last ten minutes were played out without a goal, both teams waiting for the final siren that sealed a memorable triumph for Bill Monaghan’s men, their 11th win in a row to seal their first flag since 1998.  

The true team nature of the performance was shown in the spread of goalkickers, ten individuals able to hit the scoreboard on the day and 20 of the 22 players recording double figure disposals. 

Murdock was best afield for his 27 disposals, seven inside 50’s and six tackles, with brilliant support from Joyce (31) and wingman Fraser Turner (37), Reuben McGuire having a big say in the ruck with 16 disposals and 13 hitouts.  

“I could not be prouder of a group of people who have helped turn this great club around. Well done to the players,” coach Bill Monaghan said post-match on the premiership dais.  

“To see the elation on faces of people around, the players were absolutely fantastic today, on the back of a sustained period of good form.  

“I’m really proud of what this playing group has achieved today.” 

After more than two and a half decades of pain, the most successful WAFL football club has returned to the throne as the kings of the competition. Without a home training base, playing away from it’s spiritual home for two seasons, winning eleven games in a row to claim the title.  

2023 is officially the year of the Shark, with both men’s and women’s senior teams winning premierships. And the memories will last a lifetime.