There did appear only one outcome for Claremont that was acceptable after their recent trajectory and by the end of preliminary final day, the Tigers would have been terribly disappointed in how their 2021 ended up.
After being the dominant WAFL team between 2010-13 in a period where the Tigers racked up two premierships, three Grand Final appearances and four straight minor premierships, it's been a steady build to being a powerhouse once more.
Claremont got back to finals and won an elimination final in 2018 before reaching the preliminary final in 2019 and then the Grand Final in 2020 so it did appear there was only place to go in 2021 and that was on the back of the club replacing Darren Harris as coach with the returning Ash Prescott.
The Tigers started the 2021 season on fire winning the opening four matches before a surprising 40-point loss to Subiaco. They bounced back well to win the next four games as well, but the second half of the campaign didn’t quite go the same way.
After holding an 8-1 record, Claremont finished the home and away season at 13-5 and in third position before resuming hostilities with South Fremantle and losing the qualifying final by a solitary point after the siren.
The Tigers bounced back to beat West Perth but again South Fremantle was their nemesis with Claremont not managing a goal for three quarters of the preliminary final on the way to an 11-point loss.
Falling short in the preliminary final will take some time to get over, but there was still a lot to like about this Claremont team of 2021.
The midfield was brilliant led by Jye Bolton and with the addition of Bailey Rogers alongside Jared Hardisty and Ben Edwards with Declan Mountford and Ryan Lim playing a variety of roles.
Lachlan Martinis gave great drive from defence and while they didn’t have a genuine key forward target, Alex Manuel ended up kicking 42 goals, Jack Buller 31, Isaac Barton 30 and Callan England 30.
COACH: Ashley Prescott (Fifth season (first since 2007), 79-31 record)
CAPTAINS: Declan Mountford, Jared Hardisty
FINISHING POSITION: Third, 13-5, 127.4% (Lost preliminary final)
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE: An early season win at home to their foes from last year's Grand Final, South Fremantle, saw Claremont send a message of their intentions in 2021. The Tigers proved too good for the Bulldogs in Round 2 winning by 16 points in a performance that set the tone for their impressive opening up to the season under returning coach Ash Prescott.
Midway through the season you would have been considered crazy if you called anyone but Jye Bolton as Claremont's best player again in 2021. He appeared on track for a third Sandover Medal having won a fourth Simpson Medal in the state game, and he might well have achieved that had it not been for the remarkable form of teammate Bailey Rogers. Having been a key player at Claremont running off half-back, he moved into the midfield to great effect in 2021 and then even finished the season as a key target in attack and showed his unmatched ability in one-on-one contests and in front of goals. He ended the season averaging 27 possessions a game, kicking 23 goals and winning the Sandover Medal on top of the Claremont fairest and best award. He is desperately unlucky to not find himself in the AFL system as a result.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Speaking of Jye Bolton, the 29-year-old continued on his brilliant form under new coach Ash Prescott in 2021. He was outstanding in a host of games this year including showing his love of the big moment by kicking match-winning bombs from outside 50. Another of his standout performances came in Round 8 for Claremont in the win against East Perth at Revo Fitness Stadium finishing up with another 34 possessions, nine inside-50 entries, seven marks, three tackles and a goal.
Jacob Van Rooyen – Round 1 v Swan Districts
Jake Patmore – Round 1 v Swan Districts
Jack Buller – Round 1 v Swan Districts
Kalin Lane – Round 3 v Perth
Max Minear – Round 5 v West Perth
Steve Miller – Round 7 v East Fremantle
Sam Alverez – Round 8 v East Perth
Cameron Anderson – Round 9 v West Coast Eagles
Ben Elliott – Round 14 v South Fremantle
Timm House – Round 17 v East Perth
Jacob Blight – Round 18 v Subiaco
Logan Guelfi – Round 18 v Subiaco
Alex Pearce – Round 19 v Perth
It's hard to go to anyone but Declan Hardisty for this category. The ever reliable Claremont defender has become the captain of the back-line at the Tigers with Anton Hamp out injured for a lot of 2021 and spending time forward, and following the departure of Haydn Busher. And whether he was asked to play on small, medium or tall forwards, he always did an impressive job either in lockdown roles, or as an intercept marker or in then setting up play going the other way. He remains someone the Claremont defence will be anchored around for 2022 and beyond.
Alex Manuel has been someone who always threatened to have the type of season as a dangerous forward with Claremont, but until 2021 it never quite all came together. There are reasons for that. Claremont has had some impressive other forward targets throughout Manuel's career previously while he's also had a tough run with injury that saw him miss all of 2019 and then be restricted to just six games in 2020. He took things up another level in 2021, though, ending up kicking 42 goals for the season including two crucial ones in the thrilling first semi-final win against West Perth.
A lot went right for Claremont in 2021 except when they came up against South Fremantle and Subiaco for the most part. The Tigers will rightfully feel they had a team that could have won a premiership, but it wasn't quite to be. Their midfield was their great strength not only with the presence of Jye Bolton and Bailey Rogers, but also Jared Hardisty, Declan Mountford, Ben Edwards and Oliver Eastland in the ruck. Declan Hardisty anchored a back-line where Tom Baldwin and Jason Carter stepped up, and Lachlan Martinis became likely the best attacking defender in the league. Alex Manuel led a forward-line that was lively with Isaac Barton, Jack Buller and Callan England. The Tigers started the season on fire winning eight of the first nine games, but could never quite recapture that momentum despite being the highest scoring team in the league. They were also the best performing third quarter team, outscoring their opponents by 185 points across the season.
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
The reality is if Jared Hardisty kicks truly after the siren against South Fremantle in the qualifying final or if Claremont didn’t go goalless for three quarters of the preliminary final that the 2021 season could have ended up much differently. But in fairness, the form they showed in the first half of the season where they won eight of the first nine games was never quite rediscovered in the second half which saw them end up finishing in third spot to miss out on a home qualifying or preliminary final, and ultimately have to head to their dreaded Fremantle Community Bank Oval. While the Tigers were the best scoring team in the WAFL, they did concede 70.4 points to be ranked fifth defensively. Claremont perhaps could have started and finished games a little better, ranked fifth for first quarters across the league and fourth in final terms. The pieces are all there for Claremont to naturally improve on a preliminary final finish in 2022, it's all mental now and about trying to avoid visiting the port against the Bulldogs come finals time.
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
Claremont should be feeling good about their prospects of what 2022 holds for them and coach Ash Prescott should be thinking he can finally breakthrough for that elusive premiership having gone so close every season he's been at the helm of the Tigers dating back to 2004. They have lost some experience in Kane Mitchell and Anton Hamp, but not seeing Sandover Medallist Bailey Rogers enter the AFL system is a massive boost. There is natural improvement with players looking to make the jump up from the colts, the depth was there in the reserves and they should be aiming for nothing but going all the way in 2022.