Fremantle v Gold Coast – The Four Points

 

Approaching the game today, I reckon that supporters of both Fremantle and Gold Coast would have had plenty of questions about their respective sides that they would have been seeking answers to. I’m not sure that the game provided many answers, as it oscillated between frustrating and exhilarating, with both sides effectively trading behinds in the first half and goals in the second half. A telling third quarter, which I will go on about in greater detail below, seemed almost like mana from heaven compared to what we had witnessed in the first two!

The Dockers eventual 27-point win leaves the door to finals ever so slightly ajar, while for the Suns you get the impression that today’s result may prove to be, if not the final then certainly an important nail in the coffin of season 2021. There’s plenty to talk about from today’s game, so let’s get stuck in with my four points.

 

  1. They Kick Goals, Don’t They?

 

Firstly, kudos to anyone who gets the movie/book reference in this title. This was the question swimming around in my head while I was watching the first half. While Fremantle’s kicking at goal has rightfully been under the microscope this year, it was in fact Gold Coast who were the major perpetrators of poor skill in front of the big sticks in the first half, kicking a deplorable 1.8. In the future, people may look back at the half-time score (Fremantle led Gold Coast, having kicked 3.4) and assume that the game was played in the sort of torrential downpour only experienced by those living in tropical climates. Of course, they would be wrong.

Both teams seemed happy chipping the ball around their half-back lines, assumedly trying to find holes in the other’s defence, but even when they did finally penetrate through, the kicking at goal was so horrible it left me begging either team to just keep chipping it around – at least when they were doing that, there was, in almost Schrodinger’s cat-type way, the theoretical hope that a goal may result.  On only four occasions, it did.

The first real miss of the game came from the boot of Adam Cerra (Freo had rushed a behind before this, giving the Suns the first score for the day). Cerra is normally an assured ball-user, whose foot skills one may hear described as being ‘exemplary’. He has also been in the news this week as wannabe-Collingwood president, Jeff Browne’s, son tweeted that Cerra is holding off signing a new contract with Freo until the end of the season, wanting to use the remaining time to ensure that the Dockers are on the path to success. You know what helps to put a club on the path to success? Kicking goals under little pressure on the run from 30m out. Cerra had the chance to do that today, but completely fluffed his lines, missing badly to get the game off to a rocky start.

After Gold Coast kicked the game’s first, via an interesting free kick to Chris Burgess, Fremantle managed to kick the next three, including a brilliant goal off the boot of Travis Colyer. As if to prove that even the direst of halves of football can have breath-taking moments, Colyer nearly wasted a Fremantle free kick inside 50m, electing to play-on before almost immediately chasing his mind and eventually check-siding a magnificent goal from deep in the right full-forward pocket. An answering goal should have come off the boot of Burgess, however as the commentary noted, he missed what was one of the simplest ‘round-the-corner’ snaps you’re likely to get – about 5m out and after playing on, on about a 45-degree angle.

Burgess’ first behind kicked off a run of six straight minor scores – five to Gold Coast and one to Fremantle – that looked as though it sapped both defence’s of any confidence that their forwards could kick straight. As a result, it felt like both sides were basically playing for half-time with about seven or eight minutes to go in the half, as each let the other chip the ball around until eventually they were eventually forced to kick long to a contest, a turn-over would ensue, and we would rinse and repeat for another 90 or so seconds.

The first half left me feeling about as depressed about footy as I have in a while, but as Thomas Fuller once said, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

 

  1. The Third Quarter

 

Okay, I’ll admit, I was perhaps a little harsh above. Focusing on missed shots at goal during a Fremantle game, though they weren’t the main culprits, does feel a little like picking low-hanging fruit. But I think the reason it was so disappointing was because of what we saw in the third quarter – a quarter of football where both sides attacked, a cumulative ten goals were kicked, and some magnificent passages of play resulted in the ball going through the big sticks! It was a quarter of football that any true fan of the game would be happy to watch and gave all of us watching a good glimpse at Fremantle’s future – and boy, is it exciting.

Have you ever watched a video of a boa constrictor, and the way that they suffocate their prey to death? Maybe you’re like me and have a pathological fear of snakes and haven’t, so I’ll give you the 4-1-1. Basically, this snake captures their prey and slowly starts to suffocate them, almost willing their prey to struggle and waste as much energy as they can. Eventually the prey, most likely large lizards or rodents, die from a lack of oxygen to the heart or brain, allowing the boa constrictor to consume their victim whole.

I know, that’s pretty gruesome, but I assure you I have a point, though I’ll admit I am now very scared I am going to be set upon by a snake! The point is that I felt Fremantle were the boa constrictor in the third quarter, allowing the Suns to struggle and get to within a few points, before ultimately pulling away to a match-winning three-quarter time lead. Three players were instrumental in building this lead for Fremantle and it would be remiss of me to not make special note of them – Josh Treacy, Andrew Brayshaw and Sean Darcy.

If you haven’t read my writing before, Freo fans (and I certainly don’t blame you if you haven’t), I’ll be honest here and say that I am an Eagles fan. No, I don’t drink Chardonnay. Yes, I do have a superiority complex. No, that’s not related to being an Eagles fan. Anyway, all of this is to say that I see a lot of similarities between Josh Treacy and Jack Darling. Both were/are 18-year-olds with a man’s body, lead up at the ball and love the physical crash-and-bash that comes with that. The way that Treacy led from the front in the third quarter today was a sight to behold, and for a team that has been trying to fill a Matthew Pavlich-shaped hole in its forward line for six seasons, must warm the hearts of Dockers fans. Admittedly, he missed a couple of shots at goals, but he kicked two as well and if at 18 and in game seven he is having that sort of impact in one quarter, it can only bode well for the future.

I must admit, I find Andrew Brayshaw a bit of a tough nut to crack. On the one hand, I’ve noticed that he can look a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights when he has the ball and is streaming forward. Often, the result is a rushed bomb into attack that is easily defended. However, on the other hand, for a man just 21 years of age, the level of leadership he shows when it matters is astounding. Make no bones about it, at half time today the match was in the balance and crying out for someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck. And grab it, Brayshaw did. He delivered the ball inside 50m a game high three times for the quarter, gathering ten disposals to consistently give Fremantle the upper hand in crucial contests. If Brayshaw’s not the best young player that Freo have, he is by far their best young leader, and today proved just how big of an impact that leadership can have.

The first note I made to myself at half time was that Sean Darcy had to lift. His opponent was Zak Smith, a man so disappointing as a ruck-man that even Geelong, with their dearth of influential big-men, saw fit to delist him. I don’t know what was said to Darcy by the Dockers coaching staff, but whatever it was seemed to work. If anyone wants to question the impact a great ruckman can have, please just watch Sean Darcy’s third (and fourth) quarter from today. He was a behemoth, kicking a goal, winning five touches and seven hit-outs. I know, Zak Smith won eight for the quarter, whoop dee do! There are hit-outs and there are hit-outs, and as someone who has seen Nic Nat play his entire career, let me tell you, a hit out that leads to a deep inside 50m entry is worth more than most other attacking forays. For most of this season, Darcy has been hinting at greatness. I wonder if today was the day his greatness becomes a reality.

 

  1. Midfield Battle

 

I genuinely believe that most games are won in the midfield. I know, I’ve spoken a lot above about how goals are really important and as a result goal-kickers should decide matches, right? Yes and no – of course, goals are important, but if your midfield is not winning the ball it doesn’t matter if your forward line has Carey, Lockett, Dunstall and Ablett, you’re not going to be winning many games!

Coming into the game today, I thought Fremantle’s midfield might be stretched by the experience of the Gold Coast midfield. I know, it sounds kind of crazy to say that the Suns have an experienced midfield, but when you consider that the likes of Touk Miller (25 years old, 128 games experience), David Swallow (28, 166), Brandon Ellis (27, 204), Hugh Greenwood (29, 80), Lachie Weller (25, 114), and Nick Holman (26, 66) roll through there, you start to realise that they are not really as young as advertised. Coming up against a Freo midfield that counts the likes of Andrew Brayshaw (21, 68), Caleb Serong (20, 27), Darcy Tucker (24, 85), Adam Cerra (21, 68) and Brett Bewley (26, 20) amongst its component parts, you start to realise how much of a missed opportunity a game like today’s was for the Suns.

Admittedly, Miller was just about best on ground, continuing to run, hassle and provide for his teammates for as long as the game went on. Swallow too tried his best, gathering 23 touches and having five score involvements; however, it was the likes of Ellis and Greenwood who were the disappointments for me today. Ellis covered more ground than anyone else on the field, so there is no doubting his work ethic, however, he only had two score involvements amongst his 25 possessions, while he turned the ball over six times.

Greenwood, meanwhile, remains enigma. I assumed that he must have been returning from injury today, however, the ever-trustworthy AFL Tables tells me that he has yet to miss a game this year. I know that he was off for a little while in the first quarter, and his time on ground was down – he played just 79% of games time. What was really frustrating was that when he was in the middle of the ground, the Suns midfield looked dangerous and efficient. When he wasn’t, they didn’t. Too often today, he wasn’t. By looking at his raw numbers, we can easily work out his impact – 16 touches, ten contested, ten tackles, two goal assists, six score involvements, five clearances and four inside 50m’s. When I look at that stat line, I can’t help but wonder why isn’t Greenwood in every single centre bounce? Why isn’t Greenwood the centrepiece of their midfield? Why isn’t Greenwood one of the most coveted contested mids in the game? Is it because of his time on ground? Is he not fit enough? These are the questions the Suns coaching staff need to answer, and answer quickly, because they are fast becoming irrelevant again.

For Fremantle, I’ve already written about Brayshaw above, but I really liked the game of Tucker too. In fact, every time I watch Freo play (which is most weekends, as I am after all a parochial West Australian), I always find myself thinking, ‘how good is that number 18?’ He has a happy knack of finding the ball at will, can go into defence and play a role across half-back, is a really hard worker, and is a neat, if not inventive, user of the ball. Every position on the field cannot be filled by match-winners, but if the extra positions are filled by guys like Tucker, then you’re in safe hands.

 

  1. The Kids Are All Right

 

Look, I started with a movie/book reference, I figured I may as well end with another movie reference. There were more kids playing today than most people could poke a stick at. Some of that may be because of the speed with which those kids moved; however, it may also be because you shouldn’t poke sticks at kids.

Though he certainly didn’t win his battle, I really liked the tenacity of Serong trying hardest against Miller today. He finished with 19 touches and five tackles, and just about followed Miller everywhere. If last year, Longmuir was just trying to let Serong play footy at the highest level, then this year seems to have been the year Longmuir is showing him what is expected of an elite midfielder. The tagging jobs that Serong has done haven’t been to the quality one would expect of a Crowley, but that’s not the point. Serong doesn’t project to be a tagger in three years – he projects to be amongst the best ten mids in the game, and the more games he spends shadowing a player like Miller, the better it will be for his development.

Outside of Serong, I thought of Fremantle’s other youngsters, Liam Henry was the best. His impact was essentially limited to the first and last quarters, however half forwards across the competition, this is generally the case – they are a breed that can easily go missing. But when he was in the game, he was amongst the most exciting. It always warms my heart whenever I see a young footballer realise that they belong at the top level. With Henry, I reckon the last two or three weeks have provided enough examples that he is starting to get this – if he is at his best, there’s very few defenders that can contain him and even then, they have to be having a good day. For the other Dockers youngsters, the only possession of real note was Brandon Walker deciding to deposit the ball about twenty rows deep into Optus Stadium’s first tier in the last quarter. It was a time of high pressure, and though Jack Lukosius missed the resulting shot at goal, I reckon Walker’s teammates and coaches will be letting him know that he can handle that situation better next time.

There is one name that this review has been missing so far. Who is the man who received best on ground honours through three of his first four completed game of AFL? Whose red locks have left the footy world swooning for more than twelve months and have probably sold more Gold Coast memberships than the rest of the side combined. It’s Matt Rowell, can you dig it? Shaft reference aside, Rowell was fine today. For a guy that has had two bad injuries last two games, the mere fact that he got through today is victory enough. He looked a bit rusty, which is understandable, had 14 touches, three clearances and three score involvements which is a perfectly fine return game. The big goal for Rowell must surely be getting more games under his belt and getting to the end of the season in full health, ready to hit season 2022 with everything he’s got.

One youngster who may be hoping Rowell’s return garners most of the news is his best mate, Noah Anderson. For most of last season, most of the debate surrounding Anderson was whether he was one of the most fortunate number two picks in history – his teammate Rowell had been selected ahead of him, and was a star, and then everyone else selected beneath him had to live on their own merit. This isn’t to say that Anderson isn’t a good player, however, he has now played 29 games, and is verging on reaching a level that would be disappointing for most number two picks. Yes, his effort today was well below his season average (he is averaging 22 disposals and four score involvements a game), but with a game that was as important for Suns as today was, I would hazard a guess that the coaches won’t be happy with his 12 disposal and one score involvement effort.

 

That’s really all I have for today’s game. It was ultimately a pretty consequential contest between there Dockers and the Suns, with the Dockers finding themselves just one game out of eight after 13 rounds (pending the result of the Eagles v Tigers game on Sunday night). Freo will take the win into their bye and look forward to Collingwood’s first post-Buckley game tentatively fixtured to take place at Marvel Stadium, while the Suns will face up against a Port Adelaide side hungry to avenge their loss to Geelong on Friday night.

 

Stray Shots

 

  • Was it just me, or was the umpiring pretty strange today? I am firm in my belief that an umpire error has never impacted a game more than a player error, but it did seem like there were some interesting decisions that led to shots at goal today. I don’t think it favoured one side, mind you.
  • If Sean Darcy was the most impactful ruckman for his team on the field today, and I don’t think there can really be an argument about that, then Zak Smith was the most impactful against his team – I reckon there were three occasions (including one bought up by Jason Dunstall in the coverage) where he was all by himself at centre half-forward and opted to not call for the ball. Look, it’s an interesting policy, to actively work against your own team, but maybe there’s an endgame at play?
  • Jack Lukosius celebrated his 50th game today. I can’t be the only person watching and thinking, what is he? Is he a half-back with a lethal boot? Is he a hard-running wingman who can push either forward or back depending on what’s needed? Or is he a full-time forward or defender doing an apprenticeship that is nearly over? I don’t really mind what he becomes, as long as both he and the football club are on the same page. Because he could be anything, and a generational talent at that, but at the moment he risks being nothing.
  • I haven’t written about it so far, so if you’re still with me consider this a gift for perseverance – I loved Alex Pearce’s game on Ben King. The control exerted by the Dockers midfield meant that Pearce wasn’t isolated too often, but every chance he got he right with King, making him earn everything. Even King’s last miss at the end of the game (after Pearce had gone off, I hope to rest after a job well done!), seemed to be because he was expecting the Dockers defender to dive across his boot, as he had done minutes earlier.