Peel stands up for own identity
Peel stands up for own identity

Cam Shepherd refuted any suggestion that Peel would be a virtual Fremantle reserves team this season and said the Thunder were eager to retain and strengthen their own identity.

And the Peel coach said the presence of three original Thunder players in the Dockers squad - Hayden Ballantyne, Anthony Morabito and Scott Gumbleton - would enhance the links between last year's AFL runners-up and their WAFL partners.

"We are Peel Thunder - we are not the Fremantle reserves," Shepherd insisted on the eve of the new WAFL season. "The only change to last year is that we will get 11 Fremantle players every week rather than six.

"We have three Fremantle players on our list, Morabito, Gumbleton and Ballantyne, whose heart and soul is at Peel.

"They will not tolerate, and neither will we, being anything else but Peel Football Club."

The two aligned clubs will meet in the opening round at Bendigo Bank Stadium on Saturday, with the match providing an early opportunity to assess their strength compared to last year.

One of the greatest criticisms of the Fremantle-Peel and West Coast-East Perth alignments has been the potential for the WAFL clubs, boosted by the influx of AFL players, to dominate the competition.

Critics have pointed to the VFL in the past two years where Hawthorn affiliates Box Hill won the premiership last season, 12 months after Geelong's State League team was victorious.

East Perth played in last year's grand final and remain odds-on favourites for this year's flag given the seniority and quality of their core group and the addition of West Coast's surplus players.

But Shepherd said the two WAFL teams could not be compared and predicted it was unlikely Peel would dominate the competition.

He said his ambition for this year was for the Thunder to simply be competitive.

"How do you quantify success? Our success is not about wins and losses or where we finish, but we will be looking to improve and to be competitive every week," Shepherd said.

"We are a young club looking to improve, having come from a fair way back.

"We have a young developing list. We have lost a lot of experience. That is an opportunity for our young zone players to come through.

"We will have a really young side this year, with eight or 10 teenagers playing every week.

"Fremantle's six draftees from last year were 18 or 19. They are still young and still learning."

┬ĚPeel are awaiting confirmation whether Fremantle players Nick Suban and Lachie Neale will be available on Saturday.

Suban, who received a one-match suspension for an incident in last year's AFL grand final, would be eligible to play for Peel if the ban was deemed to have expired after Fremantle's game against Collingwood.

It is believed the AFL ruling is that the ban stands until the completion of all round-one games.

Neale was the substitute against Collingwood and only played a quarter in that match.

The West Australian

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