Fremantle has kept its perfect start to its rollercoaster 2022 campaign intact, registering a gutsy six-point win over the Western Bulldogs in a bruising encounter that saw multiple players cop nasty knocks.
It was far from the Dockers’ best showing of the season, but their grit was on full display, kicking all their goals into a strong wind.
It wasn’t until an Ebony Antonio goal with two minutes left on the clock that Fremantle sealed the win.
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The Bulldogs will rue missed opportunities in the last quarter in front of goal, kicking three behinds despite dominating territory.
“Today was tough. The Western Bulldogs are a great outfit, a great young side,” Antonio told Fox Footy post-game.
“They definitely pushed us today to our limits, but credit to the girls to have a bit of resilience in our back pocket.”
Dockers skipper Hayley Miller added: “They (the Bulldogs) were super strong tonight and I think we’re lucky to come away with the win.”
In an intense, high-pressure match, several players came off worse for wear after strong hits.
Fremantle’s Emma O’Driscoll could face scrutiny from the AFL’s Match Review Officer for a second-quarter tackle on Bulldog Gemma Lagioia, while Dockers defender Matilda Sergeant was left dazed after a tackle from Bulldogs debutant Jemima Woods.
Both sides failed to kick a goal in the first quarter as Fremantle enjoyed a strong wind at its back which helped it dominate field position with 16 inside 50s to two.
Ashleigh Guest proved impenetrable as the Dogs flooded players behind the ball to only find themselves two points down at the first break.
Playing her first game after being drafted last year, Amy Franklin kicked the game’s first goal six minutes into the second quarter after a fortuitous 50m penalty.
It ignited a wave of scoring as seconds later the 18-year-old took a strong contested mark just 15m out from goal and kicked her second to give Fremantle reward for its territory domination.
A minute later the Bulldogs kicked a much-needed first through Bonnie Toogood, who marked a long kick in the goalsquare and played on.
When Kirsty Lamb, who was the Dogs’ best player in the first half, added a second goal for the hosts they were just two points adrift of the premiership favourites.
The third quarter played out much the same as the first, with Fremantle dominating field position as it enjoyed a strong wind advantage, but failed to capitalise on its dominance, kicking just three behinds.
Two early Bulldogs behinds brought the margin back to just one point for much of the quarter, until Ebony Antonio kicked the goal of the match from 35m out on a tight angle into the wind to give the Dockers a seven-point advantage.
YOUNG GUNS SHINE
The Western Bulldogs broke an AFLW record by having 10 players under 21-years-old in their side, the most ever, and it was one of their young stars who shone in the first half.
Jess Fitzgerald, 19, had nine disposals and 177m gained in the first half and provided a key link between the Bulldogs’ defence and attack.
Franklin was Fremantle’s first selection at last year’s draft, going at pick 14, and when the game needed a spark as both sides struggled to find the goals it was the 18-year-old who delivered it with two second quarter goals.
Premiership favourite. Highest scoring team. Kicking with the wind.
It was a recipe for disaster for the young Bulldogs defence in the first quarter and conceding 15 inside 50s would normally have resulted in a flurry of Fremantle goals.
But thanks to Guest, who had a game-high eight disposals and three intercepts, the Dogs were able to stay within reach of their highly revered opposition.
BLACKBURN v BOWERS
It was the match-up that shaped the game in the end as Kiara Bowers got the better of Ellie Blackburn in a tense final term.
Bowers had an uncharacteristically sluggish start to the game but managed to put the clamps on Blackburn as the star Dog began to get on top of the Fremantle midfield.
Bowers finished with 20 disposals, 12 tackles and four clearances, while Blackburn was able to notch 19 disposals, two tackles and three clearances.
— NCA Newswire