Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval
With the business end of the season approaching, the fight for a spot in the top four is tightening. Finishing top four is important because it means a double chance in the finals. Fremantle has a battle ahead to maintain its current position in fourth place after losing to Richmond in an upset in Round 15. The shock loss of Michael Barlow with a broken tibia and fibula has changed the dynamic of the team.
Melbourne traveled west sitting three places out of the top eight and looking forward to taking the game up to their opponents. Fans hoped they may have learnt from their Punt Road neighbors Richmond that tough tackling and a strong will to win can often carry the day against classier and more experienced opponents.
Fremantle was out of the blocks quickly after sloppy play by Melbourne gave David Mundy a chance to kick the first goal. Some precise kicking to Paul Hasleby saw the second Docker goal on the board within a few minutes. When Nathan Fyfe scored their third after a free kick, the game looked in danger of getting away from the Demons. Paul Johnson steadied the ship with Melbourne's first goal but poor discipline in tackling and demonstrative behavior towards the umpires gifted the Dockers the next three goals. The extreme pressure and chasing the Dockers applied had them well in control of the game and with a lead of 31 points at the first break.
Sensing that things were not working as planned, Coach Dean Bailey had the Demons switch to man-on-man coverage for the second quarter. Jamie Bennell scored a goal early but the new game plan fell apart quickly. Hayden Ballantyne intercepted a kick in by Cameron Bruce and had the easiest of conversions from 15 meters out. Ballantyne went on to kick two more goals, one from a 50 meter penalty. A poor movement out of the back line by Michael Johnson gave Bennell his second major but the Demons trailed by 34 points as the half ended.
Melbourne players must have had the blow torch treatment from their coach during the break. There was better energy and their tackling pressure increased. In a remarkable third quarter display that proved just how electric Australian football is, the game turned around and the Demons proceeded to tear the Dockers apart. Aaron Davey and Liam Jurrah had hardly been sighted up to this point but they popped up when the situation demanded it and kicked a goal each. Melbourne were delivering the ball low and hard to their leading forwards who started to play in front of their opponents. In the backline Demon Nathan Jones was having the game of his life, turning the Dockers back time after time to give his team a solid base from which to mount their offense.
By this point the Dockers had not scored a second half goal and Melbourne had kicked the last three to give a sniff of an upset. The Demons' kamikaze approach to the ball and opposition ball carriers was in stark contrast to their first half. When Colin Sylvia scored another six pointer, followed quickly by Davey and Jurrah, the Demons had kicked six in a row and were only seven points behind. Jones found himself in the forward line to kick the seventh goal and Melbourne was tailing by a solitary point. The only sound at Subiaco Oval was the screaming of a small number of Melbourne supports urging their team on. Ryan Crowley kicked a steadying goal for Fremantle at the end of the quarter and they went into the final break only eight points ahead.
Both teams played at a frenetic pace to start the final term. Given that they had spent a lot of gas tickets in the third quarter, there were many skill errors and players were simply running out of puff. Brad Green brought the visitors within a point with the first goal. From there on in it was hard, slogging football. Fremantle had numerous opportunities to seal the game but were wasteful, missing four relatively easy shots on goal. Melbourne had their chances too but missed a couple of opportunities to take the lead. In the end, it was a superb left foot kick on goal from Ballantyne in the pocket that won it for the home side.
Fremantle retained fourth position and will play the fifth-placed Western Bulldogs next week in the game of the round in Melbourne. The Demons must rue the fact that they played only one half of football with the intensity and skill required at this level. However they are playing at a much better standard than they have done for a couple of years and the future looks bright for them after their tenacity in this game. Melbourne remains three games out of the top eight and out of contention for the Finals.
Scoreboard Fremantle 6.3 9.8 10.10 11.16 (82) Melbourne 1.2 3.5 9.8 10.11 (71) Best players Fremantle H Ballantyne, D Mundy, P Duffield, A McPhee, R Crowley Melbourne N Jones, J Frawley, T Scully, J Bennell, C Sylvia
Article last changed on Monday, May 28, 2018 - 5:36 PM EDT