WHAT an opening round it was of the 2021 Optus WAFL Premiership Season and let's be honest, we could have picked two full teams from the Easter action and there still would have been players unlucky to miss out.
We are off into another WAFL season and that marks the return of the WAFL Team of the Round for another year, and there legitimately was more than 40 players across the five Round 1 matches that had a strong case to make to be included.
But the final team had to be whittled down to a final 22 and that's sure to create some discussion now this week heading into Round 2 of the 2021 season.
The season got underway with two matches on Good Friday with East Fremantle defeating Peel Thunder 15.16 (106) to 11.8 (74) at Mandurah's David Grays Arena while Subiaco downed East Perth 15.14 (104) to 11.10 (76) at Leederville Oval.
The other three Round 1 matches took place on Saturday with Perth defeating the West Coast Eagles 16.12 (108) to 15.5 (95) at Lathlain's Mineral Resources Park while South Fremantle beat West Perth 16.10 (106) to 13.7 (85) at Fremantle Community Bank Oval, and finally Claremont overcame Swan Districts 20.13 (133) to 18.1 (109) at Bassendean's Steel Blue Oval.
PLAYER OF THE ROUND – JOSH SCHOENFELD (East Fremantle)
He marked his return home to the WAFL in style on Saturday and made his debut in one of the most impressive first league appearances in history as he helped East Fremantle to the win over Peel Thunder on Good Friday.
It was a homecoming for Schoenfeld too who was initially drafted from Peel Thunder to the Gold Coast Suns where he would go on to play 15 AFL matches over the course of four years before an injury ended his 2019 prematurely, and he was delisted at the end of 2020.
He had earned his reputation as being a running machine during his time at the Suns so it only made sense for him to return home and make best use of his huge tank out on the wide expanses of the WAFL grounds.
He ended up choosing East Fremantle to be his new home in 2021 and then he delivered a stunning best on ground performance on debut for the Sharks on Good Friday.
It was only fitting that he was playing back on his old home turf in Mandurah over Easter too, and the in-and-under midfielder was just unstoppable finishing with 41 possessions, nine marks, four tackles and three inside-50 entries.
The Sharks will now be looking forward to being able to build their midfield around him in 2021 and beyond.
WAFL TEAM OF THE ROUND
BACK: Blake Wilhelm (WP), Harry Edwards (WCE), Kye Willcocks (EP)
HALF-BACK: Lachlan Martinis (C), Blake Schlensog (SF), Blaine Boekhorst (EF)
CENTRE: Matthew Parker (SF), Leigh Kitchin (S), Chris Masten (P)
HALF-FORWARD: Haiden Schloithe (SF), Nathan Vardy (WCE), Cody Ninyette (SF)
FORWARD: Sam Sturt (PT), Mason Shaw (SF), Isiah Winder (WCE)
RUCK: Ajang Ajang (EP), Josh Schoenfeld (EF), Jye Bolton (C)
INTERCHANGE: Jesse Turner (SD), Michael Randall (PT), Nick Robertson (EP), Aaron Black (WP)
BACK POCKET – BLAKE WILHELM (West Perth)
Was named to the back pocket of the WAFL Team of the Year and has started off 2021 exactly where he left off for West Perth despite a loss on the road to South Fremantle on Saturday. It doubled as his 100th game for West Perth and he battled hard defensively against a lively Bulldogs forward-line while providing great run and drive out of defence for the Falcons with 30 possessions and 10 marks.
FULL-BACK – HARRY EDWARDS (West Coast Eagles)
The key defender had a big task up against former Eagle Fraser McInnes in Saturday's clash of the Lathlain co-tenants. McInnes then started the game well with an early mark and goal, but he shut him down impressively from there holding him to just three more kicks, one more mark and a goal the rest of the game while doing well for 16 disposals, nine marks and four tackles himself.
BACK POCKET – KYE WILLCOCKS (East Perth)
Had already cemented himself as a regular in the East Perth line-up coming into 2021 but he does look ready to take his game to another level based on his performance as a small defender against Subiaco on Good Friday. Won plenty of the ball and gave good drive for the Royals finishing the game with 29 possessions, six tackles and five marks.
HALF-BACK FLANK – LACHLAN MARTINIS (Claremont)
With Bailey Rogers having moved up into the Claremont midfield on a more regular basis, he has stepped into the role as the Tigers' set up player out of the back-line tremendously. He started off the new season in fine style on Saturday in the win over Swan Districts with 28 possessions, eight marks and four entries inside the forward 50 in that role.
CENTRE HALF-BACK – BLAKE SCHLENSOG (South Fremantle)
The South Fremantle back-line was missing premiership key defenders Blayne Wilson and Chris Luff and while Wilson will be back having only missed through the wedding of ex-Peel Thunder teammate Brennan Gillam, it allowed the 21-year-old to be given plenty of responsibility in his WAFL debut. The Geelong recruit was especially impressive in the air for the Bulldogs and finished with 12 possessions and five marks.
HALF-BACK FLANK – BLAINE BOEKHORST (East Fremantle)
Whether it was running off half-back or through the middle or on the wing, he was influential on the final result which was a Round 1 win for East Fremantle over Peel Thunder. Used his running power to great effect and was effective using the ball too from his 26 possessions and a goal throughout the afternoon for the Sharks.
WING – MATTHEW PARKER (South Fremantle)
He has returned a different looking beast after two years in the AFL with St Kilda to the one that was part of South Fremantle's preliminary final campaigns of 2017 and 2018. He was an exciting forward back then, but now he has built his tank and can take his talents further up the field which he did to aplomb in Saturday's win over West Perth. Spent the majority of the game on the wing drifting forward and finished with 26 possessions, 11 inside-50 entries and five tackles.
CENTRE – LEIGH KITCHIN (Subiaco)
The Subiaco captain will take on great responsibility in the midfield this season playing at the Lions for the first time without Kyal Horsley, but based on his performance against East Perth on Good Friday, he's more than up to the task. The skipper delivered a tremendous performance in the midfield made up of 29 possessions, 11 inside 50s, five tackles and a goal.
WING – CHRIS MASTEN (Perth)
He had a rough end to 2020 through injury but started last season on fire for Perth in his first year out of the AFL system following his tremendous premiership-winning career with the West Coast Eagles. He then came out on Saturday against the Eagles for the Demons and picked that back up with 29 possessions and seven inside-50 entries.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK – HAIDEN SCHLOITHE (South Fremantle)
Best on ground performance to start yet another season for the 160-game veteran who is now a premiership player to go with being a Sandover Medallist, dual fairest and best winner and multiple time state representative. Was best afield in the win for South Fremantle against West Perth spending most of the game in the midfield to rack up 30 possessions, seven tackles and six inside-50 entries while he got forward too to kick two important goals.
CENTRE HALF-FORWARD – NATHAN VARDY (West Coast Eagles)
It's going to be a challenging West Coast team for him to break into given the way Nic Naitanui is holding down the ruck and Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen are performing up forward, but he started the new season in fine form. Whether in the ruck for the Eagles or when resting forward, he was influential to end up kicking four goals to go with 15 possessions and 35 hit outs.
HALF-FORWARD FLANK – CODY NINYETTE (South Fremantle)
The former two-time Perth leading goalkicker did become a premiership player with South Fremantle in 2020 but he only played two games – the preliminary final and Grand Final. He's now had a full preparation for 2021 and showed just what an exciting addition he could be to the Bulldogs' forward-line at ground level kicking five goals to make the most of his chances from nine kicks.
FORWARD POCKET – SAM STURT (Peel Thunder)
He delivered an impressive performance in attack for Peel Thunder on Good Friday despite the loss to East Fremantle that should mean his name goes up in lights at the selection table for the Fremantle Dockers this week. He kicked five goals for the Thunder from six kicks, six handpasses, four marks and two entries inside the forward 50.
FULL-FORWARD – MASON SHAW (South Fremantle)
The reigning Bernie Naylor Medallist made an impressive start to the new season as the spearhead in attack for South Fremantle despite a good battle with West Perth defender Tom O'Donnell. He still managed to play an important part in the eventual win by kicking four goals from 12 disposals and eight marks.
FORWARD POCKET – ISIAH WINDER (West Coast Eagles)
Spots for small forwards at the West Coast Eagles in the AFL are far from easy to come by, but he showed plenty on Saturday against Perth that he's ready to get a call up and to grab his chance should the opportunity present. Delivered an exciting performance to kick five goals from 18 possessions and five marks.
RUCK – AJANG AJANG (East Perth)
Had a big job to do in the ruck for East Perth on Good Friday after Scott Jones went down injured early. But he did well up against Subiaco pair Lachlan Delahunty and Lewis Putt, and he showed encouraging signs with his work rate and athleticism throughout the afternoon. Finished the game with 19 disposals, 24 hit outs, five marks and a goal.
ROVER – JYE BOLTON (Claremont)
The dual Sandover and Simpson Medallist might have been continually unlucky to not receive another AFL chance since joining Claremont, but his accolades rack up continually and his form is showing no signs of diminishing. That elusive premiership remains his focus now and he was outstanding in the win over Swans with 39 disposals, six marks, five tackles, six inside-50 entries and a goal.
INTERCHANGE – JESSE TURNER (Swan Districts)
Is coming off the best season of his career where he was named to the WAFL Team of the Year, he has been elevated to vice-captaincy of Swan Districts this season and then delivered a terrific Round 1 performance at home to Claremont. He finished the afternoon with 34 touches, 11 marks, four inside 50s, three tackles and a goal.
INTERCHANGE – MICHAEL RANDALL (Peel Thunder)
He cemented himself as a regular member of the Thunder midfield during 2020 and then picked up right where he left off with a tremendous showing for Peel on Good Friday even if it was in a loss to East Fremantle. He did all he could to lift his team with 22 possessions, six inside 50s, four marks and two goals.
INTERCHANGE – AARON BLACK (West Perth)
The West Perth captain continues to show absolutely no signs that he's slowing down to start yet another WAFL season. He has racked up 203 games now in a remarkable career that already has him an all-time great at the Falcons. On the back of another appearance in the Team of the Year in 2020, he started 2021 in fine form for the Falcons against South Fremantle with 36 disposals, nine marks, five tackles and a goal.
INTERCHANGE – NICK ROBERTSON (East Perth)
The former Brisbane Lions hard nut looks fit and ready to fire for East Perth in 2021 in his second season back in the WAFL with the Royals. He fought valiantly to give East Perth a chance against Subiaco on Good Friday and finished up with 30 possessions, five inside-50 entries, four marks and a goal.
There were plenty of players who delivered tremendous performances across Round 1 but couldn’t quite fit into the Team of the Round, including:
Jarvis Pina and Tyrone Thorne from Peel Thunder along with East Fremantle's Dillon O'Reilly, Jonathon Marsh, Milan Murdock, Corey Chalmers, Luke English, Cody Leggett and Luke Strnadica.
Subiaco's Ben Sokol, Harry Marsh, Greg Clark, Lachlan Delahunty, Kyle Stainsby and Rowen Powell.
East Perth's Matthew Young, Mitch Dobson, Jackson Ramsay, Angus Scott, Aidan Lynch and Nathan Blee.
Perth's Doulton Langlands, Brady Grey, Josh Smith, Matthew Taylor, Brent Edmonds, Regan Clarke and Jacob Coniglio.
West Coast Eagles' Xavier O'Neill, Zane Trew, Luke Foley, Brayden Ainsworth, Hamish Brayshaw, Alex Witherden and Lennon Marlin.
South Fremantle's Brandon Donaldson, Jacob Dragovich, Chad Pearson and Brock Higgins.
West Perth's Keegan Knott, Tyler Keitel, Trent Manzone, Shane Nelson, Connor West and Zac Guadagnin.
Swan Districts' Thomas Edwards, Jesse Palmer, Sam Fisher, Frank Anderson, Josh Cipro and Corey Gault.
Claremont's Alex Manuel, Ben Edwards, Bailey Rogers, Ryan Lim, Declan Mountford and Jake Patmore.