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Dockers too good for young Eagles in final pre-season test

Travis King, afl.com.au  March 11, 2018 6:47 PM

JLT highlights v Dockers The Dockers and Eagles clash in the JLT
Conor Blakely puts Andrew Gaff under pressure at HBF Arena

Conor Blakely puts Andrew Gaff under pressure at HBF Arena

FREMANTLE ball magnet Lachie Neale powered a dominant engine room as the Dockers tuned-up for round one with a 62-point pre-season smashing of arch-rivals West Coast at HBF Arena in Joondalup on Sunday.

Shrugging off any doubts about his summer preparations, despite only rejoining main training in January following knee surgery, Neale racked up 36 disposals and booted three goals in a brilliant performance.

The Dockers' entire onball division received outstanding service from veteran ruckman Aaron Sandilands (24 hit-outs) in a confidence-boosting 14.17 (101) to 5.9 (39) victory ahead of a season-opening trip to Port Adelaide.  

The Eagles' misfiring forward line was poor, and with spearhead Josh Kennedy ruling himself out of the opening two rounds, West Coast are in dire need of more avenues to goal.

Nat Fyfe (26 disposals, one goal), Michael Walters (19, two) and David Mundy (25) all enjoyed strong JLT Community Series hit-outs for Fremantle before taking on the Power's vaunted onball division.

Veteran goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne produced his best display of the summer, slotting three goals and pressuring the Eagles' defence in a lively effort.

The Dockers set the victory up with a burst of seven unanswered goals after Liam Ryan and Lewis Jetta got the Eagles off to a flying start.  

Back-to-back goals to Matt Taberner after towering pack marks kick-started Freo, with the men in purple taking advantage of a stiff breeze in the second term to lead by 37 points at the main change.

The Dockers were dominant around the ball by half-time – commanding clearances (22-11), inside 50s (37-15) and contested possessions (79-60) – and brought plenty of heat at ground level.  

Young gun Andrew Brayshaw's (nine tackles) grunt around the contest would have pleased coach Ross Lyon and the No.2 draft pick is primed to debut in the season opener. 

For West Coast, the heavy defeat was soured further by an apparent left ankle injury to small forward Willie Rioli, who played no part after quarter-time.  

Their new-look midfield was obliterated and failed to generate anywhere near enough inside 50s (33) – a major issue carrying over from last season.

Big names Luke Shuey (15 possessions), Andrew Gaff (21) and Elliot Yeo (18) were all well down, with Jack Redden and Dom Sheed also struggling to have an impact.  

The Eagles have issues ahead of round one, and can't simply rely on star ruckman Nic Naitnaui's return to generate more clearances and an improvement in contested ball.

West Coast didn't have a multiple goalkicker on Sunday, with tall Jack Darling failing to hit the scoreboard in a scratchy performance.

Father-son Jake Waterman booted a goal and improved his hopes of a round one debut on Sunday, but fellow potential debutants Brayden Ainsworth and Daniel Venables couldn't influence the contest.

WHAT WE LEARNED
Fremantle: Many have written Freo off as a bottom-six outfit this year but when the Dockers have their best line-up out on the park they won't be pushovers. There aren't many better midfields going around than Aaron Sandilands, Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, David Mundy, Michael Walters, Stephen and Bradley Hill – and if wildcard Harley Bennell can get himself right, there's plenty to like. With Matt Taberner standing up in attack, the Dockers' structure looks much better and the backline has been steeled by Alex Pearce's impressive comeback from a broken leg.
 

West Coast: The new-look Eagles are going to take some time. Forgetting the fact that West Coast's two most important players Nic Naitanui and Josh Kennedy have been sidelined during the JLT Community Series, the Eagles have looked impotent at times in attack and workmanlike at best in the engine room. The kids have talent, but not too much can be expected from first-year players. West Coast's backline is reliable but more experienced campaigners in attack and midfield will need to lift when the season-proper begins. 

NEW FACES
Fremantle: Nathan Wilson  was the pick of the bunch and the ex-Giant's exceptional delivery from half-back will be a blessing for the Dockers' forward line.Bailey Banfield  did not harm to his chances of being on the plane to Adelaide in round one with another competitive effort, whileAndrew Brayshaw's grunt and tackling would've pleased Ross Lyon. Brandon Matera  hasn't starred yet in purple but continued to do the team things while back-up ruckmanLloyd Meek was barely used, suggesting Freo won't play two big men against Port Adelaide.

West Coast:  Opportunities were scarce for exciting small forwardLiam Ryan but when the ball was in his area, especially during a seven-disposal and one-goal first term, the ex-Subiaco high-flyer showed he is good enough in this company. Brayden Ainsworth is a round one chance after an excellent and competitive summer but he had a shocker on Sunday, only chalking up one disposal – a kick out-on-the-full under no pressure – in the opening half.

NEXT UP
Freo will prepare for a tough round one road trip to face Port Adelaide at unhappy hunting ground Adelaide Oval – where the Dockers lost both games last year by a combined 189 points – while the Eagles have 14 days to get to work ahead of a showcase season-opener against Sydney at Optus Stadium.

FREMANTLE      2.4    8.10    11.13   14.17 (101)
WEST COAST     2.2    3.3     5.4        5.9 (39)

GOALS
Fremantle: Ballantyne 3, Neale 3, Taberner 2, Walters 2, Banfield, Langdon, D.Pearce, Fyfe
West Coast: Ryan, Jetta, Cripps, Waterman, LeCras 

BEST 
Fremantle: Neale, Fyfe, Walters, Taberner, Sandilands, Ballantyne
West Coast: McGovern, Hutchings, Jetta, Gaff

INJURIES
Fremantle: Nil
West Coast: Rioli (ankle)  

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Margetts, Dalgleish, Williamson 

Official crowd: 7,737 at HBF Stadium