A loss is a loss, and Fremantle could not get the job done on the road against the Demons.
Yet I cannot help but like what I saw from the Purple Haze for the most part. Without Jesse Hogan for the majority of the contest due to an ankle injury, and with Matt Taberner and Alex Pearce gone for the year, the Dockers are not as formidable as they appeared earlier in the season, yet there is something about this team that actually made me enjoy watching them this afternoon.
And that is something I’ve rarely said about the Dockers at any time in the last five or so years.
As a neutral observer of the Fremantle game against Melbourne, I found myself starting to barrack for the Dockers. I know – weird, huh? They had this kid on the ruck taking it up to Max Gawn in the first half, this running machine in Brad Hill, a back-half pair of Luke Ryan and Joel Hamling that have the potential to become something special, and they have a player really starting to come into his own, in Brandon Matera.
Throw in names like Fyfe, Walters, Mundy and Langdon, and you have the makings of not just a good team, but an exciting one. When you’re “throwing in” names like Fyfe and Walters, you know you may just be onto something.
And so, I quickly went from watching the Freo v Melbourne contest to write a column about the game, to watching the game for pure enjoyment, and from that, I took more from the players wearing white and purple than I did anything else.
Here’s what took my fancy.
WHERE DOES BRANDON MATERA SIT THIS SEASON AMONGST SMALL FORWARDS?
You know how people talk about light bulb moments in their lives? I reckon Brandon Matera may have had one of these in the last six to eight months. I remember watching him in the JLT series earlier this year, and he looked horrid.
He was clumsy, sloppy, selfish and lazy. He barely chased, refused to look inside when he got the ball, instead going with a tunnel-vision style that we all left behind in either junior footy, or kept with us until we played pub footy, and everything he touched turned to shit.
Fast forward to this home and away season, and we are seeing Matera blossom into the kind of small forward teams have to start planning to stop instead of waiting for him to make mistakes and stop himself.
He was brilliant in this one, his chasing and harassing just as important as his mercurial basketball tap to control the ball, and subsequent 50-metre kick down the line out of mid-air. How many people could pull that off? Then there was his kick whilst on one knee that got the Dockers up and running when a stoppage seemed imminent.
So, where is he at currently sitting amongst small forwards in the game? It’s a tough assessment, particularly with one of the absolute best flittering in and out of the forward line alongside him. I reckon we can all agree that he is not in Michael Walters’ class, but Walters is probably classified as a forward/mid at the moment – similar to Robbie Gray. When you remove those two from the equation, and concentrate on the small forwards alone, where do we slot Matera in?
There’s Gary Ablett, who is a legitimate forward this season. Charlie Cameron is coming off a five-goal bag, and if not for his wayward kicking to this point, would be right in All-Australian contention. There’s the amazing Eddie Betts, Gold Coast’s Alex Sexton, and Port’s Connor Rozee in the mix as well. Luke Breust is playing at a level below his best, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is far too hot and cold to be considered.
If I am picking genuine small forwards this season, I have Gaz at one, Charlie Cameron at two, and Brandon Matera at three.
That’s a fantastic result for the Dockers and for Matera personally. 12 months ago, he looked like a player on the verge of falling out of the league. He was a maligned player for good reason. He’s turned that around, and is looking like one of the most dangerous players on the park on a regular basis… and he is as entertaining to watch as any small in the game.
WHO WON THE BRAYSHAW V BRAYSHAW BATTLE?
I’m about to look at that stats, and I reckon we’ll see that Angus got the better of his younger brother, and that may continue for a couple of years as Andrew grows into the role with the Dockers, but there were moments in this one where Brayshaw the younger started looking like a star in the making.
He was well on the way to finishing the 2018 strongly before Andrew Gaff broke his jaw, but signs are good again this season.
So, in the wash up, Angus had 24 touches and ran at 83% efficiency, which is his best return in a while. The younger brother had 20 touches, himself, but only ran at 60%. He did hit the scoreboard, however, kicking one.
You’d give this one to the older brother on points, but Andrew had some nice moments, working hard in close and not being spooked against some of the bigger-bodied Melbourne mids.
Through his first 29 games, Andrew is averaging 16.14 disposals per game. At the same time, Angus was at 13.75. That should give a bit of context as to how the younger brother is travelling overall. The Dockers have a winner, here.
WHAT IS ED LANGDON GOING TO REAP FOR THE DOCKERS IN RETURN AFTER THIS SEASON?
So, can we just call a spade a spade here? Ed Langdon will leave Freo at the end of this season. When a player puts contract talks on hold until after the season, it rarely ends well for the team he is currently on.
So, on the bright side, what can the Dockers flip him for?
At 25.4 touches per game, he is a very valuable midfield asset and would easily slot into most teams’ midfield rotation. His is a classic run-and-carry kind of mid, which fits perfectly currently with the big-bodies of Fyfe and Mundy, and if he is looking at returning to Melbourne… or at least Victoria, could he be a key piece in the Tim Kelly puzzle?
Geelong will be looking for a fair bit to part ways with Kelly, who, similar to Langdon, will be gone after this season. How would Freo go adding a draft pick or two to the equation and swapping quality for quality?
Kelly is a match-winner, and while Langdon is very good, he hasn’t displayed the same explosiveness as the Geelong star. The Dockers would have to sweeten the deal, but I reckon they could probably offer a little more than the Eagles can, particularly if Ed Langdon is content playing in Sleep Hollow and not the big city.
CAN HAMLING, RYAN AND PEARCE BE THE BEST DEFENCE IN THE CAPER NEXT SEASON?
So if we throw Alex Pearce into the defensive mix in this game, do Freo win? I kind of get the feeling they do. I’m not sure Tom McDonald gets the same freedom to move with Pearce giving him his undivided attention.
As good as Hamling is, he is not really given anywhere near enough credit for what he brings to the table, but Luke Ryan is starting to generate some talk outside of Freo circles finally.
Ryan leads the league in intercept possessions – a spot usually occupied by Alex Rance, for context. Whilst Ryan is a little more haphazard in his attack on the ball and contest, he effectiveness cannot be doubted. Hamling does not crack the top 50 in that category, but his ability to spoil as the third man up in a contest is among the best in the game. As a matter of fact, he is ranked second in the game in 1%ers, which includes spoils. Only defensive monster, Harris Andrews has more.
Freo has the makings of a watertight defence. The longer they play with each other, the better they’ll collectively get.
Alex Pearce’s absence is being keenly felt, but if he can get back, we’re looking at a Fremantle back six, underpinned by these three, that will strike fear into the hearts of forwards. They just have to have all three up and running in order to get the matchups right.
WHAT SETS BRAD HILL APART FROM OTHER RUNNERS IS HIS BALL USE.
There are rumours doing the rounds that Hill wants to go back to Hawthorn? Let’s shelve them for the time being, because he is playing the kind of hard-running footy right now that makes him vital to the success of the Dockers.
There are blokes in this league who can run all day. Former teammate Isaac Smith is one, and Tom Scully is another. Billy Hartung was an all-day runner as well, but the way Brad Hill balances and kicks under control probably sets him apart from his hard-running counterparts.
He notched his third 30+ disposal game of the season as he starts pushing for All-Australian selection on the wing (assuming they select an actual wingman and not just throw another mid out there).
His ability to assess and pull a kick, whilst running at top pace is unparalleled by any in the league that have a similar running capacity… and let’s face it – not many have a similar running capacity.
Some of you may know that I am a Hawthorn supporter – I used to get a little frustrated watching Hill in brown and gold. He would often waste it after long runs, but it seems that a few seasons of refining his sills has eliminated that aspect of his game, or at least mitigated it.
Re-signing Brad Hill is vitally important to where Freo are looking to go, if not in 2019, then in 2020. His run and carry, and ability to become an additional defender and offensive option all in the one play, are rare in this game.
IF SEAN DARCY DEVELOPS A TANK, HE COULD REALLY CHALLENGE ANY RUCKMAN IN THE LEAGUE.
I am pretty sure the Mongrel assessing this game awarded Max Gawn three votes, and rightfully so. He was a monster in the second half, and ran Sean Darcy off his feet.
Go back and look at the way Gawn gets to the boundary throw ins before Darcy as the game wears on. Gawn just keeps on running – Darcy was dragging his feet.
This is not an unknown for the Dockers, but it was a stark reminder for Darcy that there is a long way to go until he can be recognised as one of the best rucks in the game, and so much of that will be determined by how hard he works.
Darcy was actually in front in hit outs close to half time, but in the end, the tank of Gawn saw him +15 in taps for the game. Gawn works tirelessly. The bulkier Darcy, able to match it body to body, couldn’t go with Gawn around the ground, and was found out late in the contest.
There is plenty to work with in Sean Darcy, but it is the word “work” that is the key. The potential is there. Hard work unlocks it.
NAT FYFE’S SECOND EFFORTS ARE INCREDIBLY UNDERRATED
Look, I can’t remember who it was that criticised Fyfe’s defensive running earlier this season, but if they were watching this game, I reckon there’s a chance they may want to reconsider.
Fyfe threw his body at the opposition like my mate Joe Ganino throws his at whatever’s available at 3am at the over 45s. Fyfe was desperate to the point of recklessness as he tried his utmost to prevent the opposition from breaking away, getting the ball on boot, or from taking possession.
For all his wonderful overhead marking, his contested possessions and his ability to find the ball, I was most impressed with his hard work defensively, and that means that either Fyfe has lifted his defensive work rate enormously since he received that criticism, or the bloke who knocked him was talking out of his backside.
I don’t watch every Dockers game, so I am happy to be guided by you guys on this.
BRENNAN COX IS NOT THE FORWARD YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.
This may be a little harsh, but I reckon his inability to produce… anything, may have been the difference between the teams. Let’s face it – Brennan Cox is in this team by virtue of other players not being in this team. If Matt Taberner doesn’t get hurt, Cox is back in the WAFL.
And if Jesse Hogan doesn’t get back, he’ll get another chance to prove he belongs.
The thing is, if someone doesn’t belong, it doesn’t matter how many chances you give them. He’s played seven games this season and kicked four goals. He plays key forward and doesn’t kick goals. In this game he had ten touches and four marks. He laid one tackle and was manoeuvred out of contests too easily at times the Dockers needed someone to just break even.
It’s funny. The Dockers have been screaming out for a good forward for years. Finally, they seemed to have found two – Hogan and Taberner, but in games like this they’re forced to settle for Cox.
And all of us who got good advice from Mum and Dad were told never to settle.
So Freo fans – how did I go? I really liked what I saw from your boys. Yes, a win would’ve capped things nicely, but with a win at the MCG already this season, if things can fall in place in terms of the list, you look to be on the right track.
If nothing else, the brand of footy you’re playing certainly more attractive than anything else the team has served up in years.
Interested to hear your thoughts… even if you’re telling me I’m wrong.
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