It was quite the rollercoaster ride for East Fremantle in 2021 but by the end of the season having re-signed their coach, there's perhaps more hope heading into 2022 about their on-field prospects than in a long time.
The big question mark for East Fremantle moving forward will be how they cope without having a home ground while East Fremantle Oval is undergoing a spectacular and overdue redevelopment, but there's plenty to like about how they look on the field based on how they ended 2021.
The Sharks have pulled off a bit of a coup in the meantime by signing to play at the WACA Ground so that might be less of a problem than first thought.
East Fremantle started the season well enough with three wins in their first five games but as they began to lose some key personnel, the losses racked up and by halfway through the season a return to finals for the first time since 2014 was out of reach.
The Sharks persevered, though, and while ending their derby drought wasn’t in the clouds, they did finish the season impressively including a first win over West Perth under coach Bill Monaghan who re-signed late in the campaign too.
The Sharks won their last three games against Subiaco, West Perth and Peel Thunder to end the season with momentum and high hopes of what might be possible heading into 2022.
East Fremantle got nine games or fewer out of Milan Murdock, Josh Schoenfeld, Morgan Davies, Hugh Dixon and Cody Leggett so if that can change, suddenly it's a strong looking Sharks line-up.
Luke Strnadica looks capable of being a strong ruckman who can rest forward while the back-line anchored by Team of the Year member Matthew Jupp, Jamie Meade and company is solid.
If Dixon remains, Dillon O'Reilly stays healthy and Jonathon Marsh can build on his 30-goal season, then the Sharks appear to have plenty of weapons in attack.
Everything is pointing towards a Sharks team who finished 2021 with enough momentum to be feeling good about what 2022 should hold even minus a home ground.
COACH: Bill Monaghan (Third season, 14-30 record)
CAPTAIN: Matthew Jupp
FINISHING POSITION: Sixth, 8-10, 96.9%
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE: When you look at how the season finished with Subiaco reigning supreme as premiers once again, then you can't go past East Fremantle's win against the Lions in Round 19 at Leederville Oval. The Sharks went on to win the game emphatically by 44 points as their momentum built to close the season. Hugh Dixon and Jonathon Marsh kicked three goals each, and Kyle Baskerville and Marsh had 27 possessions each, Michael Tassone 25, Tom Bennett 22 and Luke Strnadica 50 hit outs.
East Fremantle have been on the look hunt for a reliable, goalkicking forward target for most of this century and on his return to the Sharks from second AFL stint in 2021, Jonathon Marsh could very well be the answer. The only thing stopping it potentially from happening is that he is so good and so versatile, and talented that he is required in other areas of the ground at times by coach Bill Monaghan. Whether during his two AFL stints at Collingwood and St Kilda where he spent two seasons each for a total of 26 games, or in between with his first stint back at East Fremantle in 2017 and 2018, or now in 2021, he has shown what he's capable of. When he's up and going, he is a pure powerhouse who is mobile enough to be impressive at ground level, tall enough to be a strong mark overhead and then his kicking skills are elite. He ended up having a tremendous 2021 season proving himself one of the best players in the league kicking 30 goals and averaging 18.1 disposals and 5.5 marks in his 15 games.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Josh Schoenfeld marked his return home to the WAFL in style in Round 1 and made his debut in one of the most impressive first league appearances ever 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. He ended up choosing East Fremantle to be his new home in 2021 and then he delivered a stunning best on ground best performance. Was just unstoppable finishing with 41 possessions, nine marks, four tackles and three inside-50 entries. The only problem was he only played four more games for the season due to injury.
Luke English – Round 1 v Peel Thunder
Reuben McGuire – Round 1 v Peel Thunder
Josh Schoenfeld – Round 1 v Peel Thunder
Jakob Ah Chee – Round 6 v West Coast Eagles
Finn Gorringe – Round 7 v Claremont
Cody Smith – Round 11 v Perth
Corey Warner – Round 14 v Peel Thunder
East Fremantle captain Matthew Jupp completed what was likely the best season of his 142-game career even if the Sharks did fall short of reaching finals for a seventh straight season. They did finish on a high, though, with three straight wins and he did well holding Bernie Naylor Medallist Tyler Keitel to two goals in Saturday's win with nine disposals, four marks and three tackles himself. It capped off a fine season where he was the stalwart of an at times under siege defensive united and finished off with a spot in the WAFL Team of the Year and as runner-up in fairest and best voting.
Kyle Baskerville had consolidated a spot in the East Fremantle team as an attacking defender, but it was when he was moved into the midfield in 2021 that he took his game to another level. The added bonus that his role off half-back was filled impressively by Cam Eardley, and then Baskerville became the centre point of what the Sharks did on the ball. He did such a good job of it that he ended up winning the Lynn Medal as East Fremantle fairest and best on the back of averaging 21.7 possessions while playing all 18 matches.
The way the Sharks finished season saw them play some of their best patch of football since they last played finals with a preliminary final appearance way back in 2014. Finals were out of reach and with a growing injury list and uncertainty over the future of their coach, the Sharks could have turned up their toes after a 10-goal loss to South Fremantle in Round 18. Instead, they beat Subiaco, East Perth and West Perth to end the season with great momentum. Third quarters were their best across the season too where they outscored their opponents by 44 points.
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
An improvement in all areas is what East Fremantle do need to make to play finals in 2022, but the signs were there of it being possible late in 2021. Firstly, they just need to get their full squad available because the players who missed significant time in 2021 can all be difference makers. The Sharks do need to find a goal or two more in 2022 after being ranked sixth in attack while their back-line could do with some help with them ranked sixth also for points conceded. They did especially struggle in second quarters, being outscored by 65 points across the season. Bringing in some more talent and getting talent fit again, and keeping those out there healthy should be enough to have them in finals contention.
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
Overall, all the pieces are in place to build around. With Luke Strnadica in the ruck, Jonathon Marsh and Hugo Dixon up forward, and Matthew Jupp anchoring defence, that's a good starting point. Bring in a couple recruits, get others back from injury and the outlook is bright for 2022. It's Bill Monaghan's fourth season as coach and East Fremantle looks ready and able to take that leap up into being a finals team again while calling the WACA their temporary home.