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Friday, March 29, 2024 - 12:23 PM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle is looking to hit back hard in 2024 and that quest begins in the season-opener at home to East Perth on Saturday in what is also a tribute to the legendary Steve Marsh.

After seven straight seasons of playing finals firstly with three consecutive preliminary final appearances and three straight Grand Final berths including the 2020 premiership, the 2023 season didn’t go to script for the Bulldogs.

That started before a ball was even bounced and then the injuries continued to mount. The result was an earlier finish to a season than anyone was used to, but the positives were the significant time and experience gained by a whole new group of players.

Now 'The Fightback' in 2024 begins on Saturday afternoon at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with South Fremantle playing host to East Perth with the game getting underway at 2.30pm.

Not only is it a significant game to open the season for the Bulldogs players in action to get the campaign off to a winning start, but the club will also be paying tribute to Steve Marsh prior to the match who recently passed away.

Marsh is one of the most revered figures in all of football in the country and Western Australia, and his legacy at South Fremantle is remarkable having played 226 games in the mighty Red V where he played in six premierships and was a four-time fairest and best winner and Sandover Medallist.

Marsh now sits as a Legend in the South Fremantle Football Club Hall of Fame, as a Legend in the WA Football Hall of Fame, is an inductee in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and his life will be paid tribute to prior to Saturday's game as a mark of respect.

"From our club's point of view it's important to honour him," coach Todd Curley said.

"He is a legend of our state and a legend of our footy club so it makes it an even more important game for us in that respect.

"The club has got some great stuff organised for Saturday and we'll start to lean into it a little bit the rest of the week at training to help the players understand more about what he means to the club and our history."

As for what's happening on the field, it's a chance for South Fremantle to signal its intent for the 2024 season up against a team who played finals in 2023.

South Fremantle will be captained by Chad Pearson for the first time who takes over the role from Dylan Main while the core group of quality players of Jordan Boullineau, Toby McQuilkin, Zac Strom, Matthew Parker, Noah Strom, Tom Blechynden, Main, Brandon Donaldson and Jake Florenca will all be out there in Round 1.

The return of 200-game, five-time fairest and best winner Haiden Schloithe is a significant boost for the Bulldogs as well while Josh Branchi has returned to the club and will take over the ruck responsibilities following the departures of Jimmy Miller and Brock Higgins.

New faces for the Bulldogs in Round 1 also include Isiah Winder, Luke Polson, Connor McDonald and Lewis Rayson while Manfred Kelly, Glenn Byron, Robbie Turnbull, Ashton Ferreira and Jarrod Salmeri will have the chance to continue their emergence.

Curley is coming into a 10th season in charge at the Bulldogs and is excited for what 2024 should hold for the Bulldogs.

"It was an interesting one because obviously we hadn't missed the finals for a long time so we had to sit around idly all throughout September," Curley said.

"It was a lot longer break than we've had for a while but mentally I think it has been good for a lot of our senior players. We had a lot of injuries to our senior players as well in the back half of last year so that extra time to refresh and get themselves right has seemed to have worked.

"We've been really happy with how everything has run to point so we have no complaints there and are just looking forward to starting the season this weekend against East Perth."