PEEL Thunder has laid down the gauntlet as the team to beat in 2018 as they push for a third-straight premiership.
The last three seasons have marked a massive turnaround for the club, which was a perennial cellar dweller for the first 18 years of its WAFL existence.
Since making its first finals appearance in 2015, Peel has transformed from the ‘hunters’ to the ‘hunted’ after being crowned champions in 2016 and 2017.
While the retirement of on-ball leader Rory O’Brien will be felt when the club kicks off it’s title defence, it has bolstered its playing stocks with the signature of 124-game former Essendon player Ben Howlett, who has returned to the club that launched his AFL career.
Senior coach Cam Shepherd said every season brought new challenges.
“We are extremely proud to have won back-to-back flags and season 2017 consolidated our position at the top of the WAFL competition, something that we had worked hard to achieve in 2015 and 2016,” he said.
“We obviously will have quite a lot of new faces in our side in 2018 and we will continue to drive our players to achieve excellence through actions, whilst believing that our squad is still developing and improving.
“Rory O’Brien is a major loss, but we have been really fortunate in getting Ben Howlett back from Essendon.”
Shepherd said the success of the last two years had strengthened the AFL-alignment relationship with the Fremantle Dockers, and that finals were firmly in their sights again this season.
“Our aim in 2018 is to win enough games to get into the finals series,” he said.
“We will then reassess and set more goals. Out team understands the way we want to play and as long as we play with intent we, as coaches, will be pleased.”
Peel Thunder kicks off season 2018 at Bendigo Bank Stadium on March 30 against East Fremantle.
Quick Questions with Cam Shepherd
Player to watch in 2018: Traye Bennell
Your biggest game in 2018: “First game versus East Fremantle-then they are all important”
Prediction for Sandover Medal: Ben Howlett, Leroy Jetta or Gerald Ugle
Peel Thunder Fixtures
Rd 1: v East Fremantle @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. March 30.
Rd 2: v Swan Districts @ Steel Blue Oval. April 7.
Rd 3: v Perth @Bendigo Bank Stadium. April 15.
Rd 4: Bye
Rd 5: v East Perth @ Leederville Oval. April 29.
Rd 6: v Claremont @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. May 5.
Rd 7: v Subiaco @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. May 19.
Rd 8: v East Fremantle @ East Fremantle Oval. May 26.
Rd 9: v Claremont @Claremont Oval. June 2
Rd 10: v West Perth @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. June 9.
Rd 11: v South Fremantle @ Fremantle Oval. June 16.
Rd 12: Bye
Rd 13: v Swan Districts @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. June 30.
Rd 14: v Subiaco @ Leederville Oval. July 6.
Rd 15: v Perth @ Lathlain Park. July 14.
Rd 16: v South Fremantle @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. July 21.
Rd 17: v West Perth @ HBF Arena. July 28.
Rd 18: v East Perth @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. August 4.
Rd 19: Bye
Rd 20: v Claremont @ Claremont Oval. August 18.
Rd 21: v East Perth @ Bendigo Bank Stadium. August 25.