Ballantyne seriously maturing
Feisty Fremantle forward Hayden Ballantyne has matured as a player this season, according to teammate Chris Mayne, as he prepares to renew hostilities with Geelong on Saturday night.
Ballantyne kicked two goals and was a key player when Fremantle beat the Cats at Patersons Stadium in round one, but he is remembered best for a series of spiteful clashes against the reigning premiers.
Champion defender Matthew Scarlett struck Ballantyne with a glancing left hook in the teams’ season opener and gifted the Fremantle forward a goal, earning a three-week suspension.
Ballantyne was also banned for two matches for striking Paul Chapman.
The niggly tactics used by the 25-year-old have been toned down since he served a one-week suspension for striking Richmond captain Chris Newman in round 11, and his football has steadily improved.
In the last five matches he has averaged 16 disposals and four inside 50s and kicked 14 goals – including four against North Melbourne in 22.
“We’ve all seen what ‘Ballas’ does, but he’s really improved and become a significant leader at the club,” Mayne said on Tuesday.
“He learnt the hard way early on in the season what was expected of him and I think at the moment he’s really playing great football.
“He’s just matured as a footballer. He’s become really great at the way he wants to play his football … putting his head of the football, chasing blokes, tackling. That’s what we expect from him.”
Mayne said he expected words would be exchanged between Ballantyne and the Geelong players, but “it’s a final and you do anything possible you can to win”.
Ballantyne will be playing in his first final, along with regular senior players Michael Barlow, Tendai Mzungu, Clancee Pearce and Lee Spurr.
Mayne, who played in both Fremantle’s 2010 finals, backed the group to handle the occasion.
“What we expect as a club is giving great effort and playing your role, so that’s what they’ve got to focus on,” he said.
“The hype and the atmosphere is going to be there, [so] embrace it as soon as possible and use that emotion and get into action.
“It’s an exciting feeling around the club at the moment and it definitely beats what happened last year when we finished the way we did.
“To be able to come out of the home-and-away season and still have football ahead of you is definitely exciting.”