This was the game I circled on my calendar for the week. When we do game allocations for the week at The Mongrel, there are some I put my name next to before I pass things onto the other blokes, and this was my go-to game for the week.
Both teams sitting at 4-1, both teams playing an exciting brand of footy, and both teams looking to secure their first finals appearance in a long while – in Round Six, this was about as big as it gets.
With the Blues fronting up to Optus Stadium, Freo went in as favourites, despite having young guns, Heath Chapman and Hayden Young unavailable due to Health and Safety Protocols, but if there was anything the last few years have provided the Dockers, it is depth in the back half. They have been ravaged by injury in their defence in recent seasons, however, that has enabled them to produce a consistent stream of quality defenders ready to step in and take their opportunities.
The Blues had former Docker, Adam Cerra in tow, and how he stood up would be a matter of interest for all footy fans. Seeing someone head back to play against their old team on the ground they used to call home is always something a little special, even if it is just about hearing the crowd boo every time he touches the footy.
And they booed plenty in this one.
We saw Alex Pearce v Harry McKay, Jacob Weitering v Matt Taberner, two of the best midfield units in the game going head-to-head, and we saw twists and turns, injuries to big men, and the emergence of the Freo mosquito fleet as one of the most potent weapons in the game.
This is the biggest review of the game you’ll read – guaranteed!*
* – not a guarantee.
Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions stemming from Fremantle’s big win over the Blues.
HOW DID WILL BRODIE GO MATCHED UP AGAINST PATRICK CRIPPS?
I’m not sure anyone expected Brodie to beat Cripps in their head-to-head contest, did they? It was a pretty tall order, even with Cripps coming back from a week off with a dodgy hamstring (technical term). The fact the Carlton skipper was able to drift forward and nail three goals gives you an indication as to the type of season he is having – that is the third time in five games he has kicked multiple goals, and after managing just 13 in 2021, he is already sitting at ten for the year in 2022
But Brodie was no slouch, either, and against a Carlton midfield that comprised four of the top five possession winners in the contest, it became as much about quality as it did about quantity.
The Blues had some nice handball chains, featuring their big four of Walsh, Cripps, Cerra, and Hewett, but the direct style of play from Brayshaw, Serong, Mundy and Brodie was arguably more damaging, and gave the Dockers’ forwards a better chance of competing without numbers flooding back.
The Blues had +28 handballs on the night over Freo, whilst the Dockers were +5 in kicks, often going more direct, so whilst it is ridiculous to dispute that Cripps was not the winner over Brodie in their head-to-head clash, the style of play and the direct nature of the Fremantle ball movement probably reduces the gap somewhat.
If it were a boxing match, it would be far from a knockout, but you’d give Cripps the decision on points, and it’d most likely be unanimous. Three goals from a midfielder is just too hard to overlook. He is a warrior who is currently without peer, but for a player that was unable to crack the team at Gold Coast, Will Brodie’s 27 touches, five clearances and a goal were a solid return.
DO YOU GIVE ALEX PEARCE A VOTE FOR HIS GAME ON HARRY MCKAY?
You’d almost have to – he basically shut out the reigning Coleman Medallist to the point that Harry McKay looked like a complete passenger out there.
That may be because he was a complete passenger out there.
McKay did look to be having some issues with his knee early in the game, and that may have impacted his ability to make contests, but whenever the ball came into the vicinity, Alex Pearce wore him like a glove. He received fantastic support from Brennan Cox and Luke Ryan, both of who repeatedly drifted in front of the wrestling McKay and Pearce to intercept and clear the footy.
As a matter of fact, if you look up the stats to see how effective Pearce was in curtailing McKay, you may be both quite surprised. Pearce is credited for just one spoil for the entire game. Just one – that’s it. What becomes apparent having watched the game is that Champion Data is not recording things such as body spoils and only registering stats when a defender’s fist connects with the footy. If you out-muscle or out-position an opponent, it counts for nothing.
McKay finished with a measly three disposals for the game, lending even more credibility to the article published on this website just last week from Matt Parnell stating that McKay simply does not do enough. On this occasion, however, he may be able to play the injury card.
Pearce had six intercepts amongst his nine disposals for the game, and for mine, was one of the most influential players on the park.
HOW GOOD ARE THESE FREO SMALL FORWARDS?
They were absolutely brilliant in this game – the pressure, the workrate, the skill, the opportunism… it was all on display from Sam Switkowski, Lachie Schultz, and Michael Walters as they harassed and almost physically assaulted Carlton players with their relentless attacks on both the ball and the man.
In one passage of play, Sam Switkowski, who is fast becoming one of the most watchable players in the game, gained fifty metres for the Dockers by sheer force of will. With second, third, and fourth efforts driving Freo inside fifty, and his almost maniacal attack on the loose ball preventing any sort of safe passage out for the Blues, Switkowski did every little thing he could to aid his team push the footy forward. It was the exact type of play that coaches highlight in front of the entire squad when teams review the game – it was desperate, it was committed, and it counted for bugger all on the stat sheet. But, by god, it meant a lot.
He finished with 19 touches and kicked a couple of snags, but his influence in this game was far more than those numbers could tell you. For Swit, it is about his presence at the contest, his quick sidestep, his head on a swivel, and his excellent decision-making all coming together in a neat little package.
And then he combines with Lachie Schultz, and all hell breaks loose.
Schultz is a menace. He simply cannot be left alone for a moment anywhere in the attacking half of the ground, or you will pay for your inattention. He reminds me of a labrador when there is food around – he just cannot be trusted to stay away from it. That is how he is around the footy. Wherever it is, whoever has it, Lachie Schultz goes hunting for it, Lachie Schultz finds it, and Lachie Schultz devours it!
He takes marks, lays tackles, kicks goals and bobs up in places when just a second before, you could have sworn he had a man running along beside him with the intention of keeping him under control.
What’s the old saying – control the controllable?
Lachie Schultz is out of control! He is a small forward extraordinaire, and when he and Switkowski fire together, as they did in this one, it spells enormous problems, not just for the Blues, but for any team that faces Freo.
AND WHO WANTED MICHAEL WALTERS DROPPED? BE HONEST…
And I am giving Sonny his own section this week because he deserves it.
It’s been a long while since I’ve seen Michael alters bring this type of intensity to a game of footy. I hope to see more of it, because when he commits himself to a team and buys into what they are attempting to achieve, his influence is vast and the results can be devastating.
Here’s what I had about Sonny in the preview earlier this week.
The x-factor, and one that has not really been ignited in 2022 as yet, is Michael Walters.
I have not been a fan of his work in 2020/21, but whilst he has ceased the ducking and staging, he has been unable to recapture the 2019 form that took him to an All-Australian selection. There are some cries to drop him back to the WAFL, but I would be keeping him in the side. He has the runs on the board and deserves a chance to turn it around.
Geez, I am glad I stuck with him. His pressure around the contest and his willingness to chase and place opponents under the pump was so good in this game that it would have made anyone who thought he should be dropped reconsider. His two second-quarter goals aided the Dockers in extending their lead, and his tackling was at a level I have not seen from him since his AA season.
It didn’t start that way, with the Dockers seemingly over-eager to get him involved, and their forward fifty entries comprised of kicking the ball on Walters’ head, allowing Jacob Weitering to come in over the top and obliterate the contest. Soon enough, though, Walters started making his own luck, and that, my friends, is where he is at his best. He finished with two goals, a goal assist, and three tackles inside 50, proving that he has a fair bit left in the tank to give this club.
Even had he not kicked a goal in this game, his work to place the Blues defenders (Saad, Williams, Parks) under pressure every time they got the ball was brilliant to watch.
STATS ASIDE, WAS JACOB WEITERING CARLTON’S BEST PLAYER?
I know I just said stats aside, but I’ll end up looking at them – his game was absolutely fantastic, and along with Alex Pearce, was really one of two clear winners in their roles.
Whilst Pearce was unheralded and inconspicuous, Weitering was everywhere, blanketing Matt Taberner after his seven-goal outing last week and racking up the footy in just about every way possible. He had 14 one-percenters, owning the aerial contests inside 50, added nine intercepts, and had 11 rebound fifty possessions as well, coming within one intercept possession of being the third man in history to compile double figures in all three categories – the Defensive Triple-Double, covered weekly in our Mongrel Defensive Player of the Year Column (cheap plug)
The other two men to achieve this have been Robbie Tarrant, back when he was a bit more mobile at North Melbourne, and Dougal Howard, who did it just last season. That’s it – no one else has done it, and Weitering went so close to doing it in this game.
In the discussion I had with my fellow Mongrel writers following the game, I was of the opinion that Weitering was the Blues’ best, which was an opinion not endorsed by others, particularly given Cripps’ game, but I stand by it. Weitering not only had those type of numbers, but he thoroughly beat his opponent in the process, with Tabs registering his lone goal very late in the piece.
Weitering was our 2021 Defensive Player of the Year at The Mongrel Punt, and with repeat performances like this, will be knocking on the door of going back-to-back.
HOW MUCH ARE FREO GOING TO MISS SEAN DARCY?
What a dumb question – who decided to ask this one?
Oh, it was me. What a good question.
Look, of course they are going to miss the work of Darcy, who looked way too string for Tom De Koning after Marc Pittonet went down with what looked like a PCL injury… actually, I don’t know what it looked like, but the bozos on commentary said it looked like that, so I am going with it as well.
The Dockers head down to Geelong next week, and whilst Darcy would have had a fun time throwing both Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley around, it won’t quite play out that way.
But Lloyd Meek will now get the chance to throw Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley around.
I really rate Meek – I love his physicality, and outside the Gawn/Jackson and Ryder/Marshall combinations, a Darcy/Meek duo could be one of the better ruck tandems in the league. However, the presence of Rory Lobb is a bit of a spanner in the works with that, as Freo cannot go too tall. Playing all three of Darcy, Lobb, and Meek means that two of these blokes will be sitting inside 50 with Matt Taberner, and if they’re not marking it, it allows defenders to run the ball out under less pressure than if one of them was replaced by a smaller, quicker player.
That said, Meek and Lobb could still give the Cats nightmares as Darcy spends a week on the sidelines dealing with his concussion. This could be Meek’s time to shine.
SHADES OF 2013?
Are we allowed to make this comparison?
I’m not sure whether Dockers fans look back on this period with fondness or regret, but I remember the way Freo played their footy in 2013 – they were clinical and they did not give one shit about whether you liked them or not. They were a defence-first team and attacked their opponents with the type of intentions Brad Scott would like to fine them, or suspend them for in the modern game.
Though I am not, and was not a Freo supporter, I loved watching them play.
My favourite game from that era was the final at Kardinia Park, where the “anyone, anywhere, anytime” Dockers headed to Geelong and gave the whining “we want a home final” Cats a lesson in wanting it more.
Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.
I’d love to see them adopt that mantra again, although given the coach from that time has moved on, and Justin Longmuir probably does not want to recycle ideas, I doubt we’ll hear it, but if it comes across in their attitude, that is good enough for me.
The Cats are tough to beat down there – if I hear bloody James Brayshaw talk about the wings being skinny once more, I might sneak into the press box and put my foot up his arse – but they are definitely NOT unbeatable. Melbourne did it last year. GWS did it the year before. With the talent the Dockers have, and the hunger they displayed in this clash against Carlton, there is no reason they cannot replicate that type of form against anyone, anywhere, at any time.
And they can start with Geelong in Geelong, just to remind Cats fans one last time that though you can;t always get what you want, you sometimes get what you need.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CARLTON SMALLS?
Zac Fisher, Matt Owies, Jack Martin, Corey Durdin… the Blues consistently got inconsistencies from them. When you compare what they were producing, flashing in and out of the game, with the output from Switkowski, Schultz and Walters, it is like comparing chalk and cheese.
And those two things are pretty different… that’s why you use them in comparison, you see?
You could genuinely see the Freo forwards working hard to shut their opponents down on turnovers. I saw very little of that from the Blues’ small men, who seemed relatively content to play the game in their front half and allow the defence to look after itself.
Fisher was abysmal, and looked like a deer in the headlights on more than one occasion. Actually, scrub that, he looked like a deer that had been in the headlights seconds before, but had since been run over, and was now lying in a heap on the roadside. Where were his run and carry? Where was his evasive brilliance? Where was his class with the footy?
Of all the Carlton smalls, it was Fisher that seemed to like the physical pressure of the Dockers the least. Coaches watch that. Players watch that. Even teammates become aware of it. When the heat was on in this game, Zac Fisher was nowhere to be seen.
I guess we’ll just have to wait for the Blues to play some bruise-free team so that Fisher can strut his stuff without having to worry about someone chasing him down. He may have been the most disappointing player on the park, and that includes Harry McKay – at least McKay had a very good defender assigned to him.
TACKLES THAT MATTER
So, as a bit of a sneak peak for you guys, I am currently working on charting the best tacklers in the game. Not the players with the most tackles – but those who are rewarded most for their tackling efforts. In a game where holding the ball is not paid anywhere near enough, one bloke made his count in this game.
That man is Andrew Brayshaw.
There were 13 free kicks paid in this game for holding the ball or incorrect disposal – same thing. There were 101 tackles successfully laid between both teams. That is 12.87% of tackles laid that resulted in a genuinely positive outcome. Andrew Brayshaw had three of those.
Considering that he laid eight tackles for the game, his tacking success rate was 37.5%, completely smashing the average for all players..
He nailed Patrick Cripps early in the third quarter, then got Hewett not long after, before chasing down and winning the free-kick against Zac Fisher. As the Dockers made their move, they did it on the back of incredible tackling pressure from Brayshaw, who finished with 27 touches and seven clearances to round out another complete day at the office for him.
For most of the first half, Brayshaw was matched up against Adam Cerra, and whilst he got less of the footy than Cerra overall, the way Brayshaw used his defensive pressure to swing momentum in the third quarter was enough to convince me that he had the better of his mate.
AND HOW DID CERRA GO IN HIS RETURN?
There sure was a lot of booing, which should give you an indication that he was in it up to his eyeballs in this game.
Playing alongside proven ball-winners, Cerra is given plenty of space to win his own footy and over the past two seasons, has really added some strength to his game. At one point he was able to break a tackle from Sean Darcy and dash out of the middle – there is now way he would have been able to do that two years ago – he would have been rag-dolled.
Credit where it’s due – you may not like it, but he played a pretty damn good game for the Blues in this one, with 17 contested touches and seven clearances whilst running at 81% efficiency.
ARE FREO’S BOTTOM SIX JUST REALLY BLOODY GOOD?
I think they really are. They’re not weak links, as you find at most clubs.
Look at those who you’d think would have been in the bottom six for Freo in this one. Who would you name?
Maybe Darcy Tucker? He’d get a game elsewhere. James Aish? Same. Michael Frederick? Had two disposals and five free kicks against (LOL) yet still seemed involved. Bailey Banfield? Used as a sub. Trav Colyer? Very serviceable.
That’s five. Add your own sixth, but they all contribute, and unlike the mob across town the Freo list manager should be commended for the work he’s done in securing the depth at every position. It’s been a pretty fantastic effort, particularly when you have Chapman, Young,, Fyfe, Sturt, Wilson, Crowden, Blakely, Hamling, and Treacy all ready to make an impact.
ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?
Hmmm, a couple of things.
Liked the game of Rory Lobb, but I still walk away from watching him thinking he has the opportunity to do so much more in a game. A few times in this one, he got both hands to the footy in a marking contest, only to see it pop out. He has a six or seven-goal day in him, and I hope for Freo supporters’ sake, it occurs this season.
There was a ten-minute patch in the third quarter where Freo’s aerial defence, led by Brennan Cox and Luke Ryan, looked unbeatable. Just the way they combined and made space for each other, the subtle blocks, and the spread from the contest when one of their teammates won the footy… high-quality defence.
Not often you see Patrick Cripps cop a fend off, but he got two in this game – one from Griffin Logue, and one from Will Brodie. Both made me smile
It will be interesting to see how Carlton cover for Marc Pittonet. Whilst not their best player by a long way, he is one of their most important, and as good as Tom De Koning could be, he is far too easily brushed aside at the moment, leading to easy opposition clearances.
We saw two bursts of form from Charlie Curnow, who is making a habit out of starting fast. Then, we didn’t see him for two and a half quarters, as Griffin Logue owned the contest against him, until Charlie bobbed up to start the last quarter.
You can see why we’re reading about other teams’ interest in Logue – he played a very solid game in this one, and though Curnow finished with a couple of goals, he had just seven touches for the game.
Another solid outing for George Hewett, who continues to be one of the best pickups of the season, but this would have been close to the worst outing in navy blue this year from Zac Williams. I did not like much of what I saw from him.
Finally… Sam Walsh. That this bloke had a syndesmosis injury in the preseason, but has come out and performed to the level he has is just about a modern miracle. I suppose it is a testament to just how hard he has worked to establish an enormous fitness base, so when the injury struck, the standard he was already at meant that even if his fitness level fell slightly, he was still above 80% of other players. He’s a freak.
I have a feeling that, if we are talking about the success of the Dockers in five months’ time, many will be lauding the midfield, but this defence may just be the making of this team. Cox, Pearce, Ryan… any of the three are capable of being AA defenders, and their collective impact thus far has been tremendous. This team will go as far as the defence takes them.
And that might do me – a fantastic win to the Dockers, cementing themselves in the top four until someone brings a jackhammer along to get them out. If they turn on this type of form regularly, they are going to be a force to reckon with. Really looking forward to seeing ho they handle the Cats.
As for the Blues, they were far from disgraced, and at 4-2, have set themselves up for an assault on September, themselves. They get the Kangaroos next week, and will be looking to make amends for this week. A few smaller players will be under the pump.