I couldn’t help but get the feeling I was seeing the start of something big today with the Fremantle Dockers. It wasn’t one thing. It wasn’t two.
It wasn’t even three or four. There was something about this team that just seemed to start clicking against the Western Bulldogs, and whilst I don’t expect to see it clicking like this every week – not at this point in their development, when you watch a team with Brad Hill tearing around the wings, Nat Fyfe throwing himself into contests, and a defence that is water-tight strangling the life out of opposition key forwards, you get the feeling that this Fremantle team might be a little bit more than fast starters, and just as fast faders.
There is nothing I like more than seeing a forward moved off a dominant defender, and that is what we got tonight.
Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of Freo’s big win over the Dogs.
This was possibly the most complete defensive game I’ve seen since Phil Davis gave Buddy Franklin an absolute bath in last year’s elimination final. There will be some who will rate Alex Pearce’s game as better, as his blanketing of Billy Gowers was excellent as well, but for mine, you rate the defender on the calibre of forward they beat, and I rate Aaron Naughton really highly.
I must make a point of saying that I didn’t expect Naughton to come in here and tear the game to shreds – not at all. He is a kid; still a teen, but what he has shown to this point indicates that he will be a force to be reckoned with, and his hands have been extraordinary at times this season. He warranted close attention.
And he got close attention from Hamling.
Stats probably won’t tell an accurate story here. Hamling had 16 possessions, a couple of contested marks and five rebound 50s, but the standout was his ability to kill the contest and prevent Naughton from having any impact at all.
Hamling had 14 1%ers (which were basically all spoils) as he wore Naughton like a latex glove and refused to give him any opportunity. As the third quarter rolled around, Bulldogs coach, Luke Beveridge had seen enough, and moved Naughton into defence to both free him up, and ensure his confidence wasn’t completely destroyed by the mauling he was receiving from Hamling.
Defenders – pure defenders – do not receive many three-vote games, but if any of them are worthy of being awarded a best on ground nod, it is this game from Joel Hamling. He was a star.
THE RUNNING MAN
There are times when I watch Brad Hill, and he looks to be going in about third gear. He’s cruising around out there on the wings, gliding across the turf like he’s got a couple of bars of soap attached to his feet… he looks so damn graceful (which is the complete opposite of having soap tied to your feet… I know, but screw it. I hope you know what I mean).
And then there was this evening, when he had a player with some serious wheels of his own as an opponent. It was as though Hill was up for the challenge right from the outset, as he had no hesitation in taking Lachie Hunter on when they were isolated on the wing. And he won, too.
Hunter tried to go with Hill, straining to chase the B&F winner as he put the hammer down along the boundary. He lunged, but Hill was just too quick, just too smooth. He sent the ball forward, leaving Hunter in his wake, and needing some time on the bench to recover.
It was a message to his teammates – Hill had Hunter covered for speed. If they were in a one-on-one, kick it to his advantage and he’d take him. Hill finished with 30 touches, and though he wasted the ball a little, his six inside 50 deliveries gave his forwards plenty of opportunities.
If not for the amazing efforts of Hamling, I’d be tempted to nominate Hill as best on.
One thing that I believe went unheralded from Hill was a smother on Jason Johannisen in the second quarter. It was that action at half back that set the wheels in motion for Freo’s best passage of the day, culminating with Jesse Hogan getting the ball out on front of Matera for the goal. It started with Hill at half back; a 1%er that truly mattered.
On a day where some of the big Bulldogs mids were misfiring, Caleb Daniel continued his stellar year, and provided stability and good decision making across half back. And for once, he didn’t find himself isolated on a big forward – finally the other defenders woke up to this and started to cover for him after kick ins.
Daniel travelled at 87% for the game, and was the Bulldogs’ best player. I wonder how often it crosses the mind of Luke Beveridge as to whether they need Daniel more kicking outside 50, or kicking inside 50? I think once Matt Suckling returns, we may see Daniel freed up a little to run forward and deliver to his forwards – they need it.
MUNDY ON THE RUN-DY
You couldn’t help but smile as David Mundy received the handball from Andrew Brayshaw, and in the typical Mundy style, kept it low and powered a goal on the run from 50 metres out.
It was classic David Mundy.
And that continued throughout the game. Mundy was close to votes in his 300th. That plodding, yet powerful run, the low, hard delivery, the head over the ball clearance wins, and the tackling – Mundy trademarks – were all on display in his milestone game.
There are some players who are carried to 300 games. Mundy is not one of them. He is still a top-shelf midfielder, and this was evidenced when Nat Fyfe missed earlier this season. Mundy put the undermanned Docker midfield on his back in that game, and continues to pull his weight when his time comes to go.
28 touches, six clearances and seven tackles… take a bow, David Mundy.
NYHUIS AND HUGHES – UNSUNG HEROES
These two deserve a big wrap. In the first half in particular, they battled back so many offensive thrusts by the Dogs that they made their forwards seem inept.
Hughes ability to keep his feet and win one-on-ones was a standout early. He had composure across half back, reading the ball beautifully for nine intercept possessions. Earlier in the year, I watched him against the Suns, and I thought his kicking, particularly when he decided to go to a long target, left a bit to be desired. He appears to have tidied that up significantly.
Ryan Nyhuis ran at 100% efficiency from his 19 touches, and went one better than Hughes, with ten intercept touches for the game. The Freo defence as a whole was incredible, and that is indicative in how many I’ve singled out here. Their structure, and ability to work for each other was excellent in this game, and though the Dogs peppered the forward 50 at points, players like Nyhuis made it very difficult to score once they got it in there.
His ability to work the ball through the centre or around the wing with precision was vital to the Dockers’ breaking down the Dogs’ defence.
Combined, these two had a party in the backline, and will find a bigger challenge next week when they visit Adelaide.
THE NATHAN WILSON YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
Before the season commenced, I had these visions of Nathan Wilson becoming one of the most devastating weapons in the game. I pictured him taking the new kick-in rule, using that speed to burn off last forwards, and becoming an 80-metre player with a run, a bounce, and a penetrating 60 metre kick from full back.
But coaching tactics, and conservative footy don’t necessarily correlate with my football fantasies. Plus… I keep my pants on in real life.
But today, though I was forced to keep my pants on, Nathan Wilson decided to show just what he was capable of as that running, damaging defender. He ran at 88% efficiency for his 25 touches and gained a mammoth 745 metres for the Dockers. Put those numbers together - he got distance, and he got accuracy. That’s a deadly combination off half back.
He hit power ranking triggers in both rebound 50s and metres gained, as well as disposal efficiency. THIS is the player I was waiting for this season, and I am sure Freo fans are pretty happy to have him arrive in such a big way as well.
THE OTHER MATERA
Oh, I enjoyed this.
I got questioned on our site last week, with someone believing we added Brandon Matera to the list of players whose stocks are rising a little prematurely. Well, if you’re reading this, how about now? Is it okay if we whack him on the list after five… count ‘em – FIVE goals to lead the game?
Matera has awoken, and looks ready, finally, to live up to that name. He isn’t doing it with flash, or flair, though those things seem to walk hand in hand with goal kicking – he is doing it with hard work and busting his ass to make contests.
I was rapt to see him take that last contested mark and kick his fifth goal. It was apt reward for how hard he’d worked all day. At points I saw him down in the back pocket, helping out defenders, and his run and spread aided the Dockers hitting outlets all over the park.
That’s now nine goals in the last two weeks for Matera, who really helped the Dockers overcome quieter days from their big forwards. Without him this evening, things may have been a little different.
There are a couple of teammates that Jack Macrae should probably buy a coffee for at some stage this week. One of them is Lachie Hunter.
I don’t know what was going on with Macrae’s usually reliable kicking in this game, but a couple of his missed targets were costly for the Dogs. The Hunter miss in particular saw Ethan Hughes seize the opportunity and crash into Hunter, leaving him sore, sorry, and on the losing end of the physical clash.
It was a standard 25 metre kick from the wing into the centre square, and should’ve resulted in a penetrating inside 50. Instead, Hughes collected Hunter and the Dockers went inside 50 themselves.
Macrae is usually a class act with the ball in hand, but minutes later he opted not to take the contact and instead handballed to a completely stationary Tim English, who was immediately nailed in a tackle. That’s the way you become very unpopular with your teammates, Jack. You owe the big fella a coffee as well.
Over the course of the game, Macrae went at 66%, which is nowhere near where he needs to be as an elite running mid. 18 of his 29 touches were uncontested, and he needs to make sure he makes the most of them.
BILLY GOWERS ALMOST MARKS IT… AGAIN
There is only one player who gets his hands to as many possible marks as Billy Gowers did this evening, and lets them slip. His name is Tim O’Brien, and he plays for Hawthorn… kind of. You really don’t want to be lumped in with him if we’re talking about impact on games, or lack thereof, but here we are.
Gowers worked into the right position so many times in this game, and failed to grab the mark at the last second. I counted five times he had both hands on the footy, but due to defensive pressure, and perhaps a case of ZacButters-fingers, the ball hit the deck.
It didn’t help that he had Alex Pearce to contend with, but Gowers has demonstrated the ability to clunk marks regularly. He just could not do it tonight.
Also, James Brayshaw… when Gowers is obviously struggling to take a mark, stop telling us how bloody good his hands are! They might be, but they weren’t really working for him every time you said it.
Oh, and while I’m at it, saying “Brilliant Bont” as Bontempelli juggles the ball and loses it behind his back on a release handball is just dumb. It was botched. Botched Bont. Watch the play and call it instead of filling dead air with babble.
THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD DOGS
I struggled a bit with this one, and it may be a little weak, as the game as a whole was quite enjoyable, but there was something that struck a chord with me. The Bulldogs seem to have too many players that seem content with hovering around that 20-disposal mark, with little to no impact on the game.
They’re interchangeable from week to week, and I suppose that could be looked at as a strength, as it makes them very difficult to tag, but when they’re all around that mark… 19-20-21 touches, are they really causing that much damage?
Toby McLean had 18 and ran at 89%. He was the best of the middling Dogs today.
Libba had 21 and six clearances. A nice day at work, but not world-beating.
Mitch Wallis had 21 as well and kicked 1.3
Hayden Crozier had 22 at 77% with a heap coming uncontested
Jason Johannisen had 23 with 17 uncontested.
Josh Dunkley had 24 at 70%
And Marcus Bontempelli had 22, with seven clearances and running at 87% efficiency.
But I ask you, did they hurt the Dockers? Do you think Ross Lyon walks into the rooms after the game and eyeballs his team and says “You let Johannisen get 23 touches off half back tonight”?
I don’t think so. Does he grab Fyfe and Mundy aside and say that Bont got his hands on too many clearances? Maybe. The Dogs were +5 on the game, but were those clearances going anywhere or doing anything?
I look at the Dogs and I see impressive numbers. I have seen impressive numbers all season from them, but what I am yet to see is results stemming from those impressive numbers. I’m yet to see them translate those nice looking numbers into wins, except for the contentious win over the Hawks.
They have a bunch of statsheet-stuffers and very few high impact ones. It’s time to reverse that and it starts with giving more time to players like Bailey Smith, who looks like he wants to do something creative with the ball when he gets it. Ditto for Ed Richards – these are players who have not been suckered into thinking that big numbers = great games.
They don’t. Wins = great games, and that has been lost on the good stats/bad team that is the Western Bulldogs.
I’ve neglected Nat Fyfe, I know. Please don’t message me. The bar is set so high for him that a 30-disposal, 16 contested touch game is now considered average for him. He is a star, and I think on Wednesday, if you’re at all interested, you’ll probably see him up at the pointy end of our fortnightly player power rankings. He was top 20 after four rounds despite missing a week… I don’t think the last two weeks will have seen him drop at all.
Great start by Michael Walters in this one, but he went out of the game by half way through the second quarter. I love watching this bloke when he’s on, and early in the game, I thought it may have been his night.
I know it’s wrong, but I was barracking for Matthew Taberner to start clunking a few marks after half time. I just love the way he’s taken his role seriously this season, and is providing a great option in contests. That said, the combination of Easton Wood and Jackson Trengove really did a number on him for the first three quarters.
Check out the efficiency for the Freo big blokes. Tabs ran at 64%, Lobb at 58%, McCarthy at 45%, and Hogan at…. drum roll… 41%. Gotta tidy that up. Brandon Matera won’t be kicking five every week to bail them out.
Loved the defensive work of Sam Switkowski. He plays like a guy who knows his spot in the team is reliant on effort, and he brings that to the table. No goals for him tonight, but four score involvements and a direct goal assist complemented his defensive pressure well.
How nice would it have been to see Alex Pearce snag a goal with his nice run in the first quarter? Alas, he kicked it like a panicky defender when the time came, and missed everything.
Another nice game on the wing for Ed Langdon. 29 touches at 83% - he is the exact opposite of those Bulldogs mids I was talking about above. He has a designated role, plays it well, and doesn’t try to rack up possessions for the sake of it. That said, late in the piece he appeared to be looking inside for Fyfe too often as his forwards made good position. He was deferring to his leader, but I reckon he is good enough to take some more responsibility with the ball in his hands, and not allow defenders to flood back while he waits for Fyfe.
Also… Freo, get him to re-open contract negotiations. Quickly!
I mentioned Bailey Smith above – I loved his hard run to deliver to half forward, and still be the first there to capitalise on the spill from Gowers. That is some gut-running.
Nice game from Tim English in the ruck for the Dogs. Though Lobb controlled the ruck taps 31-21, this is the sort of match-up English can exploit. He is good around the ground, whereas Lobb struggles a bit, and Lobb is not the sort to rag-doll him. Good things to come from him, and his skill level is excellent for a big guy.
I’m glad they didn’t pay a “stops up” free against Crozier as he took that nice mark in the fourth quarter. I don’t want to lose that from the game.
And that’ll do. The Dogs have the Tigers next week, and will need an improvement from those “middling men” to make an impact. The Dockers get the Crows in Adelaide, and will need the wasteful tall forwards to start hitting targets and taking marks.
Did I miss something? Let me know on our FB page, or just scroll on down to the comments section. Always up for a footy chat. Cheers.
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