SWFL grand final preview: Who takes home the flag?

Either Donnybrook or Bunbury will be crowned the 2018 SWFL premier this weekend. Photo: Ashley Bolt
Either Donnybrook or Bunbury will be crowned the 2018 SWFL premier this weekend. Photo: Ashley Bolt

After 95 of action over the past five months, the 2018 South West Football League will boil down to just one more game.

The competition’s two strongest teams will meet at Hands Oval this Sunday afternoon, with the winner walking away with the premiership flag.

After a poor start to the season which saw the team drop games to Harvey Brunswick Leschenault and Augusta Margaret River, Donnybrook’s ambitious recruiting paid off as the Dons got on a roll and won the next nine games straight.

The Dons hit the top of the ladder after round seven and held that spot for the remainder of the season, finishing the season one game clear of Bunbury with 14 wins.

The Bulldogs’ season was a little more up-and-down as they became the hunted after claiming the 2017 premiership.

Eleven rounds into the season, the Bulldogs were just clinging onto the top five with six wins, but some key inclusions saw the forward line click into gear.

Bunbury finished the season with seven straight wins to climb into second place by the end of the season.

Since that point, the Bulldogs have claimed wins over Eaton and Augusta Margaret River to qualify for the grand final.

Donnybrook goes into the grand final having played just one game in the last three weeks. Photo: Ashley Bolt

Donnybrook goes into the grand final having played just one game in the last three weeks. Photo: Ashley Bolt

History says Bunbury should be in the box seat to claim the flag when Sunday’s game rolls around.

This year will be the fourth season in a row where the teams that faced off in the semi final also meet in the grand final.

On the previous three occasions it was the team that lost the semi that went on to claim the flag, which will give the Bulldogs hope after they fell to the Dons by 26 points just two weeks ago.

It seems like one of the key battles with be form versus fitness. By finishing on top of the ladder and winning the semi final, the Dons have had plenty of time to rest up their injuries.

But it could come at a cost as they’ve played just one game since August 25, while the Bulldogs have played ten games straight since their last break.

In the recent past, that break has led to slow starts in the grand final which have proved costly.

You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the team that won the semi final also won the first quarter of the grand final, and in the last two grand finals, the semi final winner didn’t even kick a goal in the grand final’s first quarter.

 But if the Bulldogs are going to get up, it’s going to require their forwards to get back to their best.

After a run of eight straight wins where the Bulldogs kicked at least 10 goals, they’ve managed just 10 goals in the past two games.

With Donnybrook being by far the league’s strongest defense, the forward line of Brett Peake, Matt Martin, Dylan Heasman and Mark Longbottom will need to find space if the Bulldogs are going to kick a winning score, which they weren’t able to do last time they met.

Bunbury booked its spot in the grand final with a thrilling three-point win over Augusta Margaret River. Photo: Thomas Munday

Bunbury booked its spot in the grand final with a thrilling three-point win over Augusta Margaret River. Photo: Thomas Munday

Midfielders Jesse Gribble and Brad Blake will give their forwards every chance to have an impact, so it will be interesting to see whether Shane Cristaldi and the Dons defenders can repeat their efforts from a fortnight ago.

For Donnybrook, the key will be the effectiveness of Jace Cormack and Chris Atthowe through the midfield.

Last time, the Bulldogs sent Jake Prowse to run with Atthowe and while it was reasonably effective, Cormack was free to be arguably the most damaging player on the field.

If the match is anything like the semi final, then it will be a hard-fought battle with a lot of focus put on the defensive side of the game.

There hasn’t been a grand final decided by less than four goals since the drawn grand final between Collie and Busselton in 2012, but you would have to think that trend will come to an end this weekend.

Prediction: Donnybrook by ten points.

Catch up on the 2018 South West Football League season:

This story SWFL 2018: Who takes home the flag? first appeared on Collie Mail.