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Fremantle v St Kilda - What Happened?

Sunday Twilight footy is normally the graveyard timeslot; the fixture that most represents off-Broadway in the bright lights of the AFL. In true fashion, before the start of the season you wouldn’t necessarily pick Fremantle playing St Kilda on a Sunday, 5.20 pm at Optus Stadium as the arguable game of the round.

This was an absolute belter of a game, though. Both sides had their chances to win, and while we may not know any more about either club’s September aspirations after the final siren, we were treated to a pretty good display of football. Here’s what happened…

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Fyfe no “bottom end” talent

Okay, yes, this might be taking Paul Roos’ comments on On The Couch slightly out of context. I don’t think I ever necessarily prescribed to the theory that Fyfe doesn’t work hard enough defensively, but with just three tackles last week in his side’s shock loss to the Suns, the question was there to be asked. I think the reality is more that nowadays there are very few midfielders willing to work both ways, and that Fyfe is closer to average than he is to the bottom end in terms of that side of the game.

Irrespective, when gun players like Fyfe get publicly criticised like that, they tend to come out with a rocket up them, looking to impact the game as much as possible, as if to remind the broader footballing public of just how talented they are. This might not have been exactly what happened with the Fremantle skipper, who went off with concussion about halfway through the third quarter, but he’d had another excellent day to that point, with 23 touches and 8 pressure acts. He might not have been as clean as he ordinarily is, running at 65%, and Jack Steele does deserve some credit for performing the run-with role quite well to shut down his damage offensively, but all in all it might be time to stop criticising the 2015 Brownlow Medallist and remember that his peak is as good as anyone’s in the game.

 

Fremantle are a 3-4 goal better side at home than they are away

This is not an especially enlightening comment. It is, as some may say, a cutting insight into the bleedingly obvious. But alas, here we are. Fremantle might thrive off crowd support, they might deal with the dimensions of their home ground better, but whatever the reason, the Dockers are lions in Perth and kittens away. They’ve played three sides of seemingly similar quality so far this year and their loss came last week, away, when they looked quite inferior against the forecast-to-be abysmal Gold Coast. Against the Saints, they should have been far further in front after the first quarter, with 20 inside 50’s to six and 120 disposals to 80, but couldn’t translate that dominance into scoreboard impact.

Part of this inability to score heavily enough may have been attributable to St Kilda’s dominance at the stoppages. Rory Lobb was well beaten in the first by the 5-centimetre shorter Rowan Marshall, who got plaudits last week from this site and backed it up again this week, as the Saints led the clearances 13-8 at quarter time. Strangely, though, Fremantle kicked three of their first five goals from stoppages, suggesting that when they did get first use they were exceedingly dangerous.

Lobb is an interesting acquisition for Fremantle. He was thrust into the ruck this game with the managed omission of Sean Darcy, after leaving GWS for more minutes up forward but it seems that Fremantle are a bit too tall up forward at the moment, with Lobb, Hogan, McCarthy and Taberner. The former probably doesn’t deserve to be dropped after today, but he showed how frustrating he can be as a player with a big contested grab in the third before kicking the ball into the man on the mark, leading to a goal the other way. He did lift in the last, and did well to crash a pack leading to a goal for the opportunistic Matera. As an aside, I can’t remember a player kicking the ball off the ground in recent times as much as Lobb today.

On Hogan, I reckon he had a bit of the Dustin Martins about him today. Didn’t look particularly interested in chasing or working hard defensively for his team, and didn’t hit the scoreboard either. He should have gone all the way in the second which would have ended St Kilda’s charge but didn’t take the responsibility on himself. He was also lucky his errant kick inboard early in the last didn’t lead to a turnover goal, and may need a spell in the WAFL to rediscover his best form.

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Luke Ryan deserves more credit than he gets

This will be a fairly quick one, but Luke Ryan is a severely underrated player for the Dockers. Is it possible that his bleached blonde hair is a cry for much-needed and well-earned attention from the footballing media? He was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the reason Freo won this game, and was absolutely best on ground. 32 touches at 91% efficiency, with 13 intercept possessions, 9 rebounds from defensive 50 and 677m gained.

He was helped, at times, by St Kilda’s poor ball use going forward, and the home side may have been a bit lucky to have escaped with a win, given the opposition had 15 inside 50’s in the last for a return of just 2.4. In saying that though, Fremantle were probably the better side for the majority of the game, but didn’t capitalise when they needed to in order to put the game beyond reach.

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How good are the Saints, really?

Let me preface this part of the article by saying my expectations for St Kilda this season have almost already been exceeded, with two wins and a very honourable loss this week. It’s always tough to win in Perth, but especially so without their best player in Jack Steven.

It’s definitely fair to suggest that the addition of the four-time Trevor Barker Medallist would have seen the Saints leaving Perth 3-0. Unfortunately, the youth and inexperience at the Saints tend to fade in and out of games, sometimes in the passage of the same play, like in the second when Jack Steele set up Dean Kent on the forward flank only for the latter to slip, turn the ball over and concede a goal up the other end. They were, as previously stated, outplayed by Fremantle early, but their own unforced errors didn’t assist them, as a kick out on the full and a 50-metre penalty led to the opposition’s first two goals of the second quarter, which at the time looked like putting the game out of their reach.

In saying that, the Saints were very impressive in working themselves back into the game later in the second when Freo looked like running away with this game, as they did in Round 1. Their forwards worked exceptionally hard to exploit what appeared at the time to be an undermanned Dockers defence, in order to capitalise on their midfield winning contested ball out of the middle. As an example, Jade Gresham may not have had the same influence as he did last week, with just 3 touches in the first quarter, but finished with 20 and 2 goals to keep his side in the game. Jack Billings continues to improve, with 32 and 2 goals.

Ultimately, St Kilda didn’t disgrace themselves one bit today. They definitely had their chances to win this game and, if they had have finished Round Three as one of three undefeated sides, the footballing media may have had to sit up and take notice. As it stands, they were exceptionally gallant in defeat, and the side looks as if they are desperate to deliver results for their coach. They are well led by the underrated Jarryn Geary, and should probably have won this game if they had have taken their chances. I don’t think the Saints play finals this year, but they should improve on last year’s 16th finish.

 

So after a game where both sides had their chances to win the game, Fremantle ran out winners as probably expected. Plenty of questions for them though, heading into next week’s Derby, which should be a fascinating match up. On the flip side, St Kilda take on Hawthorn at Marvel in a game in which they probably start as underdogs but which they have a solid chance of winning on current form.

 

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