Finals looked to be starting to slip from reach of West Perth early in 2021 but by the end of the season, the Falcons would have been left frustrated to have not at least ended up reaching another preliminary final.
West Perth has done a remarkable job to remain perennial contenders since winning their last premiership in 2013, but that task was a significant one when the Falcons opened up 2021 losing three of their first four matches.
They got things back on track with a come from behind win against Swan Districts in a game that ultimately could have made or broke their season. A loss there in Round 6 and it might have been too much to come back from being 1-4.
But West Perth got that win and built momentum impressively from there to win 11 of the last 14 games to only narrowly miss out on earning a finals double chance.
That saw them host Swan Districts in an elimination final where they had to come from 14 points down at half-time to win the game on the back of the last goal of the contest from Mitch Antonio.
West Perth then threw down the gauntlet to Claremont in the first semi-final to be well on top midway through the third term, but they couldn’t keep it going and eventually lost to the Tigers to see another impressive season come up just short of the ultimate goal.
West Perth's midfield was again anchored by veteran superstars Aaron Black and Shane Nelson who were named to the WAFL Team of the Year alongside defenders Zac Guadagnin and Noah Pegoraro, and Bernie Naylor Medallist Tyler Keitel.
The Falcons had stars in each area of the ground but good depth with emerging players in the middle, down back and up forward as well so there's no reason to suggest they won't once again be around the mark again in 2022.
COACH: Geoff Valentine (Third season, 26-20 record)
CAPTAIN: Aaron Black
FINISHING POSITION: Fourth, 12-6, 120.1% (Lost first semi-final)
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE: West Perth snapped a rough run of outs in recent times against South Fremantle in Round 20 to heat up the race for the WAFL minor premiership with two rounds remaining after a come from behind six-point win at Provident Financial Oval. The Bulldogs had won 14 of their last 15 games against the Falcons, and they opened up a 26-point gap during the third quarter. However, in a scintillating final quarter, West Perth opened up with the opening three goals to go from being 12 points down to six points up before booting the last two goals of the game through Rudy Riddoch and then Tyler Keitel to win.
It's mighty tough to split the standout seasons had by Aaron Black, Shane Nelson, Tyler Keitel, Zac Guadagnin and Noan Pegoraro, but you really can't go past inspirational captain Black. He ended up winning the Breckler Medal for a third time to go with a career that has now spanned 222 games where he has become a premiership player, life member, Sandover Medallist and six-time state representative. His 2021 was right up there as one of the best of his remarkable career with his ability to perform consistently as a prime on-baller something to marvel at. He would end up averaging a remarkable 30.6 disposals a game including a best of 43 in Round 2 against West Coast and never did he have fewer than 21 touches in a game.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Just a week after he took it on the chin that he missed the chance to play for the WAFL State Team, West Perth small forward Keegan Knott delivered the performance of his career to lead the Falcons to an impressive win in Mandurah over Peel Thunder. Knott had kicked 12 goals in the opening five games for West Perth of the 2021 season but was one of the last people told he wasn't in the final squad with that conversation all the more awkward given the fact the state coach was also his West Perth coach Geoff Valentine. He shook that off impressively to lead West Perth to an important victory ending the game by kicking six goals from his 12 kicks, two tackles and two inside-50 entries which saw him in front in the Bernie Naylor Medal race with 18 goals from six games.
Kellen Johnson – Round 6 v Swan Districts
Michael Mallard – Round 22 v Perth
Jack Burke – Round 5 v Claremont
Koopah Todd – Round 19 v West Coast Eagles
Nathan Murray – Round 9 v East Perth
It does seem remarkable to call someone as well celebrated as Shane Nelson as the unsung hero for West Perth in 2021, but his form really was as outstandingly consistent as ever in the midfield for the Falcons, but it just seems to be expected now and to fly under the radar. The four-time fairest and best winner and premiership player is now a veteran of 188 games for West Perth, and there were no signs of him slowing down whatsoever in 2021. He was again named to the WAFL Team of the Year for a seventh consecutive season on the back of averaging 31.3 possessions a game.
It's hard to go past Noah Pegoraro as he cemented his place at centre half-back for West Perth in 2021. Not only did he become a key member of the Falcons' back-line, but also one of the truly standout key defenders across the WAFL. That was highlighted by him going on to play for the WAFL State Team against South Australia while becoming a regular in the WAFL Team of the Week, and making the final squad for the Team of the Year. His combination of being able to take intercept marks and do well defensively on opposition forwards, while also being capable enough with ball in hands to set up play out of the defensive 50 all made him a critical part of West Perth's success in 2021.
Once they shook off a slow start to the season, there was a lot to like about what West Perth delivered in 2021. The Falcons had played so well following the first five rounds that they would consider it an underachievement to have fallen short of Claremont in the first semi-final. The strengths of West Perth was obvious with Aaron Black and Shane Nelson starring in the middle, Keegan Knott, Tyler Keitel and Rudy Riddoch standouts in attack, and then Zac Guadagnin and Noah Pegoraro anchoring the defence. However, in fairness Ben Delaporte deserves a lot of credit for what he did carrying the ruck while Dean Munns, Conal Lynch, Mitch Peirce, Tyson Moulton, Mark Hamilton and Blake Wilhelm all played important roles. West Perth did well scoring this season, ranked third in attack and fourth in defence. All the makings were there for a team that perhaps had an ability go deeper in the finals having lost having won nine of the last 11 games including victories against fellow finalists Swan Districts, South Fremantle and Claremont.
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Quite frankly there's not a lot of areas where West Perth needed to improve in 2021 once they got up and going. Their slow start of losing three of their first four matches ultimately cost them a finals double chance that proved fatal, but they should have faith that they had most areas covered once they did start playing to their potential. Keeping the group together is important and the signs are good on that front so far, adjusting to a new coach might change some things but when that man is Darren Harris it's hard to imagine it being much of an issue. West Perth performed well over the opening three quarters throughout the season too, but did struggle in last quarters where they were ranked just eighth and outscored by 32 points by their opponents across the season.
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
The outlook is all positive for West Perth heading into 2022 although a new club logo has raised some eyebrows. The Falcons were rocked with the departure to Peel Thunder of coach Geoff Valentine, but bringing back a club legend in premiership captain and coach Darren Harris means that is less of a cruel blow. Key players Aaron Black, Shane Nelson, Tyler Keitel, Keegan Knott, Blake Wilhelm, Noah Pegoraro, Mark Hamilton, Zac Guadagnin, Rudy Riddoch and company are all virtually in their prime, there's some good young talent and they've already added Luke Meadows and Mark Hutchings to the group. There's no reason their outlook shouldn’t be aiming to be a premiership contender in 2022.