Fremantle have stamped themselves as a genuine contender in the AFL, with a stunning 35-point win over Carlton at Optus Stadium.
The Dockers blew the game open in the second and third terms, kicking 10 goals to four as Rory Lobb and Lachie Schultz (three goals each) were instrumental for Fremantle.
Carlton skipper Patrick Cripps did everything he could to keep the Blues in the match, kicking his side’s only two goals of the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough in the 14.13 (97) to 9.8 (62) loss.
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Despite the boos both he and former Docker Adam Cerra received, Cripps added his third for the night in the final term and left the door ajar for the visitors.
But when Zac Williams turned the ball over from the goalsquare, handing Sam Switkowski a gift goal and a 27-point lead, the match was officially over.
Both sides have injury concerns from the match, with ruckmen Marc Pittonet and Sean Darcy both subbed out. Carlton are also sweating on Harry McKay’s fitness after he spent time off the ground with a knee injury.
Former Docker Adam Cerra’s return to Perth was marred by plenty of boos from the Fremantle faithful.
Back in WA for the first time since walking out on Fremantle, the crowd were vocal every time Cerra got a touch.
Cerra had Docker Michael Walters caught holding the ball early in the first term but as he got up to take his kick, loud boos rang out at Optus Stadium.
Cerra was able to be part of the chain that ended with Matt Owies kicking the first of the match. But the boos didn’t let up for the remainder of the match.
The Blues were then on the back foot when ruckman Marc Pittonet was left lying on the Optus Stadium turf midway through the first term.
Pittonet had to be assisted from the field after a ruck contest with Sean Darcy, and was subbed out of the game a short time later.
Without Pittonet in the middle, Fremantle started to dominate through the middle and kicked six goals to two in the second term.
Twice Lachie Schultz took uncontested marks inside forward 50 and made the Blues pay. On the second occasion, Matt Taberner lowered the eyes from 50m and cleverly disguised his chip pass to his teammate.
“Not sure what happened there – no defender went to him at all,” commentator Shaun Burgoyne said.
“(Schultz) was standing there for five or six seconds.
“Bit of miscommunication there.”
On the back of his five goals last week, Blue Charlie Curnow was unable to influence the match as he struggled against Docker Griffin Logue.
With his fellow forward Harry McKay spending time off the ground for treatment on his injured knee, Curnow was double teamed as the Blues failed to stop the Dockers rebound.
When Michael Walters kicked two goals in four minutes, suddenly it was the Blues on the back foot heading into half time.
“The ball lived in (Fremantle’s) half of the ground… they were super impressive,” Fox Footy’s Nick Riewoldt said at half-time.
“We know Carlton’s form stacks up so Freo look like the real thing.”
Carlton, who have struggled in second halves in 2022, were off to the worst possible start when the Dockers streamed through the middle and hit up Rory Lobb to kick a goal within the opening minute of the third.
When Lobb added a second, the Blues were staring down a five-goal deficit as Fremantle kicked eight of the last nine goals.
Cripps did everything he could to drag his team back into the contest, but the Dockers’ momentum could not be stopped.
Their pressure around the ball was impressive, and by three quarter time, they were out to a 32-point lead.
When Cripps kicked his third goal, and Lewis Young added one after shifting from defence to close the gap to just 21, the game suddenly lifted to another level of intensity.
But like they have done all season, Fremantle found another gear and put the match beyond reach.
Sam Switkowski added two goals quickly before last week’s seven-goal hero Matt Taberner got his first for the night.
“They don’t need him to kick seven,” commentator Wayne Carey said.
“The spread of effort from all the players tonight – this is an even football team.
“The young stars are now standing up for this football club. There’s no need for (Taberner) to kick big bags, he just needs to contribute.”
THE 3-2-1 … (with Ben Cotton)
3. DOCKERS SEND MESSAGE AFTER CLAIMING FIRST SCALP
Fremantle has claimed its biggest scalp yet in defeating the fellow Carlton on the Saturday night stage to send a message to the rest of the competition.
Although the Dockers have looked much stronger in 2022, their four previous wins came over Adelaide, West Coast, GWS and Essendon – none of which occupy top eight spots.
But the much-improved Blues are a genuine finals, and potentially even top four contender this year, having only dropped their second game for 2022.
Freo’s big win prompted the Channel Seven commentators to question if it made the club a genuine premiership contender.
“It’s a great question. Who have they played? They haven’t played any of the top teams yet. You can only beat who is put in front of you and that’s what they’ve done,” Carey said.
“The Blues played some solid footy and really they’ve made them look pretty ordinary this quarter (third term).”
Bulldogs great Luke Darcy highlighted how impressive it was sans skipper Nat Fyfe, who’s yet to play this season due to a back injury.
“You just get excited don’t you and think what that man will do when he’s back (on Fyfe return),” he said.
Commentator Hamish McLachlan said it was a ‘luxury’ to have Fyfe waiting in the wings.
“Once upon a time if Nat Fyfe was out of this team, you’d say ok they’re going to struggle,” Carey added.
“He’s now the cream when he comes back. There’s no reliance on one individual which is a really great place to be.
“You don’t have to rush him back either – you can nurse him back
By the look of him before the game, he’ll come back in and do ok.”
2. CARLTON’S POTENTIAL ‘MASSIVE LOSS’
Although both clubs lost their ruckmen to injury on the night, Carlton’s Marc Pittonet may be set for a longer stint on the sidelines in a significant blow for the Blues.
Pittonet came from the field midway through the opening term after banging knees with Sean Darcy. He couldn’t get up without assistance and limped off the field with assistance and went straight into the rooms.
The big man re-emerged just before quarter time, but was subbed out after the quarter time break.
Commentators suggested Pittonet may have suffered a PCL injury, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“We’ve made that ruck circle smaller to try and prevent the Jeff White type run up, but Sean Darcy was able to get real force in that contest off minimal distance and only a couple of steps,” Collingwood legend Nathan Buckley told Fox Footy.
And it could mean the Blues’ humming midfield will be without a key cog moving forward in what’s been a key strength area of the ground for Michael Voss’ side.
The much-improved Pittonet has set the tone for Carlton’s on-ball brigade through his physical ruckwork, emerging as one of the game’s best big men in 2022.
The one game Pittonet missed – Carlton’s Round 4 loss to Gold Coast – has been the club’s only loss for the season in a game where the Blues’ were uncharacteristically beaten in clearances.
“I think just in terms of the system and the way they play, we know Carlton have been a really good stoppage team this year. They’ve scored heavily from stoppages and really struggled in the transition part of the game,” Saints great Nick Riewoldt told Fox Footy.
“He is a massive loss.”
1. CAPTAIN CRIPPS’ EMPHATIC RETURN
If there were any lingering concerns around Patrick Cripps’ hamstring, they were quickly erased.
The Blues skipper returned from his one-game absence with a hamstring injury with a bang, racking up 32 disposals, 18 contested, and booting three goals in a best-on-ground performance in a losing side.
The Channel Seven commentators noted it was shades of yesteryear for Carlton at times with Cripps carrying the Blues.
“Right now Cripps is trying to put his team on his back… trying to get more out of his team,” North Melbourne great Wayne Carey said.
Four-time premiership Hawk Shaun Burgoyne added: “He’s doing all the hard tough stuff you want the captain to do.”
Cripps simply never stopped fighting in this one even when all hope was seemingly lost as the Blues trailed by several goals in the fourth quarter.
But he booted his third goal early in the final term and continued to win clearances and surge Carlton forward.
“Been an incredible game from the skipper. His inside and outside game now is at an optimal level and he‘s hitting the scoreboard more than he ever has,” Carey added.
Although the Blues didn’t get the result, there’s a good chance Cripps polls three votes on Brownlow night to continue his sensational 2022 season.