Delivering when it matters most the focus for Bulldogs

Friday, April 6, 2018 - 11:37 AM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle has put together two strong WAFL seasons reaching two preliminary finals but coach Todd Curley knows for the Bulldogs to take the next step they need to start being able to deliver when it matters most against powerhouses like Peel Thunder and Subiaco.

Having not played finals between 2012 and 2015, South Fremantle became a top team again by 2016 in Curley's second season at the helm as coach.

They finished both the 2016 and 2017 seasons in second position at the end of the home and away campaigns. In 2016, they went on to thrash West Perth in the qualifying final before losing to Subiaco in the second semi-final and then Peel Thunder in the preliminary final.

Then last year, South Fremantle came up short in the qualifying final against Peel before a big first semi-final win against Swan Districts and coming up short against Subiaco in the preliminary final.

Despite winning 31 of 40 games the last two regular seasons, South Fremantle hasn’t been able to beat Subiaco or Peel Thunder come finals time and that's why both those clubs have contested the 2016 and 2017 WAFL Grand Finals.

Really the only change in personnel of significance for the Bulldogs is the loss of Tim Kelly to Geelong while Nick Suban arrives after his 156-game AFL career with the Fremantle Dockers.

The majority of the rest of the Bulldogs team of last year is back and Curley is looking for them to have learned from the last two years and in 2018 to be better able to deliver their best football when it matters most.

"You have to be able to play your best against the best teams. The last couple of years, we probably haven’t been at our best in the finals," Curley told 91.3 SportFM.

"We started pretty well in the prelim last year but weren’t able to go on with the game. The challenge is to continue to play our way and play finals footy against the best teams consistently. We've shown we can do it in patches but to win the big games you have to be able to do it for the whole games."

Losing Kelly to Geelong left a big hole for South Fremantle to replace considering how good he was in the midfield, at stoppages and by getting forward to set up goals and kick them himself.

But clearly he was ready to thrive in the AFL and he's showing that already at the Cats so the Bulldogs are more than happy to have helped him get to the next level.

Helping offset the loss of him is the arrival of Suban who played 156 games at the Dockers including the 2013 AFL Grand Final against Hawthorn.

He's also played 33 WAFL games which has included premierships at Claremont in 2012, and with Peel Thunder each of the past two seasons.

Curley is delighted to welcome him to the Bulldogs in 2018.

"Nick's the big one that everyone would know I guess. He's a fantastic get. I had a pretty good relationship with him when he first came to Fremantle and I was there," he said.

"His leadership and ability to get things done on the field is his real strength, but he's 27 and has played over 150 AFL games. He has AFL Grand Final experience and a lot of experience to offer our group."

Because of the stability in the playing group, there was no need for big changes at the Bulldogs but Curley does expect natural improvement from young players like Jake Florenca, Jacob Dragovich, Chad Pearson, Kyle Russell and Brandon Donaldson.

"We have some kids that will come through and we have a younger band of guys like Florenca, Dragovich, Pearson, Russell and Donaldson among others who have had a bit of a taste of it the last few years," Curley said.

"We think they can step up and put real pressure on the guys who have played regularly in the past."

One significant change at South Fremantle entering 2018 is that the club's longest-ever serving captain Ryan Cook has stood down from the post.

He has been captain of the Bulldogs in 115 of his 138 games since arriving from Collingwood in 2011, but he decided the time was right to hand the baton over just focus on is football.

As a result, Dylan Main has been appointed captain for 2018 on the back of a 2017 that saw him finish third in fairest and best voting behind Haiden Schloithe and Kelly. Mason Shaw will be his vice-captain.

"Cooky is our longest-standing captain ever but he felt it was a really good time for him to, while he still has footy left in him and is still around the place, transition the leadership," he said.

"We are really lucky with Cooky, Hams, Blayne Wilson, Shane Hockey and Suban now along with Schloithey so we have a lot of experience around the place. 

"As a leadership group, they decided that the best thing for the footy club was to go with some young leaders while they still had experience around them. 

"With Main as captain and Shaw as vice-captain, we think we're in really good shape and we'd be comfortable with either of those guys leading the team. They are pretty close mates and will do it together, and it's exciting for the club."

One bonus for South Fremantle that many weren’t expecting was that reigning Sandover Medallist Haiden Schloithe is still at the Bulldogs in 2018, and not in the AFL.

But Curley hasn’t noticed any sign of disappointment from the man who clearly was the best player in the WAFL in 2017.

"He has been pretty good even though he was really disappointed obviously. He was pretty realistic at the same time. Internally there was a lot of noise about how he was almost certain to get a chance, but he probably knew he needed a bit of luck," Curley said.

"Unfortunately it didn’t go his way but he is more than happy to put his head down and train hard again with us.

"He's desperate to have success with South Fremantle and if something else comes from that he will be over the moon. But he's a realist and has trained really well, and hardly missed a beat. We expect him to maintain his level from last year and push to improve in certain areas."