Perth isn’t a happy hunting ground for the Western Bulldogs – doesn’t matter who it’s against, what time of the day it’s played or what condition the surface is, the proof is in the pudding that the Dogs absolutely hate it here. Against Fremantle in particular, they haven’t won a match there in over 12 years – Round One, 2009 if we’re being frank and before this contest, hadn’t even tasted victory at Optus Stadium.

It made this game against Fremantle a danger one. On the back of a really poor showing against the ladder-leading Melbourne last Friday night, there was a bit of pressure for the Bulldogs to rebound and Fremantle, since the appointment of Justin Longmuir specifically, have been a side that won’t make it easy for anyone.

Last week, they were ultimately disappointing against Port Adelaide, allowing them to get a 50-point lead early in the second quarter, before whittling it away to avoid it from being a major blowout. Signs of progress are there with the Dockers this year – it wasn’t too long ago that they managed to beat Sydney.

Those who constantly read my reviews will know that I’m a mental as anything Bulldogs supporter and as I was dreading pre-game the Dockers made it a really scrappy affair and at times, really looked like as if they were going to make it another trip to Perth that the Dogs would rather forget.

But then, the final quarter happened and with it came a bit of chaos. But we’ll get to all that – the bottom line is that the Bulldogs are back on the winner’s list and remain a game behind Melbourne for top spot and two wins ahead of the pack that is Geelong, Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Sydney – although two of those teams have a game in hand.

So without further ado, let’s get to reviewing this clash.

 

When The Walls Came Tumbling Down

So the main focus will be about the fact that Fremantle had three players go down in the span of one minute. But in the grand scheme of things, Fremantle had no one on the bench at the end of the game.

Griffin Logue was back in the side for this game, and given their problems in the key defensive posts already with Joel Hamling and Alex Pearce both missing with injury so far this season, I thought he, along with the majority of the defence, really held firm against a Bulldogs’ forward line that had been potent all season. Unfortunately, he was subbed out as he clashed at a reasonably fast speed with Aaron Naughton, who was in flight going for the mark.

It was only compounded further when Brennan Cox injured his hamstring in the final quarter, and the fact that he looked as if he was in tears on the bench tells you that it’s not a one-month injury – that’s a long-term injury. Cox was matched up on Naughton for large parts of the game and whilst I’ll touch on Naughton’s game later, Cox held up well against him for the most part of the match.

In basically the same time Cox went down, they also lost Sean Darcy and captain, Nat Fyfe to injury as well.

For Darcy it looks like it will be a minor hamstring injury, which is a shame, because I thought he played such a brilliant game against Stefan Martin, who was subbed out himself at half time and Tim English, who had his usual role in the team compromised a fair bit. A lot of people don’t give Darcy’s ruck craft a lot of respect – nine of his 36 hitouts were to advantage, the most of any man.

Fyfe had a really strong third term after being either unsighted or trailing Marcus Bontempelli around the stoppages in the first half. Overall, he’s had a pretty ordinary year, but watching him in the third term, reminded me of Brownlow Medal-winning Nat Fyfe – in this term alone, he had eight contested possessions and five clearances.

They did also lose Mitch Crowden to an AC joint injury as he fell on his shoulder taking a mark and hit at the same time from Bailey Dale – despite being under duress with that shoulder he still went back to take the kick, but he looked very uncomfortable. But by then, the result had been decided, it was just a question of the margin.

 

False Launch Of The Astro-Naught

So we briefly touched on him before, so we’ll revisit this. I don’t wanna, but it has to be said, because the impact on this game was phenomenal.

People have been quick to jump on Jack Higgins’ effort against Sydney the day before, kicking 1.6 and in some respects, costing the Saints the game and Taylor Walker kicking 2.6 for the Crows to lose to Collingwood. It’s easy to say that, but what people won’t be talking about is the fact that he had a substantial amount of opportunities to score. That alone is a hard feat to achieve in football and some would be busting their aggots to have two or three opportunities.

There was so much to love about Aaron Naughton’s game on Sunday night. He had Brennan Cox for company before he went down with his injury and whilst Cox battled on, the way Naughton was launching himself up at the footy – not a man, beast or mythical being could’ve stopped him from getting his hands onto the leather product.

Off his 13 marks, five of them were contested marks. I’ve said it a fair bit about him this year, but his ability to push up the ground and back is about as good as I’ve seen from any key forward this season. Once he gets to his prime years – touch wood that he has no major injury either – he can become the ultimate weapon.

But that kicking, that damn kicking – 1.5 from 19 disposals, the first two kicks were quite hard angles to kick from and just missed. I like to think his kicking has been pretty good this year, but those ones he missed from straight in front – he missed three of them with literally no angle to speak of – I quoted myself last night saying: “He kicks like your Mum” – There may have also been one or two expletives thrown in for good measure, it was incredibly frustrating.

 

He Shall Rise Again

Tom Liberatore has been put through the ringer the past week – got absolutely towelled up by James Harmes, the AFL’s adaptation of Mr Ed and for a moment there, it looks like there was a bit of an achilles heel to stop the Bulldogs. Libba’s 2021 season has been nothing short of sensational – if you asked me to name my All-Australian side right now on the spot, I’d have him in there, no questions asked.

This week, Fremantle assigned their beloved angry bogan, Caleb Serong to him for the first half and it looked like it was going to work again – Liberatore hardly saw it in the opening quarter and also managed to give away a couple of very undisciplined free kicks in the process. Watching on replay, it looked as if both Serong and Brayshaw were giving him a bit of physical attention around the stoppages.

By half time, Libba had only the eight disposals and it was looking like it was going to be another uneventful showing from the man with the weirdest tattoos in the world.

But he managed to break free in the third term with two very important goals. I say important because Fremantle had control for most of this quarter and when Libba kicked the first one from the boundary line, the Dockers had managed to get the deficit back to under a goal. But the second one is legitimately how Liberatore loves a goal – a snap off a step from the stoppage inside forward 50.

This game won’t go down as one to write home about for Libba, but sport has told us for years that you don’t need to have a big game to have big moments and for Libba, this was about five or six minutes of footy that significantly helped the Dogs stave off the Fremantle resistance.

 

The Big Cohuna

I mean, just the nickname alone makes me love Josh Treacy. But I thought his performance in this game was really good.

Matt Taberner had been in great form before being injured, and he was due to come back for this game before being a late out pre-game. And it didn’t help that Rory Lobb was about as effective as a ventilated condom for about 80 percent of the game. And so the question was asked, where would the goals come from for Fremantle?

The answer came in the form of the man they call ‘The Big Cohuna.’ He’s only in career game number six and at 19 years of age, is a player that looks like he can be something in the AFL. He only kicked one goal before this contest but added another three to his career total on the back of strong leading, hard running and great pressure.

I know it got me off my seat (definitely for different reasons) but his run-down tackle on Hayden Crozier just before the three-quarter time siren and then to go back and kick the goal to only make it an eight-point game is the stuff that can really inspire a side. It’s more often than not that tall forwards aren’t as relentless on pressure as some of the smaller forwards, but I thought Treacy’s tenacity towards forcing the Bulldogs to turnover was brilliant.

His marking hands as well has been something that has been often talked about since being drafted and I thought he showed again how strong of a contested mark he can be – one of the biggest positives to take away if I was a Fremantle supporter.

 

The Bont

You might pencilling him for another best on ground performance in this one. When do we start mentioning the Brownlow? He started the game like a house on fire, winning the opening clearance and scoring a point in the same play and then proceeding to come up in moments where the Dogs needed someone to steady the ship.

In the second quarter, when the Bulldogs had the contest on their terms, but seemingly couldn’t find the target to really put Fremantle to the Sword, it was the Bont that came through big on two occasions, letting them rip from outside 50 metres. Adam Treloar has roosted home goals from outside 50 and has done it consistently his whole career, but the Bont is starting to consistently do it himself and when he lets them fly, it’s just a thing of beauty.

When he wasn’t kicking snags, he’s winning clearances, and setting up his team mates – had the seven clearances and 12 score involvements in this one – it felt like he was doing it all  and I think it didn’t come without some attention, because it definitely looked as if Serong in particular was giving him a little bit of attention after half time, it explains why Libba was let off the leash a little bit.

He’s a leader coming into his own at the moment, and whilst there are discussions about him being the best player so far this season, there are also currently discussions quietly brewing about whether or not he’s the best player to ever don the Bulldogs’ colours. I’m not going to open up on the latter of those just yet, but if he continues this trajectory, we will be talking about it very soon.

As for whether or not he’s the best player in 2021? Well I think he’s mounting a very big case for himself.

 

The Other Bits

Bailey Dale’s run and drive off of half-back was very good in this one – continuing to stake his claim for an All-Australian half back slot – 22 disposals, nine rebound 50s, 15 kicks at 86.7 percent efficiency.

On the other hand, I think this was Bailey Smith’s worst game for the club – put very little thought into his kicks and seemed more content with blazing away as opposed to being composed with the footy – only four of his nine kicks were effective and only the one tackle – Bruise-free is how I’d describe it.

Thought the performance of Andrew Brayshaw was really good. Physical around the contest – his goal in the opening quarter was on the back of never giving up on the footy – had 27 disposals and six clearances for his troubles.

With Fyfe being a large non-factor for the first half, I thought the contested work of David Mundy in large parts was quite good. Still shows no signs of slowing down for a man as ancient as concrete – 30 disposals, eight clearances, seven marks and six inside 50s.

Even if I was a neutral saying this, I hope Nathan Wilson has himself a holiday – he was actually doing a pretty stern job in defence up until he punched Cody Weightman in the testicles. Completely unnecessary, almost beyond shocking to see anyone do that in football these days.

Speaking of which, little Weightman has been a real positive the past month for the Dogs, brings the pressure, brings the goal-sense every week and as much as I don’t like pests in the game, the fact that he’s getting blokes to retaliate is a positive – always the telltale sign that their game is off.

I mentioned earlier about the Fremantle defence doing a very good job on holding off the Dogs’ I think Luke Ryan’s efforts in this one were extraordinary. He looked to have had the job on Josh Bruce for large parts of the game and rendered him very useless. Unlucky to give away a goal at the end there – thought his intercepting work and one-on-one work was outstanding – 23 kicks at 82 percent and four intercept marks.

At the other end, I thought the defensive work of Taylor Duryea was brilliant. One of the best games I’ve seen from him this season, looked poised anytime he had the footy and picked off a lot of Fremantle’s forward entries – five intercept marks in total from seven marks and 18 kicks, going at 82 percent efficiency

Jack Macrae had the 35 disposals, but I didn’t like his kicking, only went at 50 percent efficiency. Had times where he managed to pull of the kick, but a lot of them went over his team mates head or directly went to opposition.

I thought Liam Henry showed some nice little moments in the game – didn’t have a big say on the contest, but there was a patch in the second quarter where he had repeat efforts which led to his goal and also set up another one on the back of repeat efforts, could’ve easily seen the ball over the boundary line, but kept it alive.

I was going to give Mitch Hannan a real bake, but the last quarter saved him, kicked two goals and laid four tackles – up until three quarter time, had absolutely no contribution to the game.

Caleb Serong’s tackling in this one was fierce. As much as I jest about him being an angry little man, his tenacity at the contest in this one was absolutely fantastic – laid the game-high nine tackles and I can see why Justin Longmuir wants him doing the run with jobs.

I was asking myself during the game where Michael Walters’ footy is at? Feels like a lifetime ago that he was in the All-Australian team, but now he looks a player that has lost a bit of touch – kicked the 1.3 when he would’ve had four straight two years ago, didn’t like it when he arced up to Lachie Schultz after he ignored him out on the open to miss from point blank range.

And on some kind of inquisitive note, I think that’ll be it from me this week. For the Bulldogs, it was a win that was needed after a bit of a reality check the week before. Also good to get this WA-sized duck off our backs – last time they won in Perth, well I think you all know the rest.

The Dogs have a week off now to rest up, with a massive clash with Geelong awaiting them when they come back from their bye and the tests don’t stop coming, as the week after they are back in Perth to take on West Coast, who despite being injury-stricken, will be out to seek some retribution from the earlier encounter this year.

For Fremantle, the loss does them no favours in their bid to stay in touch with the top eight and the injuries to those above also don’t aid the cause at 5-7 but, they are back at Optus Stadium next week to tackle the Gold Coast Suns, a side fresh off the bye and could be smelling blood in the water, given what’s happened in this clash.