SUBIACO flexed its muscles again in 2021 to win the premiership after a down year in 2020 and the Lions deserve all the credit in the world for what they were able to accomplish.
It has been a remarkable and sustained run of success Subiaco is now experiencing with the 2021 marking a fifth flag for the Lions in the previous eight years, their ninth since 2003 and 16th overall.
After unexpectedly missing the finals last season, Subiaco made a quick return to the top of the WAFL in 2021 to end up as minor premiers, and go on to win a third premiership in the past four years.
Subiaco was one of the teams hardest hit during the COVID-19 impacted and shortened 2020 WAFL season which saw their run of dominance come to an end.
But prior to that, Subiaco had finished as minor premiers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 which led to them winning premierships in 2015, 2018 and 2019 along with 2014 from second spot while losing Grand Finals to Fremantle-powered Peel Thunder teams in 2016 and 2017.
It was a remarkable run of dominance and normal hostilities resumed in 2021 with Subiaco again claiming the minor premiership to mean they have done so in six of the last seven years before going on to win the premiership on the back of second semi-final and Grand Final wins over South Fremantle.
One of the big questions about 2021 was whether Subiaco could rebound from their disappointing 2020 season and the Lions didn’t take long to signal their attentions by winning their first three games against East Perth, East Fremantle and West Perth.
The Lions had a hiccup with a loss to South Fremantle in Round 4 but they did lose a couple of key players during that game and they responded the next week with perhaps their best win of the season to beat Claremont by 40 points in what was a battle of unbeaten teams at the time.
Subiaco then also beat Swan Districts heading into the State Game break before coming back with wins against Peel Thunder and Perth.
The Lions then lost consecutive matches for the only time this season at the hands of West Coast and Swan Districts by a combined six points, but rebounded well to win the next five matches.
Subiaco had a late season slip up against East Fremantle but then finished off beating East Perth and Peel to close with a 14-4 record to take top spot and then earn two weeks off during the finals in between the wins over South Fremantle.
COACH: Beau Wardman (Third season, 39-9 record)
CAPTAIN: Leigh Kitchin
FINISHING POSITION: First, 14-4, 128.4% (Won Grand Final)
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE: After thumping Claremont earlier in the season, Subiaco took on the Tigers again in Round 18 in what turned out being one of the best games of the home and away season. Subiaco recovered from a 35-point deficit to have a stirring win on the road against a fellow contender. Greg Clark was massive with 30 disposals and 13 tackles while Ben Sokol kicked six goals, including the match-winner. It was the sort of victory that would give the Lions the belief that they can win from anywhere.
Greg Clark turned himself from a handy versatile player to one of the most damaging and complete players in the competition in 2021. That was shown with his third placing in the Sandover Medal and then he backed up as the clear best on ground in the Grand Final to win the Simpson Medal. He injured a shoulder in the second quarter as well and came out strapped to start the second half, but blew the game open with two goals in the first five minutes as part of an overall game made up of 26 disposals, 14 tackles, six marks and those two goals. Is now a triple premiership player from 93 WAFL games with the Lions as he begins life in the AFL system at the West Coast Eagles.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Brandon Matera's form built solidly throughout his first season at Subiaco in 2021, but it all came together for a remarkable opening quarter in Round 17 against West Perth. In the first term alone, he gathered nine possessions and took six marks while kicking three goals from five shots. He ended the afternoon with five goals, 15 possessions and eight marks with Subiaco winning to move a game and percentage clear on top of the WAFL ladder. Only once in his AFL career did he better that performance with six goals for Gold Coast against Hawthorn in a shock win in Round 3, 2017. He kicked five once as well for the Dockers against the Western Bulldogs in Round 6, 2019.
Koby Fullgrabe – Round 1 v East Perth
Jordan Faraone – Round 1 East Perth
Lewis Putt – Round 1 v East Perth
Chad Harris – Round 1 v East Perth
Matthew Johnson – Round 5 v South Fremantle
Oskar Matthews – Round 14 v Perth
Josh Robbins – Round 14 v Perth
Ben Golding – Round 19 v East Fremantle
Captain Leigh Kitchin could very well have had his best season since joining Subiaco back in 2014 throughout 2021 as he now becomes a premiership captain for the second time having taken over the job from Kyal Horsley. He had a slow start to the Grand Final but warmed to the task nicely in the second half to end the game with 15 possessions and five tackles to have played his role in the fourth flag of his career since moving west.
Liam Hickmott. The older son of former Geelong and Carlton half-forward, and long-time AFL assistant coach Adrian cemented himself as an important player in the Subiaco team of 2021 by doing some important run-with roles. Again in the Grand Final he went to Sandover Medallist Haiden Schloithe when he was on the ball for South Fremantle, and he did well to limit his influence to go with six disposals and seven tackles.
Subiaco's premiership triumph was all on the back of the Lions being the most professional club in the WAFL, having the most dedicated and committed playing group, and you would have to say being the best coached and best drilled squad. There was nothing about how Subiaco built this squad or went about a premiership season that was gifted to them, made easier for them or in any way saw them bend any rules or loopholes. It wasn’t as though Subiaco was so far and away superior to the rest of the WAFL clubs in 2021. But the Lions were so strong defensively they were mighty tough to score against and then efficient enough to kick winning scores, they were just more disciplined and better drilled.
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Maintaining their talent level is going to be the toughest job for Subiaco moving forward. Greg Clark leaves a big hole in their midfield and with his versatility while a ruckman wouldn’t go astray to lessen the burden on the shoulders of Lachlan Delahunty. Really, it's more about trying to maintain what they were able to do in 2021 more than anything. If they can remain around that level, they are going to be tough to stop again and that should be the focus rather any one specific area of needed improvement.
OUTLOOK FOR 2022
The outlook is understandably bright for Subiaco moving forward into 2022. There's the natural obstacle of losing Simpson Medallist Greg Clark to West Coast, but the Lions have already done well on the recruiting front with the additions of Jordan Snadden and Stefan Giro. With the quality of Leigh Kitchin, Harry Marsh, Ben Sokol, Jordan Lockyer, Hayden Kennedy, Angus Dewar, Max Walters, Lachlan Delahunty, Aaron Heal, Brandon Matera and Drew Rohde, and emerging group Kyle Stainsby, Liam Hickmott, Wil Hickmott, Ben Golding, Jack Mayo, Jakob Atkinson, Michael Braut, Chad Harris, Nick Martin and Bailey Matera, there's no reason to expect a slide from Subiaco.