Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Optus Stadium, Perth
The Fremantle Dockers continued their unbeaten streak at their new home by comprehensively dismantling the inconsistent Western Bulldogs. The Dogs had defeated the Essendon Bombers and pushed the Sydney Swans in recent weeks, showing signs that they were regaining the form that won the a premiership in 2016.
However, the Dockers led by captain Nat Fyfe pressured the Bulldogs into errors and then capitalized on turnovers, to have the result decided before the final quarter.
The Dockers began strongly with Aaron Sandilands dominating the Dogs’ inexperienced ruckman, Tim English, at bouncedowns. Despite this the Dockers did not have the clearances all their own way as Luke Dalhaus, Toby McLean and Jack Macrae read Sandilands’ taps and cleared on equal terms with the Dockers.
The difference between the teams was the pressure the Dockers placed on the Bulldog midfielders when the Dogs got hold of the ball. The Dogs were forced into error or produced rushed kicks that were snapped up by Docker defenders. Nathan Wilson was outstanding in defense for the home team. His running out of defense followed by long kicks into attack frequently caught the Bulldog defenders out of position.
Matt Taberner was strong in the air in the Dockers’ forward line until injured in the first quarter. His absence after the first break didn’t slow the Dockers; as the small men, led by an inspired Michael Walters (five goals) ran riot in attack. Both teams pushed players to the fall of the ball leaving open space for their respective forward lines. Marcus Bontempelli was the best of the Bulldog forwards as he ran far and wide trying to inspire his team. He picked up 22 possessions and four marks but failed to get on the scoreboard. His direct opponent Alex Pearce launched successful attacks from defense but more importantly claimed another big name scalp by keeping Bontempelli scoreless. Macrae, Jason Johannissen and Lin Jong battled hard in the midfield for the Bulldogs while veteran Matthew Suckling was the best of the defenders for the visitors, who suffered repeated and sustained attacks from the Dockers.
The Western Bulldogs were still in the game at the main break but with steady rain falling and the slippery conditions, a Dog revival seemed difficult. Nat Fyfe played in a league above every other player with his clean ball handling and strength in packs. He became unstoppable and picked up 43 possessions (21 of them contested) and seven marks for the game. The Dockers totally dominated in the third quarter by locking the ball into their attacking zone. They controlled the pace of the game by using players who ran into free space and took uncontested marks (catches). The Bulldogs competed fiercely in the packs, but they did not have the stamina to go with the Dockers when the ball was cleared into the expanses of the field. The only goal scored by the Bulldogs came at the 27-minute mark, as a result of a free kick to Tom Boyd who was infringed by Alex Pearce. Boyd’s goal ended a run of eight unanswered Docker majors that began halfway through the second quarter.
By the start of the final quarter the result was beyond doubt. The Dockers added two more goals early and then released the pressure, enabling the Bulldogs to score through McLean, Jong and Billy Gowers (2 goals). The night though belonged to Nat Fyfe who played his best game since he won the Brownlow medal. Fyfe was well supported by Lachie Neale, Connor Blakely and the magic of Michael Walters. Walter's third-quarter goal, where he read the ball off a marking contest, should be compulsory viewing for any aspiring small forward.
The Bulldogs have a six day break to lick their wounds and return to Etihad Stadium to meet Carlton. The Dockers remain at home to host an eagerly awaited western derby against the West Coast Eagles.
Scores Fremantle Dockers: 4.0 6.3 12.6 16.12 (108) Western Bulldogs: 1.2 3.3 4.4 8.6 (54) Best Fremantle Dockers: Fyfe, Walters, Sandilands, Neale, Langdon Western Bulldogs: Suckling, Macrae, Johannisen, McLean, Jong
Article last changed on Monday, April 23, 2018 - 11:53 AM EDT