Do you know what I like about the September weather?

It’s nice without being hot, the grounds are firm and chances are a wet, windy day is a lot less likely to ruin a game of footy. Really, it’s a lot like playing under the roof at Marvel Stadium.

And the Dockers love playing footy in good conditions.

And so it was on this fine Saturday that the Fremantle Football club won their sixth interstate contest of the season, knocking over the Western Bulldogs in a game with a finals-like atmosphere. Sure, the bees weren’t out in force, the birds weren’t yet trying to have sex with them, and the plants that all died off in my front yard over the last few months have not burst back to life…

… but we’re getting close.

After a horrid performance against the Dees last week, Freo responded in the best way possible, answering every challenge the Dogs threw at them en route to a hard-fought 17-point victory to catapult them into the top four.

The Dockers were led by 2019 Mongrel Punt Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Ryan, but also had very solid contributions from Caleb Serong, and the fifty-metre goal king, Rory Lobb. The Dogs fought hard, with Josh Dunkley once again showing he was up for the fight, and Tom Liberatore doing the tough stuff he is renowned for.

Plenty to get through in this one – let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

WAS THIS AN AUDITION FOR RORY LOBB?

You’ve heard the rumours – as have I. Rory Lobb is looking for a new home after this season and is shopping for a deal from clubs in Victoria. Well, he did himself no harm with his performance in this contest, marking strongly (after having his willingness to attack the contest questioned by Jason Dunstall on commentary… nice one, Chief) and kicking the ball as well as a man possibly could in the first half.

His four goals all came from outside fifty, with Lobb able to really sink the boot into the ball and not get caught up in the psychological side of putting the footy through the big sticks. Remember his stuttering run-up and the way he’d spray the footy around like a nine-year-old at a urinal? That’s all upstairs, people – it seems as though Lobb has well and truly put those demons to rest…

… unless he has to kick from a little closer.

He finished with four goals, but missed the two easiest shots he had all game – this could have been a dominant six-goal performance and you have to think that there would be several Bulldog officials sitting up in whatever seats I can’t afford, exchanging glances and making their minds up that they need to go after this bloke.

 

AND WAS IT A STATEMENT FROM JOSH DUNKLEY?

Following the 2020 season, Josh Dunkley politely requested a trade to Essendon. The Dogs, with two years on Dunkley’s contract up their sleeve as bargaining power, decided to ask for a hefty price for the young midfielder and Essendon List Manager, Adrian Dodoro, being a dick, didn’t want to cough up the asking price.

It turned out to be a win – a relative win, anyway – for the Bombers, as in the interim, Darcy Parish has emerged as a star and they have recruited Jye Caldwell to do some of the dirty work for a lot less money.

But what does this mean for Dunkley?

We’ve heard rumours of a move to South Australia, and with his play in the guts in this one, acquiring his services looks like a wise investment. Whilst I am sure the Dogs would like to hold onto him, they are completely stacked in the midfield and it is probably the only area they can genuinely afford to lose a quality player.

Dunkley had 33 touches, 21 contested possessions and added a goal to his name as he cracked in all game for his team. Would I give him the votes?

Nah… I have a couple of others in mind for the best on ground award.

 

MORE STRINGS TO THE BOW OF CALEB SERONG THAN I THOUGHT

You guys can correct me if I am dead wrong, but when I have watched Caleb Serong go about his work over the last couple of seasons, it has been the grunt work he does that has been most impressive. He wins his own footy, can play accountably, and is not scared at all to mix it up when someone is required to get their hands dirty.

Given that, I wasn’t someone who openly applauded his skill with the footy.

I admit… I may have had the belief that Serong’s use of the ball was a little less impressive than I thought it should have been, but after watching some absolute pinpoint delivery from him during this game, I think it is time to reassess.

This is the point where you mock me and tell me you’ve known all along that Serong was an elite ball user and I am just slow on the uptake. Sadly, you’re probably not too far wrong.

A couple of Serong’s disposals, whilst running flat out with the footy were, to quote the great Dennis Cometti, “centimetre perfect”.

The first one came in the third quarter, as Serong extracted the footy from the guts and weighted a handball to perfection to allow the returning Nathan O’Driscoll to run onto it, burning off Jack Macrae in the process, to slot a brilliant goal in the third term.

Moments later, he was at it again delivering a precise kick inside fifty to allow Blake Acres to run onto the mark without breaking stride. The fact that Serong was running flat out and kicked to a teammate running flat out, who was being trailed to the contest by a defender also running flat out… well, it was flat out fan-bloody-tastic!

Serong finished with 24 touches, which by midfield standards is a relatively quiet day at the office, but whilst others may rack up 30+ on a weekly basis, his 24 had a significant impact.

So, is that why I am giving him the best on ground honours?

No, I’m not giving them to him, actually.

 

IS LUKE RYAN FINDING HIS BEST FORM AT THE RIGHT TIME OF YEAR? AND WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO THE DOCKERS?

I’m giving top votes to this bloke!

We’ve been fans of Luke Ryan here at The Mongrel for a while now. In 2020, we started to monitor the performances of the defensive players in the league on a weekly basis. Using a combination of statistical milestones and achievements, along with coaches’ votes and votes from our own team, we established the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

And our inaugural winner was Luke Ryan, and it wasn’t even close.

We felt vindicated by our process when Ryan was named to the All-Australian team, surprising some of the Vic-centric people who believe the league starts and ends at the borders, but when you watch the way he can control a game, as he did in this one, from half-back, it becomes apparent that when he is “on”, Ryan is one of the more versatile and effective backmen in the game.

With a monster stat-line of 32 disposals, seven intercepts, 15 marks and 11 rebound fifties, Ryan was far and away the best defender on the ground and when we d the tallies for this week’s DPOY award, I reckon he’ll be right up the pointy end.

For the Dockers, having Ryan play this type of footy coming into September is a blessing. This team is so well stocked for defensive options that it’s almost embarrassing. Hell, they could loan a couple out to other teams and still retain one of the best back six units in the game.

This was a true best-on-ground performance from Luke Ryan, and if he is going to get back to the type of form he demonstrated a couple of years back, well… maybe Freo supporters shouldn’t make any other plans for the last couple of weeks in September.

 

WHILE I AM ON THE FREO DEFENDERS, WHICH ONE OF THEM IS THE MOST UNDERRATED?

Oh geez… how do you pick one?

Brennan Cox continues to go from strength to strength. His intercept work and willingness to put his body on the line and stand under the high ball are facets of his game that have come along nicely over the last two seasons. Gone is that relaxed, carefree style he employed back in 2020 – he is now a battle-hardened defender, who does not think twice about crashing a pack.

And what of Alex Pearce? I reckon people simply forgot how good he was given he was injured for so long, but his body positioning and strength in the contest really made like difficult for Aaron Naughton in this one.

Sure, you could point to Naughton’s three goals and state that Pearce dropped the ball, but one of those came on a quick handball inside fifty and another came when Pearce found himself stuck up at half forward on the mark, giving Naughton a free run at the footy. When they were matched up together, Pearce owned the contest.

Hayden Young? Heath Chapman? Jordan Clark?

Geez… these Dockers just all play their roles so damn well!

At heart, I love a great defensive effort, so to ask me to pick just one from this group makes for a very difficult task. Who comes up with these dumb questions, anyway?

At the end of the day, this Fremantle defence works brilliantly with and around each other. They run for each other, cover and block for each other, and unlike most teams in the league at the moment, they will lay a shepherd to open up space for a teammate – believe me, that’s a lost art in footy.

Throw in Griffin Logue and you can see just how potent this Freo defence is.

And you know what they say, right?

Defence wins flags.

 

HOW MUCH DOES THE MATT TABERNER INJURY HURT?

Well, it’s a calf injury, so I am guessing it was more just a little twinge and then it tightened up… not a lot of pain associated with it.

Oh, the question was directed at the Freo team and how it impacts them – not just how the injury felt to Taberner… I’ll try that again.

Freo are quite blessed in terms of their tall targets, but a fit and firing Matt Taberner adds so much to this side. Last week, he was trounced by the Demon defence and looked slow and at times, disinterested, but he turned it all around in this one, pulling down five first quarter marks and adding two goals to aid Freo in their fast start.

At his best, Taberner can work his opponent over, running hard to receive on the wings and then working back inside fifty to present as a marking option once again. He showed plenty of this early in the piece against the Dogs, but a calf strain, which will likely see him sidelined until the start of the finals, will force Justin Longmuir to get a little creative in filling the hole Tabs leaves up forward.

Luckily, Griffin Logue has been busy establishing himself as one of the best swingmen in the game this season, so a situation that would normally really sting a team like Freo is more akin to being bitten by a mosquito. Sure, they don’t like it, but it won’t be the death of them…

… unless they somehow catch malaria.

 

HOW GREAT WERE THE FREO PRESSURE PLAYERS?

The Dogs had a couple of smalls applying the heat, as well – Cody Weightman was good, as were Lachie McNeil and Riley Garcia, but I loved loved loved the heart and soul work of the Freo pressure players in the front half.

Lachie Schultz and Michael Frederick gave their opponents nightmares, and with players like Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong, and Michael Walters to a lesser extent, bobbing up and doing the little things like getting a deflection on a handball, or putting pressure on the D50 kicker, it made life a lot easier for the Freo defenders pushing up to the middle of the ground to cut the Western Bulldogs’ attempted escapes from their defence a little more laborious.

Amazingly, the Dogs actually had a 13-6 tackle advantage inside attacking 50, but the pressure from the Dockers made it feel as though every time the Dogs got the footy, they were under the pump.

 

HOW DO WE RATE THE DEBUT OF SAM DARCY?

Aerially, it is pretty difficult to fault him. He had the confidence to fly at the footy and go for his marks – and he finished with eight of them, which makes for a pretty decent debut.

His kicking… well, you tend to remember the bad ones, right? His decision to go inboard halfway through the last quarter gave the Dockers the chance at turnover they needed, and whilst it took a minute or two for a Freo goal to materialise, those types of plays are the ones where someone will put an arm around his shoulder and tell him “kid, you’re a ruckman. You have Bont, Macrae, Smith, and Dunkley on this team. Handball to them and they’ll bite off the tough kick, okay?”

All in all, it is pretty hard to find any other fault with a very impressive first outing and good job to the Dogs for not panicking and throwing him into the ruck to see what he can do. Give him the time he needs first.

 

WHO WERE THE WINNERS FOR THE DOGS?

I mentioned Dunkley earlier, and he was part of a midfield group that were +7 in clearances on the night.

The Dogs were also +29 in contested touches, and had five more inside 50s, but their disposal was poor and often played into the hands of the Freo defence, which is why they were also +4 in turnovers.

Bailey Smith was good, but I didn’t much like his ball use, Libba cracked in like a madman, as per usual, and Tim English worked really hard around the ground to work over Sean Darcy. Despite losing the hit outs 42-24, I felt English was a much more potent weapon as he kind of made Sean Darcy move… and I am not sure the big fella was all that pleased with it.

 

QUICK BITS

 

Will Brodie’s fend on Marcus Bontempelli was superb – saw Bont lunging at him and just said “not today, champ” as he kicked to Griffin Logue inside 50. It would have capped a great play had Logue converted, but you know… he didn’t. Brodie didn;t have his best night, but that action demonstrates the confidence he is playing with at the moment. This was Bont – one of the best players in the league – and Brodie swatted him away like an annoying bug.

The kicking inside 50 from both Blake Acres and David Mundy was sublime in the third quarter. You get the feeling that had Lobb retained his kicking boots after halftime, the Dockers could have really got hold of the Dogs in the third.

Good to see Josh Bruce find a small amount of form. He had four touches in the first before being taken right out of the play in the second, not touching it all.

After the break, however, he really worked hard and may have now turned the corner. I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to come back from an ACL injury and it just takes time for the confidence in your body to return. It is not like you consciously think about it, but a little slip, or your foot shifts in the turf and you get this instinctive reaction that something may have gone wrong. It looks to me like Bruce had been playing a game to protect his knee in recent weeks, which is understandable, but he also looked as though he loosened those shackles in the second half.

Darcy Ticker was one of the best players on the park in the first quarter and then… he just kind of disappeared. If he can put a four-quarter performance together, he could solidify his place in this team.

Very disappointing outing for Rhylee West. I’ve been pumping up his tyres this season, but his clean hands seemed to desert him this week.

And finally, having Nathan O’Driscoll back on the wing changes the dynamic of the Freo team. His hard run on one wing, and that of Blake Acres on the other, allows James Aish to move to wherever he is required. NOD ain’t gonna die wondering, is he? He just goes 100% at everything. Gotta love that.

 

As I write this, the Saints are seven goals down against the Cats, leaving the door ajar for the Dogs. Richmond could go six points clear if they beat Port (28 points up at time of writing) which means the Dogs will have to beat the Giants and Hawks and hope like hell the Saints and Tigers drop games over the next two weeks.

As for the Dockers, they should finish with two wins, facing the Eagles in the Derby and the Giants to round out the season. Not only are you playing finals – play well for a fortnight and you could finish top four. From there… anything is possible.

Massive thanks, as always, to those who support us being members. Really, it is $1.50 per week and though it may not seem like much, it does make a huge difference. Cheers – HB

 

 

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