Sharks Zip to WAFLW flag

EAST Fremantle is the toast of the town after the Sharks successfully sought revenge on Claremont 12 months after the Tigers toppled them in the 2022 WAFLW Grand Final, to win the 2023 edition by 12 points. Despite it being a neck-and-neck contest all game, a fourth quarter goal to the Sharks sealed the deal, 4.2 (26) to 2.2 (14).

Sharks bottom-ager Zippy Fish starred in the win, earning the Lou Knitter Medal in a simply indisputable best on ground performance where she blazed away with 26 disposals, three marks, seven tackles and four inside 50s.

Memories of last year would have been strong in the minds of both teams, with Claremont now in an identical situation to East Fremantle 12 months earlier, having gone through the season undefeated. The Sharks, now underdogs in the decider, had fallen to the Tigers by a goal in Round 1, and split the points back in Round 9, the only team to take any points off Claremont this season.

It was clear from the outset that Laura Catherine was going to have a day out in the ruck, taking on an undersized pairing of Kobi Nichols and Bec Anderson. After an outstanding performance in a loss last year, Catherine would rack up 60 hitouts compared to the pair’s combined 15, and five her midfielders first hands to the ball.

Perhaps only Fish really took advantage of it in a funny old day where a lot of the high production player Sharks were down on their numbers. Just four players had more than 10 disposals, with Sharon Wong (nine), Ashleigh Gomes (eight) and Beth Beckett (eight), albeit the latter dealing with a blood nose midway through the game. The result showed the true depth of East Fremantle to stand up when it counted.

Instead it was the unflappable and incredible Fish who lived up to her name once again and zipped when everyone else zagged to break down the opposition defence and give her teammates best chance at scoring. That was evident from the opening bounce when Catherine won it down for Fish to burst out of the middle and got it to Anjelique Raison who handballed to Chloe Reilly for a shot on goal in the opening 20 seconds.

Though Reilly missed that one, she would not be denied another as Fish pinpoint Reilly just a minute later at the top of the goalsquare. Claremont was a bit shellshocked from that fast start with Dhara Kerr Medallist Jayme Harken winning the very next clearance, but it would be the fifth minute of the match when the Tigers would get on the board.

That came via a soccer goal off the boot of Rachel Ortlepp who read it off the hands of Adele Arnup after Hayley O’Donnell failed to rush a behind on the goalline. Though Claremont had clawed to within a point at the first break and both Rachel and her sister Claire Ortlepp were busy, the signs were on the wall for a good day for East Fremantle.

Another elite pass from Fish hit Georgie Cleaver lace out, and while the set shot went a bit astray, and the next tight angle set shot from Larissa Versaci also travelled out on the full, the Sharks were up and about.

Early in the second term, Claremont attacked hard for leading goalkicker Arnup to have a set shot, but her kick was uncharacteristically poor from close range and resulted in one behind. A few minutes later, Cleaver made amends for her miss, running onto a handball after a couple of possessions to snap a goal on her trusty left and put her side out to a six-point lead.

Reilly would join her with a second major late in the term to make it a 12-point lead at the main break. The Sharks had the majority of the forward half possession, but the Claremont defence was up to the task. When up the other end, the unheralded efforts of Samara Pluschke and Katelyn Catalano were holding the Tigers at bay.

The third term breathed a bit of life into the reigning premiers, with Claremont going hard at trying to convert majors in the first 10 minutes. That came in the fifth minute when Anderson marked out in front and slotted the set shot goal from 30m. They should have had a second major in the term, when Eva Campo marked 20m out, but like Arnup earlier, the classy finisher missed a golden opportunity.

The same could be said up the other end however as Fish burst out of a half-forward stoppage, kicked it. to herself to run onto and ran to 40m going for goal but pushed it far right when Leitch was streaming into an open goal all alone. The talented teenager would do very little wrong on the day though, and she made amends two minutes into the fourth quarter.

In a brilliant set play, Raison would fire out a handball to Fish who would hit up Leitch with a snap off her left. East Fremantle hearts no doubt went into mouths when Leitch opted to play on in the goalsquare with her opponent there, but perhaps caught her off guard to slam home the major.

That goal would prove the match-winner as Claremont would desperately attack for the last 10 minutes of the match, but the Sharks were up for the task. The work of Kate Orme, Harken and the Ortlepp sisters all tried to get the ball inside 50 to scoring opportunities, but P’Donnell outpointed her opponent in the goalsquare, and the composure of Fish stood the test of time.

When the final siren sounded, the Sharks fans were delirious. Twelve months after they had suffered a loss at the hands of their opponents, the hunted had become the hunters, and East Fremantle were 2023 WAFL Women’s premiers.

Along with Fish, Cleaver was also a star, picking up 12 disposals and 14 hitouts to share the dominant ruck role with Catherine. Ashlee Atkins and Versaci were also calm and composed in big moments with plenty of one percenters.

For the Tigers, Taylah Angel tried hard all game alongside Orme and the Ortlepps, with Nichols (16 disposals, 10 hitouts) battling on in the ruck, and Andie Payne trying to lift her team with an 11-disposal third term.

In the end though, it was fitting that a young star named Fish was the best Shark of them all, and she etched her name into the history books, as her team lifted the cup aloft.

CLAREMONT 1.0 | 1.1 | 2.2 | 2.2 (14)
EAST FREMANTLE 1.1 | 3.1 | 3.2 | 4.2 (26)

Claremont: R. Ortlepp, B. Anderson
East Fremantle: C. Reilly 2, G. Cleaver, M. Leitch

Claremont: K. Orme, T. Angel, C. Ortlepp, J. Harken, R. Ortlepp
East Fremantle: Z. Fish, L. Catherine, G. Cleaver, A. Atkins, L. Versaci

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