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Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Domain Stadium, Perth, Australia

In a prize fight between two of last year's contenders, shown live across the USA on Fox Sports 1, the West Coast Eagles have left a battered Fremantle reeling on the ropes.

For the first ten minutes the two teams pushed and probed defenses, but neither could score effectively. Fremantle adopted the more defensive stance as their midfielders missed early targets, and gave West Coast's talented group of Luke Shuey, Matt Priddis and Andrew Gaff opportunities to launch seven of the first ten first attacks. 

However, the Dockers defense stood firm, with Zac Dawson outplaying Josh P. Kennedy and Garrick Ibbottson taking some valuable intercepts. The sparring standoff was broken at the twelve minute mark, when the Dockers scored the first goal. Forward Chris Mayne intercepted a short defensive pass to knock the ball to Michael Walters, who kicked accurately from 50 meters. The match then came alive with a flurry of counter punches. The center bounce was cleared by the Eagles and within forty seconds back-up ruckman Scott Lycett had goaled. The Dockers hit back a minute later with a long clearance from Lachie Neale which saw Fyfe mark and goal. Ninety seconds later Jack Darling scored from an Eagles center clearance. Matthew Pavlich scored for the Dockers four minutes after that. Both teams were using the center corridor to land efficient direct hits with Fremantle finishing eight points up at the first break.

The second quarter began with Dockers and the Eagles taking turns to attack, but both only scored minor points. It appeared that the crowd was to be treated with the open attacking football that had characterized so many games this year. At the five-minute mark, the Eagles landed a telling body blow and it wasn't even intentional. Fremantle's sole experienced ruckman, Aaron Sandilands, who had dominated with 22 hit outs, was caught out of position by yet another Docker's midfield turnover. He courageously backed into a marking contest against Nick Naitanui, who leaped from a fast run and took the mark. Naitanui's knee caught Sandilands in the ribs who went down. It became apparent after Sandilands left the field that he had suffered a broken rib and punctured lung. Sandilands was sent off to the hospital and the Dockers were forced to re-organize. West Coast attacked for much of the second quarter and finally broke through at the 22 minute mark with a goal to defender Eric McKenzie. Four minutes later Jack Darling, who had played a strong first half, scored his second goal and the Eagles finished the first half six points in front.

The third quarter began with the Dockers staggering as the Eagles' small men Jamie Cripps, Josh Hill and Lewis Jetta all scored goals in the first six minutes. Steady rain, beginning at the half, made it more difficult for the Eagles big forwards but the Dockers defense was limited to blocking repeated attacks. After nine minutes, against the flow of play, a counter attack from the Dockers allowed Ed Langdon to run into an open goal square and kick the first goal of his career. The Eagles responded four minutes later with a long Jetta goal before the Dockers again closed down play. The Dockers knew they were in serious trouble at the three-quarter time siren, trailing by 19 points.

The last quarter began with repeated attacks from the Eagles who sensed the chance of a knockout. The Dockers responded with three quick goals from Walters, Mayne and a miracle snap from Matthew Pavlich. At the 12-minute mark Fremantle had somehow willed themselves from the canvas to be within five points, as Pavlich scored his third goal. But an unlikely victory was not to be. The Eagles steadied and kicked three easy goals as the undermanned Dockers, bruised and bloodied, had nothing left to give. In the end, the Eagles had won through cleaner mid-field delivery, despite their wayward goal kicking.

The Eagles have a second successive six-day break before meeting Richmond at home. They will need all of their recovery powers in the match with the Tigers, who like the Dockers, are on a knife-edge. Fremantle have an eight day break and then a trip east to meet undefeated North Melbourne. With no Sandilands they will have to plan for North's Goldstein dominating the ruck and starting defensively. Coach Ross Lyons has a week to craft a plan to save the Docker's season. No team has made the post season after losing the first three since 2007, so they'll need to find a way to climb the mountain and quickly.

West Coast 2.1 4.7 7.11 12.20 (92)
Fremantle  3.3 3.7 4.10  8.11 (59)

West Coast  Priddis, Gaff, Lycett, Shuey, Darling
Fremantle     Neale, Fyfe, Sutcliffe, Ibbotson, Barlow

Article last changed on Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 11:59 AM EDT

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