R17 – Fremantle v Richmond – The Mongrel Review

On paper this looked to be a mismatch between teams currently occupying opposite ends of the ladder, however, season 2024 has taught us not to read too much into ladder positions, form lines, player match ups or any of the traditional measures at our disposal to predict an outcome. The result of this game did run to script, but the end scoreboard did not accurately reflect a much narrower divide in effort and application across the game.
The Tigers bolted out of the gate, and Noah Balta was making a strong impression with two goal assists (of a game-high four in total) before the home side had scored. A focus by Freo throughout to centre the ball to unlock fast attacks within their 50m arc proved successful with the burgeoning Josh Treacy kicking three first quarter goals, and Heath Chapman slotting another from a tight angle after a bad mistake from Miller in the besieged Richmond backline.
The second term was a moral victory to a wayward Tigers, who were relentless in their hunt of the ball, evening up clearances 20 apiece, and scooting clear on tackles 30-26 and one percenters 22-13 but were wayward in scoring just one goal five behinds for their efforts. The one major a result of a clever kick on by Liam Baker to Shai Bolton who outsprinted the Freo backline to convert. Meanwhile, forward of centre for the Dockers, it was Hayden Young creating carnage with goals and assists and Andy Brayshaw who has added some great forward craft in scoring an opportunistic goal from his 19 disposals. The highlight of a slogging quarter was the back-to-back holding the ball decisions to Tiger skipper Nankervis who brought down Darcy and Chapman in bone jarring tackles.
After the long break the conditions were increasingly wet and blustery, indicating a slipfest (Thanks KP) would ensue, and the Dockers were without behemoth Sean Darcy who was subbed out with concussion. Josh Treacy continued his form, providing an old-school CHF physical presence as well as finishing neatly with his fifth, a new career high. Michael Frederick and Matt Johnson were both prominent using their speed and skills to set up and score goals, meanwhile Shai Bolton was playing a lone hand up forward with two superb goals, and a further towering mark in front of a desperate Luke Ryan, but sadly pushed his shot wide which would’ve also been a career-high night. His second goal in this patch was particularly meritorious for the skill of Balta to prevent the slippery ball going out of bounds, then contorting his body into position to deliver left footed to Bolton who outmarked three Docker defenders. Freo were able to enjoy a 46-point advantage at the siren courtesy of some late ill-discipline that saw Sonny Walters the beneficiary of two 50m penalties and he scored in the dying moments after coming on as the sub.
The last term was mostly bereft of highlights as Fremantle slightly increased their lead to the final 51 points, Brayshaw capped off a best afield performance with a brilliant defensive play that set up Frederick for a second goal, and Jordan Clark’s line breaking throughout ultimately ended up with an O’Meara major, while Rhyan Mansell slotted one for the Tigers as he became more prominent. After giving up a lot of ascendency in the second quarter, Fremantle fought hard in the second half to regain some balance in key areas, ultimately winning the tackle count 63-57, and closing the gap in one percenters 36-41, the Tigers won the clearances however 43-37 primarily due to a herculean performance from their inspirational skipper, Nankervis.
That’s the recap, let’s deep-dive into five key areas where the game was won and lost:
Freo midfield (A winning mix of young & old)
Long recognised as one of the Dockers strengths, some subtle changes in recent times by coach Justin Longmuir (who coached his 100th AFL match) have led to their ascension up the ladder. Caleb Serong, Andy Brayshaw and Hayden Young seem to be alternating best afield honours weekly, and with the addition of more of a forward line and scoreboard impact they have taken their games to the next level. Brayshaw kicking 1.1, Young 2.1 and Serong 0.1, collectively adding 13 tackles, 26 score involvements, 15 clearances, and 60 pressure acts make them a far more rounded unit capable of leading this team to the highest heights and addressing a question mark placed on them previously. Serong was relatively well restrained by his counterpart Jack Graham, who limited his influence, and while he was still able to capture 27 possessions, prevented the further damage he usually creates by limiting his metres gained to about half his season average. Hayden Young is the bigger body that wins inside and outside ball and impacts the scoreboard that every contender needs.
Not to gloss over a two-time Brownlow medallist, but Nate Fyfe is a guest star in this midfield rotation now, not the major billing, and that’s still scary as he showed last week against the Swans. Jordan Clark, James Aish and Matt Johnson, bring defence, discipline and line breaking speed to the mix. Johnson was particularly impressive, showing great composure in close during the second term when Richmond threatened to even up the game. These tweaks to the roles and responsibilities of the aforementioned players have contributed in a large part to Fremantle’s push into premiership calculations.
Handling the conditions and team set up
Richmond won the clearances on the night, although this was in large part due to Nankervis in a lone hand on ball, Taranto and Hopper despite padding their numbers late were ineffective. Yze might’ve been better off using a mix of Campbell, Cumberland, McAuliffe, Mansell, Ralphsmith, Banks through the midfield, trying to capitalise on Nank’s dominance with some different speed and shape.
Another curiosity of Richmond’s set up, and clearly a team instruction was to play on at every free kick. At least five of these throughout the night resulted in no advantage to the Tigers scuppering any chance to build momentum.
Fremantle as touched on consciously looked to centre the ball inboard once they’d cleared the half back line and then use their speedy high half forwards to deliver the ball into F50 to one-on-one contests. While not every kick paid off, when it did the Dockers ran amok and Treacy was the main beneficiary, although Amiss with some more accurate kicking could’ve also filled his boots.
Considering the less-than-optimal conditions, both high marking and goalkicking were performed at a reasonably high level despite strong pressure from both teams throughout the night.
Young Tigers
When a dynasty breaks up it’s always intriguing to see which of the replacements will take their chances to fill the considerable hole left by club legends, while the Tigers still have a number of premiership mainstays in their side, most of these were the role players, not the main event, so opportunity to claim those positions is considerable.
As touched on above, it was somewhat disappointing that some of the younger onballers didn’t get that chance last night, with preference given to high priced recruits Taranto and Hopper, it will be interesting to see how Yze manages this in the back end of the year as he plans for a full rebuild in 2025.
Blight, Miller and Brown were impressive last week against the might of the Carlton forward line, but in this game, they were immediately under siege, Blight giving up three first quarter goals to the imposing Treacy, while Brown displayed confidence in accessing the ball, but his composure was poor overall and turned the ball back often.
Mansell was mostly unsighted for large parts of the game but came into his own late as he was given more freedom up the field, kicking a nice long set shot goal, and winning possession and distributing with precision, Sonsie was probably the most consistent of the younger players, but was penalised for an unlucky 50m at a vital time. Ralphsmith was good with ball in hand, but it just wasn’t often enough, while
Cumberland and Campbell were barely sighted and only touched the ball nine times collectively, with Noah also giving away three free kicks. They did redeem themselves slightly with four tackles I50 but will need to impose themselves on the contest more both offensively and defensively moving forward.
Lesser lights
Corey Wagner was exactly as you’d want your half back linesmen to be last night, twenty-one disposals delivered at > 85% efficiency, progressing his team over 600 metres (40% above his season average), and hard-nosed and stingy defensively. Premiership teams are made of not only of the up in lights midfielders who dominate the Brownlow, and the forwards who kick the goals, but role players who do their job with a minimum of fuss each week and allow the matchwinners to do their thing.
Jacob Koschitzke the embattled Tiger key forward has quickly become a whipping boy for his new team after crossing from Waverley in the off-season, but over the course of the past two weeks has displayed some grit, and skill in particular in the air to offset perhaps unfair lofty expectations. Beginning the game well, Kosi took a contested mark, but sprayed his set shot wide, he competed hard in the ruck with eight hit outs and two clearances and was strong in the air across the four quarters with six marks. He’s not likely to be a difference maker, but can adequately play a role such as last night.
Darcy Jackson
The much discussed two-headed ruck monster for the purple haze was outclassed and outworked in the first half, with Nankervis having far the better of Sean Darcy who after a promising first term only contributed one hit out and two disposals in the second stanza. I will note he did suffer a heavy head knock late and was replaced at half time, but this was a thrashing as vicious as any up to that point. Likewise, Jackson was struggling on the ball versus his nominal opponent Jacob Koschitzke and only had a single hit out in the first half.
The conversation as to whether Fremantle can carry two players who deliver most impact when in the #1 ruck spot will continue, there are very few if any examples in history of this working effectively for a long period of time or leading their team to ultimate success. Some might point to Jackson alongside Gawn in 2021, however Jackson was still a rookie and working his way into his AFL career, not the high priced and physically mature athlete he is today.
With Jackson assuming the first ruck mantle in the second half, he competed far better with Nankervis, even though the Tiger was enormous throughout. One moment where he leapt over his opponent, grabbing the ball from the air at its highest point, then bursting away with a bounce, before delivering to Switkowski for a goal was the highlight of the game. Personally, I feel collectively we are no closer to a solution, compromise, understanding on which is the best structure for Fremantle in their pursuit of glory, but Jackson will have first crack next week with Darcy likely sidelined for a week or two.
Darcy’s position is no doubt hindered by his lack of fitness and continuity, but a leaping Jackson, who effortlessly clunks pack marks on the wing, and sweeps in to collect contested ground balls before accelerating away just looks a more fearsome proposal right now. This is probably the biggest challenge to Longmuir and his team right now, are we better off with an underperforming Darcy for 70% ruck time, or maximising 70% of Jackson on the ball with a likely drop off in the other 30% when a part timer shares the duty?
And let’s finish off with five quick ones, celebrating the career-high goal tally for budding Dockers star, Josh Treacy.
  1. Fox Footy Commentary team – what a breath of fresh air the Perth based team are, just a single play by play caller, the excellent Adam Papalia, who doesn’t editorialise and defers to the experts for special comments, and Matthew Pavlich and Will Schofield in the special comments’ roles, who add unbiased colour and insight without shouting nonsensically or engaging in banal inside jokes. Last but not least Kath Loughnan on the boundary, reports with accuracy and poise, and interviews with knowledge and rapport. This model works, but also needs the right people.
  2. HTB interpretation – well done to umpires Power, Dalgleish, Howorth and Fry who officiated the contentious holding the ball interpretation consistently and in a manner that both rewards the tackler and penalises incorrect disposal, without compromising the primary objective of gaining possession of the ball. There will be varying opinions on this one, but for mine, paying the decision this way opens up play the best and makes for a far more attractive spectacle.
  3. Shai Bolton – I don’t want to buy in too much to the noise around a Richmond fire sale, but if this was indeed an audition for 2025, the Tigers could be licking their lips at a potential compensation package. Freo fans likewise can dream of the chaos a player with Bolton’s skill set would cause around their young talls and prolific mids. Ultimately clubs and supporters need to sell hope, it’ll be a delicate balancing act as to where Bolton provides more value.
  4. Short socks – a couple of decades ago Brad Johnson was fined a substantial amount of money for cutting down the regulation playing socks as he preferred them only to cover his ankles. In amongst dramatic expansion, billion-dollar negotiations, senior executive philandering and other scandals, the AFL have turned a blind eye to the ridiculous trend that is AFL players wearing walking socks in official matches. Lou Brown formerly of the Toledo Mudhens said it best “Okay Vaughn. They say you’re a pitcher, you’re sure not much of a dresser. We wear caps and sleeves on this level, son. Understood?”. Grow up short sock wearers.
  5. Yze smile – The besieged first year coach spent the entire game on the interchange bench and was beaming several times at the efforts of his players, in particular after Bolton’s superb fourth goal set up by some Balta brilliance. The Tigers are a long way back from where they want to be, but Adem appears to be the right coach for right now.
Where to from here?
Fremantle have the longest trip in Football from Perth to Launceston to face a banged-up Hawthorn at their Tasmanian fortress, the Hawks have been brave this season, but the Dockers are eyeing the big prize and should be far too strong. While Richmond return to the familiar confines of the MCG to face a resurgent GWS in another tough test for a team suddenly lacking the A-grade reserves that led them to an unforgettable three premierships in four years.