Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval
When two AFL teams sitting near the bottom of the ladder are scheduled to meet, anticipation is not high for an exciting spectacle. The Round 10 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Richmond Tigers was a special game for Terry Wallace. Wallace, the media-besieged Richmond coach, would complete his 500th game as a player and coach, only the 17th man in the history of AFL football to achieve this feat. Leading into the game there was mounting speculation that it would be his last with a disappointing Richmond team performing well below pre-season expectations. With a dismal one win-eight loss record and Wallace in the final year of his contract, rumors of the end were rife. Fremantle Docker Dean Solomon, a former Essendon player and member of the victorious 2000 Premiership side, was celebrating his own personal milestone, his 200th game, so both teams had something to play for. Disgraced home town hero Ben Cousins was also playing his first game back in Perth since 2007 after being sacked from the West Coast Eagles for drug abuse. The ball was bounced and the game which unfolded over the next 100 minutes exceeded all expectations.
Giant seven foot ruckman Aaron Sandilands kicked the Dockers' first goal within two minutes and the game developed into an arm-wrestle as the teams traded goals. Veteran Fremantle forward Des Headland turned the clock back when he took a huge mark leaping high over the back of his unfortunate opponent. His subsequent goal put the home team's tails up. Richmond bounced back with three goals and the game developed into a struggle that had the spectators on the edge of their seats. Mark Harvey won the coaching duel during the first quarter by dropping Sandilands back into the forward line and kicking long to put him in a one-on-one contest. This tactic resulted in goals to the towering ruckman, Matthew Pavlich and Headland and saw Fremantle go into the first break with a slim eleven point lead.
After the cracking start to the game, the first half of the second quarter was surprisingly tame. What had begun as a free flowing game with ten goals scored became a slow moving and low scoring affair. Both teams fumbled, kicked poorly and seemed reluctant to take risks to move the ball forward. It wasn't until the 16 minute mark that Jack Riewoldt kicked a goal for Richmond. Fremantle finally goaled at the 22 minute mark and took an unconvincing 14 point lead into the long break.
No-one knows what coach Wallace said to the Tigers at half time but it appeared to work. Brett Deledio kicked an inspirational goal from outside 50 meters to start the third quarter and the Tigers turned up the heat. With Cousins passing accurately by hand and foot every time he had possession, Richmond scored the next eight goals to have Fremantle almost down and out. Injuries to Dockers players saw the bench with no substitutes for a good ten minutes as the medical staff worked frantically to get players back on the field. Richmond played on at every opportunity to run the Dockers ragged. To their credit, Fremantle bounced back and kicked the last three goals to keep them within striking distance, a not insurmountable 15 points, as the siren rang to end the third quarter.
With his reputation on the line after a patchy start to the season, Richmond's Richard Tambling was quick out of the blocks and goaled within the first 30 seconds. After that it was an old fashioned shoot-out with both teams throwing everything into their offensive games. Fremantle scored the next three goals but a costly kick-in error by Scott Thornton turned the ball over and Deledio converted on goal from a very acute angle to lift the Tigers. Big man Troy Simmonds goaled soon after to give Richmond a comfortable 14 point buffer with ten minutes left on the clock. A spirited Fremantle refused to lay down, kicking the next three goals to hit the lead with only a few minutes to play. When Mitch Morton marked the ball in Richmond's forward line and played on to open up the angle, Tigers' fans held their breath. In Round 8 against Port Adelaide, Morton had a similar opportunity in the dying minutes of the match but played on, put himself off balance and kicked the ball out of bounds on the full. He was accused of not keeping a cool head and of losing the game for his team. This time however Morton kicked truly to put the Tigers ahead by three points. Fremantle kept the pressure on and although the football was in the Dockers' forward line when the siren rang Richmond hung on to win an out and out thriller.
The closeness of the finish was fitting in what turned out to be an entertaining spectacle with thirty four goals scored. No matter which team had finished in front, all players could hold their head up in a game that was definitely won rather than lost. Fremantle and Richmond should watch this game over and over to see what they are capable of when they play aggressive and attacking football. In the long run, the result of this match won't have much effect on the composition of the Final Eight but it does show that while not winning often, each of these teams is capable of producing a top line performance and playing at a far better standard than fans have seen so far this season.
Scoreboard Richmond 4.3 5.9 13.9 17.13 (115) Fremantle 6.2 8.5 11.6 17.10 (112) Best Richmond B Deledio, B Cousins, R Nahas, N Foley, D Polo, R Tambling Fremantle A Sandilands, P Duffield, G Ibbotson, N Suban, C Tarrant, S Thornton
Article last changed on Tuesday, June 02, 2009 - 2:16 PM EDT