Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
Round 8 marked the thirty-third Western Derby between the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles. This game is the showpiece for Western Australian football fans with Fremantle having won the last seven meetings between the two teams. West Coast dominated in the early years winning the first nine games. A near capacity crowd of 40,567 had great expectations of a home team (Eagles) win, but before the ball had been bounced they were in for some disappointing news.
During the warm-up, star midfielder Daniel Kerr strained an adductor muscle and was a late withdrawal. Kerr has been in terrific form and part of the reason the Eagles have surged, phoenix-like, from the bottom of the Ladder. With teammate Andrew Embley also ruled out of the match with a strained hamstring, things were not looking good for the Eagles.
Much of the first part of the match was played in the Eagles’ forward half and a 50 meter penalty gave Josh Kennedy the first goal of the game. Jack Darling made the most of a poor attempt by Michael Johnson to rush a behind and goaled. Fremantle were reeling and it took a full five minutes before they could move the ball inside their 50 meter zone. By contrast, the Eagles had been inside 50 six times at this stage of the match. To make matters worse for the Dockers, they were kicking into a fierce wind. Ryan Crowley scored their first goal with a strong mark and accurate kick. A string of handballs and some crisp foot passing gave Kepler Bradley the chance to kick truly and give the Dockers some momentum. However the pace of the Eagles and their forward pressure had the Dockers on the back foot for the rest of the quarter. Goals to Mark Nicoski and a big mark and goal to Quinten Lynch saw the Eagles leading by a healthy 12 points. With 32 contested possessions to the Eagles and 21 to the Dockers, there was a clear pattern of toughness at the ball by West Coast.
Soon after the siren sounded to start the second quarter, Darling scored his second and Eagles’ fans went wild. Matthew Pavlich kicked a captain’s goal from deep in the pocket to keep things close and inspire his team. Chris Masten has been in and out of form but his goal against the increased Dockers’ pressure saw the start of 15 minutes of brilliance by West Coast that broke the game open. The Eagles lifted their energy around the stoppages, while Priddis was attracting the ball like a magnet, delivering it to his teammates with precision. Nicoski read the flight of the ball off a marking contest and kicked a goal almost on the goal-line. When Dean Cox scored from 40 yards out, the Eagles were up by more than five goals. Big Nic Naitanui, teaming with Cox in the ruck, inspired his side when he chased and tackled David Mundy to cause a turnover in the middle of the ground. This is an area Naitanui has been working on and it proved to be successful with Mark LeCras scoring a goal as the result of Nic’s effort. While the forwards ran to congratulate LeCras, the backs ran to congratulate Naitanui. The Eagles’ tackling and pressure was superb and Fremantle could not get clear with the ball. At this point in the game they were kicking at only 58% efficiency. The telling statistic was that West Coast went into their 50 meter zone 15 times to three in the second quarter alone. The half time siren put a merciful end to the Dockers’ pain and they trailed by 37 points going into the break.
A turnover by Eagles’ Brad Sheppard resulted in Chris Mayne scoring first for the Dockers in the third term. Josh Kennedy took the wind out of the Dockers’ sails with an accurate snap from the pocket. There was no spark from Fremantle until Nate “The Knife” Fyfe kicked an impossible goal from the pocket on his left foot. Johnson had been quiet for most of the game but his goal from a boundary throw-in had the Dockers outscoring their opponents for the quarter. They managed to pull the margin back to 28 points and give themselves a chance of winning the game.
Their joy was short-lived when LeCras kicked a goal from a Fremantle turnover early in the final quarter. David Mundy, a standout for the Dockers, evened up with a brilliant kick from a stoppage. When Bradley kicked another goal after a free kick for being held, the Dockers had scored the last five out of seven goals and looked to be making a comeback. Kennedy marked the next push forward by the Eagles and his goal seemed to take the fight out of Fremantle. Naitanui again proved what an outstanding athlete he is when he cut easily through the opposition and scored back-to-back goals for the Eagles. Luke Shuey, who was a solid contributor for the Eagles, got some reward with a late goal. His counterpart Nate Fyfe scored after the full time siren but the game was well and truly over midway through the quarter.
When the game broke open it was the Eagles who had the run and commitment at the ball. Fremantle was valiant but West Coast deserved the win. Both teams are still in the Top Eight – the Eagles seventh and the Dockers eighth. Fremantle has had a horror run of injuries and lost another vital player, Adam McPhee, with a knee injury from this game. They will have to try and hold ground over the next few weeks to stay in Finals contention. The Eagles are a team reborn and will have their opponents thinking twice about their own game plan, especially when they come to Patersons Oval to play.
Matt Priddis won the Ross Glendenning medal for the best on ground.
Scoreboard Fremantle: 2.1 3.4 6.5 9.9 (63) West Coast 4.1 9.5 10.9 14.12 (96) Best Players Fremantle: D Mundy, N Fyfe, L McPharlin, A Sandilands, M DeBoer West Coast: M Priddis, N Naitanui, M LeCras, D Glass, J Kennedy
Article last changed on Monday, May 28, 2018 - 5:36 PM EDT