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Falcons light up season-opener

Friday, March 29, 2024 - 8:46 PM
Falcons light up season-opener
John Townsend
The Jason Salecic era has arrived with a bang.
West Perth premiership captain in 2013 and a coach in waiting for much of the past decade, Salecic made an unforgettable start to his tenure on a memorable day for the club.
Thirty seasons since West Perth ventured north to a new frontier at Joondalup, and playing under the $2million lights that drew 4318 people to a vibrant and atmospheric Pentanet Stadium on Easter Thursday, West Perth survived a nail-biting encounter with Claremont to win their season-opener by just two points.
Will-o’-the-wisp Keegan Knott snapped a time-on goal in typical opportunistic fashion to put the Falcons into the lead after a seesawing match but they had to hang on for five heart-stopping minutes before the final siren went.
Claremont spearhead Alec Waterman had the chance to break thousands of West Perth hearts with a long shot in the dying moments but his kick faded left and West Perth held on to win 11.9 (75) to 11.7 (73).
“Our resilience was just outstanding,” Salecic said after being swamped by players, former team-mates and supporters.
“To be down in the last quarter and then be able to come back like we did was great.”
And like a veteran senior coach, rather than one with just a solo match under his belt, Salecic was quick to hand off credit for the tactical move that changed the game after Claremont ran up a 22-point lead in the last term and appeared set to run away with the victory.
Tiger ruckman Ollie Eastland was the dominant player in the match but his influence was quelled when WA defender Noah Pegoraro was switched onto the ball and created several critical scoring opportunities.
“The credit has to go to the ruck coach Ronnie Skender for that move,” Salecic said.
“Peg’s versatility means he can play anywhere but moving him into the ruck was pretty important on. “When he’s around the footy, he can do some special things.”
West Perth started strongly with Tyler Keitel unveiling a tighter and more compact kicking style that brought him the first goal of the season while pacy second-gamer Jack Demarte used his precise left boot to make things awkward for the Claremont defence.
Keitel continued to provide a threatening target in attack while Luke Meadows, who won the Simpson Medal when the two teams met in the 2022 grand final, started to impose himself on the contest.
Meadows gathered 28 possessions, many of them long incisive kicks inside the forward 50, that built on the tough inside work of stalwarts Aaron Black and Shane Nelson, and the returning Connor West.
West Perth stretched the lead to 26 points late in the first half before Claremont’s Alex Manuel scored the last two goals of the term to set up a riveting second half.
Salecic was mostly pleased with the performance but identified several things that he predicted would improve over the season.
“We tried to bite off more than we can chew at times but I think the boys understood that it was probably just in the pressure situations,” he said.
“As the year progresses, we’ll get more and more accustomed to that.”
And he was particularly pleased that his players kept their cool in the second half, even though Claremont scored eight unanswered goals and appeared poised to overrun the home team.
“I felt that even though we were getting beaten, they weren’t scoring a lot and we still had opportunities to score ourselves,” he said. “We just didn’t manage to score and didn’t execute well enough at that point in the game.
“But late in the game, we were able to execute the things that needed to.”
Three quick goals from Keitel, teenaged debutant Jasper Scaife and Knott sliced the deficit and generated considerable energy in the crowd but it appeared that Claremont would hold on until DeMarte and Knott struck in succession to snare the lead.
 The gruelling fourth term extended for nearly 35 minutes, with the crowd becoming increasing raucous as the clock ticked down, but West Perth’s desperate defence meant Waterman’s behind was the only score in the final five frenetic minutes.
It was enough to give Salecic a memorable start to his coaching career and launch a new chapter in West Perth’s rich history.
WEST PERTH 3.2 6.4 6.6 11.9 75
CLAREMONT 2.2 4.2 7.4 11.7 73
GOALS - WEST PERTH: Keitel 3; DeMarte, Knott 2; Scaife, Rundle, Hobley, West.
CLAREMONT: Manuel, Rogers 3; Mainwaring 2; Eastland, Elliott, Love.
BEST - WEST PERTH: Meadows, Pegoraro, Keitel, West, Sh Nelson, DeMarte.
CLAREMONT: Eastland, Bolton, England, Rogers, Manuel, Alvarez.