Whenever Fremantle and West Coast meet the stakes are high, but Sunday’s clash will be more important than ever for the Western Australian community.
WA has been rocked by bushfires and a five-day lockdown this week, with the RAC Derby only confirmed on Friday after a week of unknowns and four AFLW fixture changes.
There will be no fans in attendance at Fremantle Oval, but the Dockers and Eagles will have the support of their fans in spirit.
There was a feeling from Fremantle coach Trent Cooper and West Coast coach Daniel Pratt of wanting to put on a show during such a challenging period for the state.
“It’s obviously been a really tough week for Western Australians with the fires and lockdowns, so we’re really appreciative that we’re getting this game underway,” Cooper said.
The clubs are doing their part with RAC, the Derby sponsor, donating $500 for every mark and $2000 for every goal to support those impacted by the bushfires.
While a forecast of rain might make it harder to run up that total, both coaches will welcome the wet conditions if rain comes.
“The whole state’s cheering for rain to hopefully help with the bushfires, so we’ll be wrapped if we’re playing in wet conditions for that reason,” Cooper said.
But there is a deeper involvement on each side, with West Coast captain Emma Swanson and Fremantle’s Evie Gooch fighting the fires on the front lines throughout the week.
Both coaches hope they will be available, though as Pratt noted “things can change rapidly”.
“Obviously if we can get Emma to play this week that would be fantastic, but the fires are obviously the priority for the community at the moment, so if she can’t play for that circumstance then she’ll go do her job for the community,” he said.
Cooper mirrored Pratt’s comments, saying Gooch is rostered off on Sunday, but the club understands that there are bigger things at play if she’s called in.
“We’re stoked to have her in our team, as I’m sure Pratty is with Emma – that we’ve got people who are willing to play footy and sacrifice and give so much back to the rest of the community,” Cooper said.
Both clubs were restricted in their preparations this week, with a limit of one hour to exercise outdoors until the lockdown was lifted.
The Dockers trained as a group on Friday night, while the Eagles had their main session on Saturday.
Cooper does not see one week under these conditions making a huge difference for the rest of the season, though his team had to adapt to the situation.
It was easier for those who lived with other players or another person, but someone like Gemma Houghton had to kick the ball to herself and go chase it.
But Cooper said not training as a group had its benefits.
“I think all our players we’re pretty happy that they didn’t have to train with Gemma this week, because she would have told everyone how good she was last week,” he joked.
On a more serious note, he praised Houghton for her dominant three-goal and 20 disposal performance that saw her voted as the Round 1 AFLW MVP by the fans.
“She was fantastic and her game was on a different level,” he said.
“We were so happy for her because she worked really hard over this pre-season, so we were hoping it would translate to show the work was worthwhile and it definitely did.”