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Wong motivated as ever for more Sharks successThursday, July 4, 2024 - 10:31 PM - by Chris Pike

ALREADY a five-time premiership player, four-time fairest and best winner and a Dhara Kerr Medallist, and Sharon Wong has nothing left to prove at East Fremantle but that doesn't make her any less motivated for another chance at a WAFLW flag.

Wong is now more than 150 games into her decorated career at East Fremantle that started back in the then WAWFL competition in 2007 where she would go on to win premierships in 2009, 2011 and 2018 while winning fairest and best awards in 2008 and 2018 along the way.

Then once the WAFLW competition began in 2019, Wong was immediately a key part of East Fremantle success of winning that inaugural premiership while claiming the club's fairest and best award.

She would go on to win the league's fairest and best award in 2022 by claiming the Dhara Kerr Medal, then play in another premiership in 2023 with the Sharks and remains one of their key players heading into Sunday's Grand Final.

Wong will be attempting to win her sixth premiership across a 17-year career now with East Fremantle in Sunday's decider when the Sharks take on Claremont once again at Pentanet Stadium.

Feeling now that Grand Final is so close

Even when you are someone like Wong with the experience she has behind her and how accustomed she is to reaching Grand Finals throughout her career, the nerves still start to build as the big day gets closer.

The Sharks qualified for the Grand Final with the second semi-final win over Claremont two weeks ago before having the week off, but now the excitement and nervous levels are building as Sunday nears for Wong.

"We were lucky enough to win our semi-final, which was really nice, and then we kept training through the week and were probably just bottling up our excitement for a couple of days, but it should be good. The whole squad is pretty excited," Wong said.

"There's probably that combination of feeling nervous and excited. Probably on the day that's when you get more nervous versus excited, but hopefully once we get out there we'll be all good. Thinking about it now gets me feeling nervous for sure though.

"I've been lucky enough to have been able to play in a few Grand Finals now and you learn to just try and stay in the moment, and enjoy footy and being able to play with your friends. Sunday is now another opportunity to get to play one more game with my friends so I just want to focus on enjoying that."

Reflecting on last two years

East Fremantle enters Sunday's Grand Final with all the momentum in the world too having lost just one game all season and that was all the way back in Round 3.

That was against Claremont, but the Sharks have beaten the Tigers twice since by 21 points in Round 13 and then by three points in the second semi-final also at Joondalup two weeks ago.

East Fremantle is now on a 12-game winning streak going into the Grand Final, but Wong will be hoping the trend of the last two years doesn’t continue on Sunday when it's the underdog who has prevailed.

The Sharks had been undefeated all the 2022 season before the Tigers beat them in the Grand Final, but East Fremantle turned the tide on Claremont last year after the Tigers hadn’t lost a game until the decider despite having a draw with the Sharks.

"I think both clubs have been working on building great squads the last few years and that's been paying off with how we've been performing," Wong said.

"Then we've both been fortunate enough to have a good run in both years, and then have managed to both have that success in one of them each.

"This year Claremont has had another great season as well so it's always so close when we play each other and it's always hard to tell who is going to win. I'm sure it will be another close game now on Sunday."

Rivalry with Claremont

On the back of East Fremantle and Claremont being the dominant two teams the last three years in the WAFLW, it's only fitting they now meet in a third successive Grand Final to settle the score after winning a premiership apiece the past two seasons.

For Wong, she enjoys the battles with the Tigers and can't wait for another one on Sunday, but she also sees enough signs from the chasing teams that their dominance won't last forever.

"They had a really good season again obviously and it's cool that we get to play them again in a Grand Final," Wong said.

"Hopefully it will be another good game but I do think some of the competition like West Perth have really improved this year, and in the years to come I'm sure we won't both always be able to be up there. But luckily we get the opportunity again on Sunday.

"You do kinda get familiar with playing a team and this is the fourth time we've played them this year so you get a bit familiar with a few players. But I think for Sunday, it will just be about whoever is best on the day and it's definitely going to be a good game.

"Most of our games are always relatively close with each other so hopefully it's good for anyone to watch who tunes in or comes along to Joondalup on Sunday."

Dealing with plenty of challenges

What has made East Fremantle's continued outstanding performances at WAFLW level is that it hasn’t been without challenges thrown in their path.

Despite winning last year's premiership it was a challenging off-season for the Sharks and it did end up with a change in coach, and now all throughout the 2024 season they have had to deal with not having a home ground to train or play at.

However, Wong feels that has become one of their strengths to not feel sorry for themselves and instead embrace the challenges, and has made the entire group stronger and more resilient as a result.

"It has been a bit of a different year and East Freo Oval is still being worked on at the moment and even last year we were at a different oval for training," Wong said.

"This year we've had three or four different training ovals as well but it's good practice at the same time to adjust to different grounds even if there's always a lovely cricket pitch in the middle. At the same time, it helps us be prepared for anything and that's a positive that we take out of it.

"But the way the squad and the support staff have kind of embraced everything is doing as a collective united. So it can be hard at times obviously but we've worked hard to be able to make it our normal and embrace the challenges."

Journey since making debut in 2007

It's been quite the ride for Wong since she started playing back in 2007 and while she's being part of strong teams with the five premierships highlighting that, she's had a huge part to play in that.

She's won best on ground medals in Grand Finals, she's won four fairest and best awards, and has been renowned as one of the best ball winners in the state but also one of the fiercest competitors and strongest tacklers even while giving up plenty of size.

While Wong has enjoyed the success she's been part of and what she has achieved, it's the teammates who have become friends that mean the most.

"It's been long that's for sure but I think for me the best thing is being able to play with your friends, and then they stay your friends even when you don't play anymore and you make new friends along the way as you keep playing," she said.

"Just being able to play with the current stars who are going to be future stars, and then players who go on to play AFLW and come back, I'm pretty lucky to have played this many years mostly because of all the friends I've made along the way.

"Each year has been different and there's been so many different people that I've been able to meet, and I wouldn’t change anything."

Emerging star of Zippy Fish

One of those teammates with an incredibly bright future is Zippy Fish who is fresh off being best on ground in last year's Grand Final for East Fremantle and now having taken her game up another level in 2024.

She looks likely to be the No. 1 draft pick in the AFLW draft later this year too and Wong couldn’t be more excited to be calling some of these future stars as teammates at this point of her career.

"She is amazing. She is going to be an amazing player in the future obviously, but she's already pretty amazing right now so I can't imagine what it's like having all those skills that she does," Wong said.

"But I'm just enjoying playing with her right now and watching her do her thing. There's a few other younger teammates too who have been in the State squad and have exciting futures, and they are going to go on and do amazing things.

"There's quite a few exciting players and it's fun being their teammate, but Zippy definitely had an especially great year and I had a lot of fun watching what she did for us."

Growth of female football over 17 years

What Wong has seen over her 17-year career is just how far the female game has come in that time.

When she finished her schooling at All Saints College, she didn’t even know there was such a thing as a WAWFL competition at that time to go and play in, and she just assumed that she'd stop playing the game once she left school.

Fast forward to now and the WAFLW competition is thriving, the AFLW is growing all the time and there is a genuine pathway for every young girl growing up on how they play all through their childhood and teenage years, and then end up chasing their WAFLW and AFLW dreams.

"I had played in high school but I didn’t know there was a next level to go on to play at, but nowadays you can start from Auskick and go through all the 16s and 18s or high school footy," Wong said.

"There's a real pathway there now and it's pretty cool to see how that has developed now, and to see players get the chance to go onto play AFLW and to have the goal to do that if that's what they want.

"Being able to see that is really cool for the people coming through and for the ones, like myself, who started a couple of decades you can see that progression and the support that has developed over the years.

"There's still aways to go but they are taking the steps towards the right direction and it will just take a bit more time. But the younger generation are now amazing footy players because they started a lot earlier than what we did, and have that AFLW goal to now aim for."

Life away from football

Making what Wong has done on the football field with East Fremantle is all the more impressive considering she has been building her career the whole time along the way.

That included working away for a period of time and now she is working full-time at BHP, but doing so back in Perth and with more flexibility has certainly helped her football.

"I work at BHP in projects and having that as a full-time job has its challenges, but it was even harder when I did FIFO previously and I was trying to manage footy," Wong said.

"But being Perth based now and having a little bit of flexibility from a work place point of view has been helpful.

"I'm able to leave early at times to go to training and the adaptability to work from home sometimes can help with those other things that help your footy like seeing a physio, doing recovery things and whatever else you might be able to do.

"Just being able to manage everything can be hectic at times, but you just make it work the best you can because you want to play footy and you also have to worry about doing the best you can for your career too.

"So having a supportive family and friends who are accepting that you're probably going to be not very sociable during the footy season is always good to help you get through it."