Top eight locked as Freo fires
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.2 5.4 8.7 12.7 (79)
FREMANTLE 3.5 6.7 1.10 20.12 (132)
North Melbourne: Thomas 3, Hansen 3, Gibson 2, Macmillan, Bastinac, Harper, Harvey
Fremantle: Walters 4, Ballantyne 4, Mayne 2, McPhee 2, De Boer 2, Mundy 2, Suban 2, Sandilands, Mzungu,
North Melbourne: Swallow, Thompson, McMahon, Atley, Hansen
Fremantle: Fyfe, Sandilands, McPharlin, Hill, Pearce, Crowley, Mundy, Walters, Ballantyne
North Melbourne: Nil
Fremantle: Matthew Pavlich (groin) replaced in selected team by Zac Clarke
North Melbourne: Luke Delaney replaced by Matt Campbell at three-quarter time
Fremantle: Kepler Bradley replaced by Nick Suban at half-time
Umpires: Stevic, Schmitt, Jeffery
Official crowd: 26,482 at Etihad Stadium
Fremantle has secured a place in this year’s finals series, beating North Melbourne by 53 points at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The runaway 20.12 (132) to 12.7 (79) win was achieved without skipper Matthew Pavlich, who withdrew before the match with what coach Ross Lyon later said was a corked hamstring and general soreness.
Fremantle is now two games clear of ninth-placed St Kilda and 10th-ranked Carlton, with only one game to play.
The visitors dominated play in the opening quarter, crowding numbers around the ball and stifling the Kangaroos’ run.
They led by 15 points at the first change, and from there held North Melbourne at arm’s length, save for a three-goals-to-one burst early in the third quarter that saw Brad Scott’s team briefly hit the front.
The game was still in the balance when the Kangaroos drew to within 10 points two minutes into the last quarter, but Fremantle then kicked clear with the next seven goals.
Classy midfielders Nat Fyfe and Stephen Hill were outstanding for the victors, as was ruckman Aaron Sandilands, who had 49 hit-outs and 15 disposals in just his second game back from injury.
Sandilands’ opposite number Todd Goldstein could manage only eight hit-outs and two disposals.
Stand-in Fremantle captain Luke McPharlin convincingly beat North’s star forward Drew Petrie, who wasn’t helped by poor delivery forward.
Petrie started the day needing six goals to take the lead in the Coleman Medal race, but didn’t manage one.
Tagger Ryan Crowley was also important, curbing veteran Brent Harvey’s influence, and Clancee Pearce was prolific.
Small forwards Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne were the game’s leading goalkickers, each booting four.
It was Fremantle’s first win without Pavlich since round 22, 2008, snapping a run of six losses, and also the first time in its history it has beaten the Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium.
Souring the win was the loss of big man Kepler Bradley, who was subbed off at half-time after receiving a heavy knock to the head during the first quarter.
The sizeable final margin moved Fremantle (112.36 per cent) ahead of North Melbourne (111.58) on percentage, giving it the chance to earn a home final if it beats Melbourne next week and Geelong loses to the Sydney Swans.
But Lyon said he wouldn’t let his team get distracted by possible finals scenarios.
“You can’t play in and win finals until you’re in them, and you know who you’re playing,” Lyon said.
“If you look too far ahead and concentrate on potential outcomes and results, you get distracted.
“We’re focusing on why we’ve been able to improve, and that’s our players and coaches working really hard together to develop a brand of footy that will stand up.”