Freo fires, firms for finals
FREMANTLE 2.3 4.7 10.10 14.11 (95)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.2 4.4 7.6 8.9 (57)
Fremantle: Pavlich 6, Mayne 4, Lower, Crowley, Broughton, Hill
Western Bulldogs: Dickson 3, Dahlhaus 2, Higgins, Griffen, Minson
Fremantle: Pavlich, Mayne, Ballantyne, Pearce, De Boer, Crowley
Western Bulldogs: Boyd, Liberatore, Dickson, Minson, Wallis, Picken
Fremantle: Antoni Grover (head)
Western Bulldogs: Higgins (corked leg)
Fremantle: Paul Duffield replaced Antoni Grover in the third quarter
Western Bulldogs: Jason Tutt replaced Tom Campbell in the third quarter
Umpires: Fila, Nicholls, Hay
Official crowd: 30,420 at Patersons Stadium
Fremantle captain Matthew Pavlich has driven his team to a 38-point win over the Western Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon, kicking six goals to break open a spiteful arm wrestle at Patersons Stadium.
Inspired by the champion forward, Fremantle booted five unanswered goals in the third quarter, opening up a 33-point lead and eventually winning 14.11 (95) to 8.9 (57).
In what started as a low-scoring, ugly scrap, Pavlich’s class and influence was crucial in a win that keeps Fremantle in the finals mix and snuffs out the Bulldogs’ faint hopes.
The skipper, who finished with 21 disposals and 10 marks, has now kicked 23 goals in his past five games and should be favoured to win his seventh club champion award.
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Fremantle’s seventh win for the season moved it to 12th on the ladder, equal on points with seventh-placed St Kilda and fellow finals challengers Carlton, Richmond and North Melbourne.
The club now faces Melbourne (16th), Greater Western Sydney (17th) and Port Adelaide (15th) in the next three weeks, presenting a valuable opportunity to mount its case for a finals spot.
Forward Chris Mayne, who kicked four goals, was valuable support for Pavlich on Sunday, while Kepler Bradley returned to play his first game since round three and was a contributor.
Midfielders Clancee Pearce (23 disposals and seven clearances), Nick Lower (21 and six) and Matt de Boer (22) worked into the game and drove a 54-36 inside-50 advantage for the home team.
Coach Ross Lyon said there was a distinct difference between the second quarter – when Bulldogs midfielders Mitch Wallis, Matthew Boyd and Tom Liberatore dictated play – and the third, when Fremantle turned the game.
“At half-time we had a strong message of open up the clearances and really play with a hard edge to get the ball out of there, and then don’t invent handballs,” the coach said.
“We got more efficient with the ball, had more penetration in our play, and then all of a sudden because people weren’t looking for cheap handballs there was a lot better release to space to our forwards.
“So that’s the lesson out of it and that’s what we spoke to the group about.”
While the Dogs’ ball-winners excelled in the first half, Fremantle midfielders David Mundy and Stephen Hill were barely sighted, sharing in nine disposals up to the main break.
Bulldogs stopper Liam Picken was superb on Hill, who was playing his first match back from an ankle injury and had just three handballs to half-time.
Boyd (35 disposals and six clearances), Liberatore (25 and seven) and Wallis (27) pushed on to have strong games, while Tory Dickson kicked three goals, including a 50m set shot after the siren that left his team 22 points down at the last change.
Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney said it wasn’t a bad loss for his young team and his players had made progress.
“I don’t buy the theory there’s a good loss but it’s not like some of the nasty losses we’ve had this year, we handled that a little bit better,” the first-year coach said.
“I think with a team that is learning the game, a lot of these players are learning it on the run … they were able to deal with about 80 per cent of it today.”
The Bulldogs face Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium next Sunday and McCartney said his 5-9 team would “relish the challenge” of what’s in front of it.
Asked if finals were now out of the equation, he said: “we haven’t taken our eye off the next week and we never do”.