Fremantle banked a seventh straight AFL win in predictable fashion at Darwin’s TIO Stadium, swarming to a 63-point victory over Melbourne.
The Dockers were harder, better, faster and stronger in Saturday night’s battle of the master misers, winning 15.7 (97) to 4.10 (34) despite the late withdrawal of captain Matthew Pavlich due to illness.
Hayden Ballantyne typified his side’s trademark pressure, kicking three goals and causing a handful of turnovers in his 100th match.
Fremantle on-ballers Nat Fyfe, Michael Barlow and Lachie Neale were standouts, while ruckman Aaron Sandilands was influential while resting in the forward line.
Fyfe flew high, roved packs and tallied 29 disposals – but none of it drew as big a cheer as the boisterous welcome afforded to substitute Anthony Morabito.
Morabito couldn’t help but smile when he removed the green vest in the third quarter and entered the fray, finally returning to an AFL field after 1394 days and three knee reconstructions.
Morabito, who came on for debutant Michael Apeness, had a golden chance to kick a goal in the final 20 seconds of the game but missed.
“My legs were done at that stage,” he told Fox Footy, describing the comeback game as surreal.
Melbourne key forward Chris Dawes worked hard but saw little of the ball, while Matt Jones and Nathan Jones were similarly industrious in the middle.
The match followed a predictable narrative early on – low scoring and lots of stoppages.
Fremantle’s Cameron Sutcliffe kicked the opening goal in the 14th minute, while three goals in the space of four minutes late in the second quarter helped push the Dockers’ lead out to 28 points at halftime.
Demons coach Paul Roos remarked in the lead-up to the match that he wanted his side to match the Dockers’ relentless pressure.
They did that for much of the opening half, only to come a cropper when the Dockers punished turnovers regularly and clinically.
Fremantle were then allowed too much space after halftime, prime movers Barlow, Fyfe and Neale helping them kick seven goals in the third term to bust the game open.
Ross Lyon’s men remain entrenched in the top four, and will equal a club record if they defeat Greater Western Sydney and St Kilda over the next fortnight.
The Dockers’ greatest streak came when they went undefeated from rounds 14-22 in 2006.
Fremantle coach Ross Lyons said his side played an uncompromising game even with their four best players, Michael Johnson, Michael Walters, Stephen Hill and captain Matthew Pavlich, sitting it out.
“We were uncompromising in the way we went about it tonight, we were quite ferocious around the ball… we dominated the game and took it on,” he told reporters.
But he was cautious about Fremantle’s place on the ladder.
“It’s good to be where we are… but as soon as you breathe out or start relying on teams to win or lose, you lose control of your own destiny. We feel we write our own story,” he said.
Roos said he wasn’t disappointed in his team’s performance, pointing to a 93-point defeat by West Coast and “a couple of really bad games” earlier this year.
“We probably didn’t improve this week… but the story of our season is an inability to compete over and over and over again,” he said.
Roos said it was a lesson for the Demons in how to improve.
“We have to do everything right to be able to beat them; it says a lot about where they’re at, and for our guys it’s a real wake-up call for how far away we are for being anywhere near as good as that.”