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Debut Memories For Manuel in NAIDOC MatchThursday, July 4, 2024 - 12:09 PM

The annual NAIDOC match between Claremont and South Fremantle holds special in the heart of Tigers forward Alex Manuel.

The 28-year-old made his WAFL debut in 2016 against the Bulldogs as part of the NAIDOC Round celebration with the annual Jimmy Melbourne Cup being played for.

“It was an awful day at Fremantle Oval with torrential rain, hail and a max temperature of eight degrees but it was very memorable as we got the win,” said Manuel.

“I did feel quite sorry for all my family and friends that came down and had to brave the conditions.

 “On the day I was tasked with playing defensive forward on Marlion Pickett who was dominating for the Bulldogs.

“I felt I had a good day on him and was really pleased to play a part in a significant win for the club.”

Eight years later, Manuel has been a consistent performer for Claremont through the first 13 rounds of the season.

“On the back of a strong pre-season it’s been a decent start on a personal front in 2024 and I’m pleased with how I’ve been able to contribute to the team so far,” he said.

“It’s quite similar to the starts that I have made in the 2021 and 2022 seasons but difficult to compare to 2023 where concussion, knee and ankle injuries made for a very interrupted start to the year.

“The challenge in the back half of the year will be consistency and driving continuous improvement.

“I will need to ensure I keep being disciplined and focus on the things I can control, as it can sometimes be tough during the middle of the year as you pick up niggles, defenders wear you a bit closer and the ball doesn’t come in as cleanly as usual.” 

Manuel is the leading goalkicker at the Tigers this season with 19 majors.

“It’s been nice to get on the end of a few to date but what’s been exciting for me over the last few weeks has been the spread of goal kickers across the team,” Manuel said.

“That for me is a good indicator we are playing strong team football.

“On the role I’m playing, ever since Ash Prescott came to the club in 2021, I’ve tended to play a bit deeper and closer to goals.”

Manuel, who began his footy journey in the development squad at Claremont as a teenager, admits to being a slow developer at Scotch College before returning to Revo Fitness Stadium.

“I was one of the smallest in my year at school and only cracked the first XVIII at Scotch College in Year 12, where I played a mix of back pocket and wing,” Manuel said.

“From there I had a year at Collegians before having a sliding doors moment watching some of my mates from school and junior footy win the Colts grand final in 2013 with Claremont.

“With a bit of a changing of the guard at Claremont in 2014 and a new coach, I peppered Darcy Coffey (our then Football Manager) via email to see if I could train with the squad.

“After dozens of emails, on the day pre-season started he eventually cracked and gave me the opportunity to try out.”

Claremont is a game clear of East Fremantle in fifth spot on the table having won four of their past five matches.

But the club’s campaign this year began in less than impressive fashion.

“To start the year the way we did I think has actually been a blessing for us,” he said.

“Previously we have come out of the blocks strongly, but the slow start has helped us have some pretty honest and challenging conversations as a team and amongst our leaders and we’ve been able to build a team-first ethos on the back of it, which has held us in good stead.”

The Tigers get the chance on Saturday to draw level with third placed South Fremantle with 11 wins for the year.

“It’s an eight-point fixture and massive in the context of our season,” said Manuel.

“Every game is winnable, but we are very cognisant that South Fremantle is an excellent side.”

There’s a renewed self-belief within the Tigers that an opportunity still exists to break a flag drought in 2024 that dates back to their back-to-back triumphs in 2011 and 2012.

“To play in a couple WAFL grand finals and notch up 100 games has been more than I could have ever imagined back at the start of the journey,” he said.

“It would be fantastic to bring home a premiership and that is what I am relentlessly focused on."