Thunder, Bennell aim to keep winning finals run going v Lions

Friday, September 1, 2023 - 9:51 AM by Chris Pike

TRAYE Bennell is one Peel Thunder player who knows all about beating Subiaco in finals and winning a WAFL premiership, and he's hoping the next two weeks can see his team book in a Grand Final spot and then sit back to wait to find out their opponents.

Peel has qualified for the finals for the second straight season now on the back of returning to September action last year for the first time since the back-to-back premierships of 2016 and 2017.

Both of those Grand Final triumphs saw Peel beat Subiaco on the way to the premierships with Bennell part of the 2017 triumph in what was his second season at the Thunder having started his career with South Fremantle.

It was more opportunity that he was after when he left South Fremantle midway through the 2015 season after the first nine games of his WAFL career, and he lobbed at Peel and has remained ever since.

While he wasn’t part of the premiership team of 2016 having played just five matches, he became a key part of the line-up by 2017 with his creativity, run and drive off half-back becoming one of the Thunder's great strength.

His performances were rewarded by being part of the premiership team and while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing since, he has remained an important part of the Thunder team even becoming just the 14th player in the club's history to reach 100 games.

He's now played 114 WAFL games in total, but 105 of them with the Thunder having celebrated that milestone against East Fremantle in Geraldton back in Round 14, and will remain a key component of Peel's finals push this year starting on Saturday against Subiaco at Leederville Oval.

Securing third position

Peel came into the last round of the WAFL season this past Saturday firstly needing to beat Swan Districts at Steel Blue Oval to be assured of a finals position before worrying about where they might finish up.

In the end, the Thunder ended up in third position with a 12-6 record and that had them just 1.41 percentage points behind the second placed Subiaco but 0.22 per cent ahead of the fourth placed East Perth.

That meant Peel has earned a finals double chance starting with this Saturday's qualifying final against Subiaco at Leederville Oval, with Bennell setting his sights on winning against the Lions and then beating East Fremantle in a second semi-final to get back to another Grand Final.

"It does make a big difference," Bennell said on 91.3 SportFM.

"Finishing in the top three gives us that double chance and with the way we're looking at it, we'll be trying to win this week obviously and get us next week against East Fremantle, and be into the Grand Final and have the break leading into it. That's the plan for us from here."

Going back to last Saturday's eventual 10-point win against Swan Districts, Bennell and his Peel teammates had their eyes set on a big enough win to see them rise up the ladder with the hopes of earning a finals double chance.

As it turned out, they were only a couple of goals away from replacing Subiaco in second spot, but moving ahead of East Perth was a good enough result to earn third place and a finals double chance.

"We did know it was pretty close and we were going up there to try and beat Swannies by at least 30 points," he said.

"But then with West Perth getting up over East Perth, that was good for us and put us up to third and I think it was less than one per cent the different in the end to get us into that third position."

Potential of a premiership team

There might not be too many premiership players left in the current Peel team with only himself, captain Ben Hancock and powerhouse Blair Bell to play in this finals series who were part of that 2017 flag triumph.

There might be plenty of new faces, but with that experienced trio leading the way along with Brady Grey and Haydn Matthews, and then emerging Thunder players Clay Hall, Jacob Blight, Jack Sears, Ben Middleton, Brody Wemm, James Sturrock and Ty Anderson, there is a good mix there.

That's without then taking into account the Fremantle-listed AFL players to qualify for the finals including Nathan Wilson, Will Brodie, Travis Colyer, Tom Emmett, Joel Hamling, Hugh Davies, Liam Reidy, Nathan O'Driscoll, Josh Corbett and Ethan Stanley.

All of that adds up to Bennell having confidence in what the Thunder are capable of this finals series.

"Fremantle aren’t playing finals obviously so we'll now have a bit better of an idea of the team we'll having going into every week from here," Bennell said.

"That will be really good and even if we do get a few injuries or players unavailable, we know we have boys who can come in and play their role for the team.

"I think we do have a team that can go all the way. With the Freo boys coming down as well, we've got that chemistry now and we're all working together as one team. 

"The way we're looking at it, the 22 boys that are out there on that day are all one team, we're not two separate teams coming together. It's a real good mix that we've got together now."

Captain making history by earning life membership

While it's been a big season for Bennell on a personal front as he achieved the dream of reaching 100 games with one club by getting to the century with Peel to book his name on the No. 3 locker, his captain Ben Hancock made his own history last week.

Hancock is a 2017 premiership teammate of Bennell with the pair having grown close having been playing together with Peel since 2016.

Bennell couldn’t have been happier for his captain to become the first Peel player to reach 150 games for the club since it entered the competition back in 1997 and to extend his hold on being the games record holder with the Thunder.

"It's great for Hangers and he's a great mate of mine now as well since I've been down here," he said.

"He's a year younger from here and seeing him come through and he's coming up to playing for 10 years at league level next year he was telling me at training the other day. It's great to see him get rewarded for everything he's done."

Taking on Subiaco in finals again

Peel has only played in 11 finals in the club's history dating back to 1997 but three of them have already been against Subiaco with the Thunder prevailing in each of them starting in the 2016 Grand Final.

Bennell was then part of both the second semi-final and Grand Final wins against the Lions as well in 2017, and is hoping to repeat the dose this Saturday at Leederville Oval against Subiaco in the qualifying final despite how significantly both teams have changed since.

With Bennell, Hancock and Bell the only remaining Peel players from that 2017 team, the only Subiaco players still there from that Grand Final are captain Leigh Kitchin, Angus Dewar, Max Walters, Jordan Lockyer, Ben Sokol and Aaron Heal.

However, given Peel has a good history of winning against Subiaco in finals including at Leederville Oval, going there on Saturday to try and move straight into playing East Fremantle in a second semi-final holds no fears.

"It does bring back some memories and that year when we won that 2017 Grand Final, we beat them the two weeks before as well at Leederville Oval," Bennell said. 

"So we go back there again this week and hopefully we can get over top of them and then take on East Fremantle the week after. Subiaco are a good team, they're experienced and have played a lot of finals footy so we know what we're coming up against this week."