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Pack of Tigers join flag hunt
Pack of Tigers join flag hunt

Claremont will welcome back five premiership players in the next two weeks as they attempt to get their flag defence back on track.

The Tigers had not lost consecutive matches for three years until defeats to Peel (14 points) and East Perth (one point) in their past two outings saw them slip from top place to third on the ladder.

Claremont had not dropped below second place during the past 55 WAFL rounds going back to early 2010.

But the imminent return of utility player Tom Lee (shoulder), midfielders Andrew Foster (knee) and Jake Murphy (plantar fasciitis), and defenders David Crawford and Andrew Browne (both hamstrings) will significantly strengthen last year's premiers.

Claremont will employ a young team in their Foxtel Cup quarterfinal against lowly Queensland team Mt Gravatt at Metricon Stadium on Saturday before taking on Subiaco in round 14.

Foster and Murphy will play the Foxtel Cup match, and the Tigers will also recall senior ruckman Andrew Ruck, who had eight reserves matches in his comeback from a knee reconstruction.

Football manager Dean Horsington said Ruck and premiership big man Mitch Andrews would be used in tandem against Mt Gravatt, foreshadowing Claremont's potential tactical approach for the rest of the season.

"We will have at least nine players coming back this week or next," Horsington said.

Club captain Browne, who has not played a senior match this year, and young back man Keifer Yu, who fractured his coccyx while landing heavily in a marking contest against Perth nearly a month ago, are likely to return in the reserves against the Lions.

Rebounding defenders James Thomson and Aaron Holt are also likely to be available next week after suffering ankle injuries against Peel.

Claremont's depth was underlined last Sunday when Sam Fong, the 19-year-old son of former WA Football Commission chairman Neale and the nephew of West Perth champion Les, marked his league debut with a strong performance against East Perth's Garry Moss.

While East Perth have risen to second place after an unbeaten run starting 10 weeks ago, with a draw with arch rivals West Perth the only blemish in their clean sweep of all other teams, the battle for the premiership is more open than it has been for three decades.

Not since 1983, when Swan Districts won the flag after finishing third, has a team secured a premiership from the first semi- final.

Yet only one match and 16 percentage points separate the top four teams halfway through the season.

Fifth-placed West Perth will need to win at least seven of their final 10 matches to qualify for finals.

·Alex Martin, who was one of the umpires insulted by West Perth coach Bill Monaghan during the controversial drawn derby with East Perth, has been dropped to the reserves.

But Justin Orr, who admitted making a blatant error that led to a critical Claremont goal during the one-point match against East Perth, has been retained in league ranks.